One of Cardigan’s much-loved characters – known to many as Jac Bara Caws – has left a lasting legacy to the town with the gift of two ancient ‘Noh’ dolls which are now on display at Cardigan Castle.

Dating back almost 1,000 years, Noh is a style of musical drama where the wooden masks seen on the dolls were used in the ancient Japanese theatre genre. The masks were always expressionless, and it was the task of the performers to use slight and subtle movements to reveal the hidden emotions of their character.

Jac Bara Caws, otherwise known as Akira Shimazaki, presented the dolls to Cardigan Secondary School a short time before his death in January 2022, on the understanding that they would subsequently be displayed in Cardigan Castle where they could be enjoyed and admired by visitors. And this week, the beautiful dolls were unveiled in their rightful place.

A graduate of the Gakushuin High School and the University of Tokyo, Akira studied for a higher degree in western philosophy in Aberystwyth University in the 1960s.

He then immersed himself in the culture and language of Wales and in 1972 arrived in Cardigan where he opened the popular Bara Caws café in Pendre in 1973. He enrolled as an active member of Plaid Cymru and taught Japanese in colleges, university and the patent office in south Wales, and ended his career teaching Japanese in the Fishguard Community Centre.

In 2012 he was elected as a Plaid Cymru member onto the Cardigan Town Council and became the first Japanese councillor in history to serve as a member of British local government.

He stepped down as councillor after serving his full term in 2017.

Akira was also a well-respected associate member of Cardigan Bowls Club where he had for many years contributed to social events with his musical flair on the electric organ.

The Noh tradition ranges from ancient Japanese legends to modern-day events and its masks, which are carved from blocks of cypress, are a key part of the tradition, representing figures like demons and monks.

Actors portray their characters’ feelings by changing the angle and orientation of their heads and always put the masks on inside the dressing room which is where their performance begins.  As a result, the actors are already immersed in their roles from the moment they first face the mirror.

Noh remains the oldest major theatre art that is still regularly performed today.