Photo/IllutrationThe “ko-omote” (small mask representing a young woman) of Hana (owned by the Mitsui Memorial Museum), left, and the “ko-omote” of Yuki (owned by the Kongo family) (Naoki Kimura)

Two "ko-omote" (small mask) from the Kongo School Family of Noh theater that were treasured by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) have been reunited for the first time in about 50 years in a special exhibition in Tokyo.

The Noh Masks and Costumes from the Kongo School Family exhibition is now running at the Mitsui Memorial Museum in front of the Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district.

The Yuki (snow) mask, which has been handed down to the head family of the Kongo Noh school, is one of the three ko-omote masks treasured by Hideyoshi, who named the other two as Tsuki (moon) and Hana (flower), respectively.

With the Hana mask also loaned for the exhibition from the museum, the two legendary masks are now on display side by side.

The Kongo School, whose origin dates to feudal times, is also referred to as “Omote-Kongo” because it owns many great masks and costumes. According to Hisanori, the 26th-generation head of the family, about 100 items have been put on display at a Tokyo museum for the first time. Each item is a work of art still used for Noh performances today.

Ko-omote represents a young woman. The Yuki, Tsuki and Hana masks are believed to have been created by mask maker Tatsuemon, who lived in the Muromachi Period (1338-1573). Tsuki was destroyed by fire during the Edo Period (1603-1867), but Yuki was passed down to the head family while Hana was handed down to the Mitsui clan. The two masks hadn’t been placed on display together for quite a long time after they were featured at an exhibition held at a department store, officials said.

A model of all ko-omote masks that followed, Yuki looks exquisitely chiseled and well-rounded. Hana, which looks slightly thinner and more captivating than Yuki, is a designated national important cultural property.

The two masks are on display together, making it easier for spectators to compare their differences.

“Even though you don’t know anything about Noh, (the masks) change their expressions depending on the angle from which they are viewed and the amount and quality of light they receive, so there is also a way to appreciate how well chiseled they were as a work of sculpture,” head curator Minoru Shimizu said.

Particularly worth seeing is the first room of the venue, which is lined with independent exhibition cases. Female masks contained in the cases are arranged in a sequence that makes them look as if they are getting older as spectators walk further into the back.

Commentary for each work is provided by Hisanori. Also incorporating stage effects and other techniques, he offers engaging views only a veteran Noh performer can provide.

The exhibition runs until Sept. 2. The museum is closed on Mondays.