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Howard B. Hamilton Japanese Theater Papers

Identifier: MA.01023

Scope and Contents

Albums, programs, notes, lectures, correspondence, photographs, slides, videotapes, and films related to Dr. Hamilton's interest in Japanese theater, particularly Noh, chiefly from his time living in Japan, 1956-1980s, and afterward in retirement in the United States. Dr. Hamilton took lessons in Noh performance under Izumo Tsunekazu, a professional actor in the Kita Noh school, starting in 1956, and was involved in his first public performance in 1959. He lectured widely to audiences about the Noh theater tradition, and prepared English-language translations and summaries of Noh plays in which he performed. These translations were incorporated into albums together with photographs. The collection also includes a number of Noh costumes and props.


  • Creation: circa 1956-1994


Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the collection for research use. Particularly fragile items are restricted for preservation purposes. This collection is housed in off-site storage and requires advance notice before use. Please contact Archives and Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

Howard B. Hamilton (1918-2007) received a BA from the University of Rochester (1941) and MD from the Yale University School of Medicine (1945). He served in the U.S. Navy, 1942-1945. In the late ’40s and early ’50s he conducted research as a biochemist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard, and other institutions. He moved to Hiroshima, Japan, in 1956, where he stayed for thirty years, serving as the Chief of Clinical Laboratories for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), 1956-1975, then for the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) until 1984. He published extensively on medical topics. However, Dr. Hamilton was also well known for his enthusiastic patronage of and participation in Japanese Noh Theater. After his retirement, Dr. Hamilton catalogued Noh and Kabuki works and published Noh plays.

Shortly after his arrival in Hiroshima, Dr. Hamilton met IZUMO Tsunekazu, a Kita Noh school professional actor. He began taking weekly lessons in September 1956. He soon performed various shimai in Hiroshima. (A shimai is a simplified version of Noh performed by the shite, or lead role, wearing a crest-adorned kimono and Japanese-style trousers; it generally involves no masks, costumes or props, with the exception of a long sword or cane.) In 1959 Dr. Hamilton was involved in his first public Noh performance as the shite in Chikubushima. His first performance on a true Noh stage was in Miyajima, the ancient stage at Itsukushima Shrine, as part of its annual Tokasai Festival. He generally performed twice a year: once on temporary stages in Hiroshima, and again at Miyajima. Eventually he also performed at the Kita Noh stage in Tokyo and elsewhere. For the benefit of non-Japanese speaking attendees at Miyajima, Dr. Hamilton prepared summaries of the plays in English, and translations of the play in which he performed.

Dr. Hamilton presented many lecture-demonstrations for American audiences. These events consisted of two parts: first, an illustrated slide lecture of Noh performances, some in the Kita Nohgakudo in Tokyo, and others from the Tokasai performances at Miyajima. The second part consisted of Dr. Hamilton presenting several examples of Noh shimai, accompanied by utai (choral recitations) on tape recordings.

History of Noh Theater

The oldest extant theater tradition in the world, Noh is a highly symbolic, aesthetic, non-realistic, poetic monodrama with origins in dance and religious ceremony in Japan and China, perfected to its present form in the 14th century. Noh’s three elements are song, dance and drama. It is performed by elegantly costumed and often masked actor-dancers on an uncluttered stage devoid of realistic scenery and properties. The highlight of Noh drama is the dance section, consisting of abstract movement and gesture in symbolic pantomime of verses chanted by the chorus. [Source: Howard B. Hamilton, "Japanese Noh Theater: A Lecture-Recital," n.d.] Noh is a monodrama in that it is completely dominated by the leading role: "In western drama, something happens; in Noh, someone appears" (Paul Claudel). Song is always present; dance and drama only sometimes. Its effect is sculptural (a square stage viewed from the front and sides) rather than pictorial, as in traditional western theater.


25.5 Linear feet (25 records storage boxes, 1 flat box)

Language of Materials




The collection is arranged in 10 series:

  1. Series 1: Noh Papers and Personal Affairs
  2. Series 2: Programs
  3. Series 3: Noh Albums
  4. Series 4: Photographs
  5. Series 5: Slides
  6. Series 6: Films and Videotapes
  7. Series 7: Costumes and Other Textiles
  8. Series 8: Objects
  9. Series 9: Digital Media
  10. Series 10: Oversize Material

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of John Dunbar, 2010.

Related Materials

A collection of Dr. Hamilton's books on Japanese theater and art was also included in the gift have been catalogued separately.

Peter A. Nelson
2015 December
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299