Not everyone enjoys Nō. Many in the audience doze, somehow able to awaken at the key moments. In the past, when commoners were only rarely permitted to attend performances of Nō, they eagerly bought tickets only to discover that they could not understand what was going on. On one such occasion a man tried to leave, but he was informed this would be interpreted as a sign of disrespect to the nobles attending; if he absolutely had to leave, he would have to pay an exit fee! The first Europeans who saw Nō were most unappreciative. W. G. Aston, who in 1899 wrote what was for many years the only history of Japanese literature in English, stated, "The Nō are not classical poems. They are too deficient in lucidity, method, coherence, and good taste to deserve this description. . . . As dramas the Nō have little value. There is no action to speak of, and dramatic propriety and effects are hardly thought of." The British diplomat Lord Redesdale, who served in Japan from 1866 to 1870, pronounced the Nō to be "wholly unintelligible."
Donald Keene, The Pleasures of Japanese Literature, page 114.
In О̄ei 9  (as memories are inexact, the precise year will have to be ascertained), in the eleventh month, the Master of Tachibana Storehouse, which is located at the road by the Hōshō Temple near the Inari Shrine in Kyoto fell gravely ill from a wound and was on the point of death. A woman at the shop suddenly became possessed by the spirit of the Inari Shrine. The spirit spoke through the woman, saying that if the Kanze troupe would give a nō performance, the master would recuperate. Zeami therefore performed before the Inari Shrine. The woman who was possessed spoke as follows. "It would be well to perform ten plays. The first three will be watched by the goddess Amateratsu, the second three by the god of Kasuga, the next three by the god of Yahata, and the last by me, the god of Inari." Accordingly, ten plays were performed. When Zeami went to pay his respects to the Tachibana family, they called from inside the house, "Zeami is coming!" asked him in, then presented him with a quantity of red silk. The material is still in the possession of our family.
Rimer and Yamazaki, On the Art of the Nō Drama, pages 241-42.
The Tale of Genji supplies the text or subtext for several Noh plays, which themselves have spun off numerous interpretations. This 1897 print by Tsukioka Kogyo captures a moment from the play Aoi no Ue. Source.
Several years ago in Kyoto in the fall, the Komparu School from Kaga Province announced the opening of a Noh play performance. It was to run for four days, and although the price of theater boxes was set at ten pieces of silver, they were soon sold out. Furthermore, cash in advance was paid for them.
At first it was announced that the tragic drama Sekidera Komachi would be presented, and people were greatly excited in expectation of witnessing a performance of this grandest of dramas. But when the hand drummer, for some reason or other, found it impossible to perform his part, the program was changed. Despite the alteration, however, on the opening day even before dawn, people thronged the entrance to the theater. Among them was a man from Edo who had reserved two entire boxes, each of which had cost him ten pieces of silver. In one of them he spread out a crimson rug, and further equipped it with a portable shelf, a low folding screen, and a case for his personal effects. In the back of the box he set up a temporary kitchen, provided with fish, fowl, and a basket of seasonal fruit. In the other box he set up a teakettle, with two pails of water beside it for making tea, one labeled 'Uji Bridge' and the other 'Otowa River.' Seated with him in his boxes were to be seen a physician, a draper, a Confucian scholar, a dealer in imported goods, and a poet; while visible behind them were women from Shimabara, boys from Shijo, prominent entertainers of the city, a masseur, and a ronin. Under the boxes was space for his personal palanquin, a bath, and even a lavatory. Indeed, with such luxurious appointments nothing at all was lacking in convenience for the enjoyment of the play.
About this same time, Honda was attending a performance of Matsukazé at the Osaka Nō Theater in Tennoji-Dogashiba at the invitation of a colleague fond of performing Nō chants himself. It was a production featuring Kanesuké Noguchi from Tokyo as shité with Yazo Tamura assisting him as waki. The theatre stood upon the eastern slope of Uemachi Hill between Tennoji and Osaka Castle. This had been a section of fine villas at the beginning of the Taisho period and was still a secluded area containing high-walled mansions. One of these functioned as a Nō theater under the auspices of the Sumitomo family.
Most of the guests were merchant princes, and Honda recognized many of them. As for the famous actor, the harsh-voiced Noguchi, Honda's colleague had warned him beforehand that, although his intonation might sound like a goose being strangled, Honda was not by any means to laugh. And he predicted that, ignorant of Nō though Honda was, once the play was underway he would suddenly find himself emotionally aroused.
Although Kanesuké Noguchi wore the mask of a beautiful young woman, his voice had nothing that would recall a woman's charms. It was a voice that made one think of the rasping together of rusty, discolored metal. Furthermore, his recitation was broken by interruptions, and his style of chanting seemed to be tearing the beauty of the words to shreds. But despite all this, the mood inspired was like the outpouring of a dark and ineffably elegant mist, like the sight of a moonbeam shining into a corner of a ruined palace to fall upon a mother-of-pearl furnishing. Because the light passed through a worn and ravaged bamboo blind, the elegance of the shattered fragments shone all the more.
Gradually, then, his harsh voice became far from irritating. Rather, one had the feeling that only through this harsh voice could one for the first time become aware of the briny sadness of Matsukazé and the melancholy love that afflicts those in the realm of the dead.
Late one morning toward the end of the month, Taeko appeared again. Sachiko was listening to the radio.
"Yukiko?" Taeko pulled a chair up to the fire.
"She has gone to Dr. Kushida's."
"Yes." Sachiko had been taking down recipes said to be good for the season. Now someone was reciting a Nō play.
"Would you turn it off, please, Koi-san?"
"Wait. Look at Bell." Taeko pointed her jaw at the cat, asleep by Sachiko's feet.
Bell was drowsing happily in the warmth from the stove. Taeko had noticed that its ears twitched at each drum beat. Only the ears were affected, it seemed, by a reflex of no concern to the rest of the cat.
"What do you suppose does it?"
They watched, fascinated, as the ears twitched an accompaniment to the Nō, and when the Nō was finished Taeko turned off the radio.
Junichirō Tanizaki, The Makioka Sisters, page 385.
O-Nobu still did not come. And of course Mrs Yoshikawa, whom he was awaiting even more eagerly, did not appear either. He was annoyed. The Noh chanting, which he disliked intensely, which someone nearby had been engaged in for quite some time, further irritated him. He suddenly remembered that he had seen a long narrow sign, announcing instruction in Noh chanting, on the two-storey building diagonally opposite the laundry. The second floor seemed to be the place where the practice was going on, and even though it was rather far away the chanting sounded excessively loud. Since he realized full well that he had no right to stop people from doing what they wanted to, he could do nothing whatever about his discontent. He merely wanted to leave the hospital as soon as possible.
Natsume Sōseki, Light and Darkness (1916), page 216.