An awareness of the Universe that triggers
emotional responses too deep and powerful for words


“Yūgen is an important concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics. The exact translation of the word depends on the context. Yūgen is not an allusion to another world. It is about this world, this experience…

“To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds…” –Zeami Motokiyo

Japanese aesthetic ideals are most heavily influenced by Japanese Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition, all things are considered as either evolving from or dissolving into nothingness. This “nothingness” is not empty space. It is rather a space of potentiality.

If the seas represent potential then each thing is like a wave arising from it and returning to it. There are no permanent waves. There are no perfect waves. At no point is a wave complete, even at its peak. Nature is seen as a dynamic whole that is to be admired and appreciated.

This appreciation of nature has been fundamental to many Japanese aesthetic ideals, “arts,” and other cultural elements. In this respect, the notion of “art” (or its conceptual equivalent) is also quite different from Western traditions..

Japanese aesthetics is a set of ancient ideals that include “wabi” (transient and stark beauty), “sabi” (the beauty of natural aging), and “yūgen.” These ideals, and others, underpin much of Japanese cultural and aesthetic norms..  Thus, while seen as a philosophy in Western societies, the concept of aesthetics in Japan is seen as an integral part of daily life.


Wabi and sabi refers to a mindful approach to everyday life. Over time their meanings overlapped and converged until they are unified into wabi-sabi (侘寂), the aesthetic defined as the beauty of things “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”

Things in bud, or things in decay, as it were, are more evocative of wabi-sabi than things in full bloom because they suggest the transience of things. As things come and go, they show signs of their coming or going and these signs are considered to be beautiful.

In this, beauty is an altered state of consciousness and can be seen in the mundane and simple. The signatures of nature can be so subtle that it takes a quiet mind and a cultivated eye to discern them. In Zen philosophy there are seven aesthetic principles for achieving wabi-sabi.

Fukinsei (不均整): asymmetry, irregularity; Kanso (簡素): simplicity; Koko: basic, weathered; Shizen (自然): without pretense, natural; Yugen (幽玄): subtly profound grace, not obvious; Datsuzoku (脱俗): unbounded by convention, free; Seijaku (静寂): tranquility, stillness.

Each of these things are found in nature but can suggest virtues of human character and appropriateness of behavior. This, in turn suggests that virtue can be instilled through an appreciation of, and practice in, the arts. Hence, aesthetic ideals have an ethical connotation and pervade much of the Japanese culture.”

–Christopher Chase

Kodo’s Long-Awaited Second Collaborative Work with Kabuki Luminary Tamasaburo Bando in 2017

After four successful seasons of “Amaterasu” over the past decade, Kodo returns to the stage with Tamasaburo Bando in 2017 for a brand new collaborative work, Tamasaburo Bando x Kodo Special Performance “Yugen.” The world premiere at Tokyo’s Bunkamura Orchard Hall in May 2017 will launch a tour throughout Japan with performances in Tokyo, Niigata, Aichi, Fukuoka & Kyoto.

Kodo and Kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando first met in 2000. In 2003, Bando directed the ensemble in “Kodo One Earth Tour Special.” In 2006, Kodo collaborated with Bando on stage for the first time in “Amaterasu.” This collaboration between the most celebrated Kabuki onnagata (male actor specializing in female roles) of our time and a preeminent Japanese taiko ensemble created a huge sensation. The debut season of “Amaterasu” soon led to an encore season in 2007 at Tokyo’s historical Kabukiza Theatre. In 2013, the legendary third season of “Amaterasu” welcomed sell-out audiences to all 67 performances in Tokyo, Fukuoka, and Kyoto.

For over fifteen years, Tamasaburo Bando has continued to revolutionize Kodo’s creative activities with his limitless imagination and exceptional aesthetic sense. The theme for the next Bando x Kodo collaboration is yugen, which means “subtle grace.” This work provides Kodo with a truly unique challenge: to use taiko to conjure the subtle yet profound world of Noh Theater with Tamasaburo Bando. “Yugen” will feature an array of classical Japanese images from plays by Noh founder Zeami, incorporating themes from iconic works such as “Hagoromo” (The Feather Robe), “Dojoji” (Dojo-ji Temple), and “Shakkyo” (The Stone Bridge).

Dynamic Kodo has led the taiko world for decades, remaining dedicated to taiko as a vibrant living art form. In “Yugen,” the ensemble will provide an innovative accompaniment for Tamasaburo Bando, whose elegant dancing prowess is often described as “unparalleled.” Furthermore, Bando and Kodo will be joined by special guest artists Jusuke Hanayagi and the Hanayagi-ryu Dancers, who will enhance the rich color of the new work. “Yugen” invites audiences on a journey to new horizons of expression and imagination; to a creative realm where Bando’s captivating dance, Kodo’s soul-stirring taiko, and exquisite music inspired by the world of Noh, all meld into one.

Photos: Takashi Okamoto