113th Annual Conference - Portland, Oregon
Friday, November 6 - Sunday, November 8, 2015

Han and Yūgen: Aesthetics of Reversal in P’ansori and Noh 

Yasutaka Maruki, Pacific University

Han, a Korean concept of resentment, describes one’s inner strength to overcome challenges in life. Yūgen, Japanese aesthetic concept of mystery and darkness, characterizes the abstract beauty that is found in Noh, traditional Japanese theater. Even though Han and Yūgen are seemingly unrelated, they share common characteristics. 

Proposal: 

Han, whose literal meaning is “grudge,” “hatred,” or “resentment,” is an important Korean concept that characterizes inner strength and willpower to overcome challenges and hardships in life. Though the concept of Han implies strong negative emotions, it contains reversal or paradoxical elements and entails proactive attitude towards life. Many scholars have discussed that it is based on a reaction to Korea’s devastation derived mainly from Japanese occupations before and during WWII and the hapless separation of the nation after the Korean War. However, as the concept of Han is evident in P’ansori, a traditional singing performance that tells the story of a character facing social injustices or family restrictions, it can be deeply rooted in Korean culture, possibly prior to the modern period. In contrast to the emotional struggles of Han, the Japanese aesthetic concept called Yūgen portrays the beauty of mystery and darkness, which is best expressed in Noh, a masked theatrical performance of singing and dancing. In many Noh plays, categorized as Mugen Noh (Dream and Illusion), Yūgen is expressed by a ghost having strong emotions and attachments to the real world. Unable to move on to the next phase of life, the ghost has disguised itself as a local and asks a traveling monk for salvation. The heart of the play is when the ghost reveals its true identity and releases its emotion through dancing and singing. In fact, just like Han, Yūgen can be interpreted as a sincere and dynamic expression of self. Although Han and Yūgen are seemingly unrelated concepts, in this paper, I will discuss how they share similar mechanical aspects in their creation. This study will lead to discoveries of more cultural similarities between Korea and Japan, which have not been widely explored despite their geographical proximity and historical relationships.  

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