Saturday, January 13, 2018

World's Fair advertisement for ancient Japanese Noh masks

This is a full-page advertisement for Toray (Toyo Rayon Company) that appears within the Official Guide New York World's Fair 1964/1965.

That Robert Moses "boondoggle" (as this historian writes) is perhaps the most documented and written about of the World's Fairs. Guides and postcards and pamphlets and advertising are easy to find. (A quick eBay search this morning returned more than 5,400 items, including Heinz pickle pins.) The best place to start delving into the history of the 1964-65 fair, if you want the rabbit hole of all rabbit holes, is

The Official Guide New York World's Fair 1964/1965 is a great book for browsing. It's full of vintage advertisements, futuristic themes, descriptions of the pavilions and all sorts of other goodies. Plus, there's an awkward picture of Moses dining with Jinx Falkenburg, whose name sounds like someone who would appear in a Svarsh Corduroy novel.

Getting back to the masks, the ad copy states: "See ancient Japanese Noh masks at the Toray booth in the Japan Pavilion. Toray is Japan's largest marker of synthetic fibers and the third largest in the world. We hope you'll pay us a visit."

According to Wikipedia, Noh masks are part of a Japanese musical theater tradition that dates to the 14th century and are "carved from blocks of Japanese cypress, and painted with natural pigments on a neutral base of glue and crunched seashell. There are approximately 450 different masks mostly based on sixty types, all of which have distinctive names. Some masks are representative and frequently used in many different plays, while some are very specific and may only be used in one or two plays. Noh masks signify the characters' gender, age, and social ranking, and by wearing masks the actors may portray youngsters, old men, female, or nonhuman (divine, demonic, or animal) characters."

There's your Japanese cultural history lesson for today! I'm planning to delve back into all the great photos and advertisements in this World's Fair guidebook throughout 2018, so stay tuned.

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