Ise Ookagura is a theatrical dance in the Shinto religion. The dance troupes traveled around remote areas for those who could not visit and worship at the Ise Shrine. The history of Ise Ookagura dates back more than 600 years.
The performance is composed of two elements: “dance” from shishi-mai dance and “music” called houkagei, which later became known as Daidougei or street performance.
Ise Ookagura starts with a slow and elegant bell dance, followed by the Shiguruma Dance and the humorous Leap Dance, in which Sarutahiko (a monkey boy) jumps around a sleeping shishi lion.
The houkagei music performance has a wide repertory, including the Music of Ayatori (“cat’s cradle”) in which performers manipulate wooden poles freely and the Music of Plates, in which performers do dish-spinning tricks with long poles, to pray for a rich harvest. Between the performances, houkagei performers and a clown act comically together. The performance then finishes with Rankyoku music.
Ise Ookagura was designated an Important Intangible Cultural Asset by the Japanese government in 1983. Ise Ookagura, which originally started with 12 troupes, is still preserved by a handful of troupes that travel around Japan to pass down their historical culture to future generations.
無 is the first character form of 舞 ‘dance.’ When following the classification of the traditional ‘Six Categories or Scripts of Characters,’ 無 is regarded as a ‘loan character’ which shares the same on-reading with another character. As, however, the classification method if the ‘Six Categories or Scripts of Characters’ was created to analyze the corrupt forms of the Chinese characters a thousand years after their origination, to think they were invented along these guidelines is a mistaken conclusion.
As the very first stage of Kanji is pictographic, it is obvious that on this stage the meaning ‘nothing’ cannot be expressed. With thought becoming more abstract in later times, therefore, ‘loan characters’ were very useful. Rather than naturally developing, however, ‘loan characters’ are a group of characters that receive their meaning by convention and custom. That 無 is the first character form of 舞 can be known from the tortoise plastron and bone characters. There, it actually is the form of a dancing human being with decorations hanging from both sleeves.
The Lun Yu of Confucius, Chapter 12, has “ … went to the 舞雩 ‘rain altar.’ ”
雩, read ‘u’ in Japanese, means a place for rain dance rituals or sacred music. The meaning ‘nothing, not’ can also be regarded as having its origin in the state of having ‘no rain.’ If understood this way, there is no need anymore to rely on the notion of ‘loan character’ for 無.
Anyway, explanations like “It shows a house burning down thus resulting in the meaning ‘nothing at all’,” which the author once heard in China, are misleading.
Kagura is a traditional theatrical dance in the Shinto religion. Kashiwagino Jindai Kagura is one of these dances that have been passed down to the Kashiwagino region of Hinoharamura, Nishitama-gun,Tokyo. Jindai Kagura is performed once every two years at Chinjyu Nangou Shrine, on the occasion of the fall festival, to pray for rich harvests and the safety and well-being of the family.
Prior to the performance, dancers undertake a purification ceremony in which they clean themselves in the Minamiaki River, chanting “rokkonshoujyou”. Rokkonshoujyou, literally translated, means “six roots purification”. In the context of this Kagura it means to purify the six senses and the consciousness that humans possess. The word, rokkonshoujyou, is said to be at the root of the word “dokkoisho”, which Japanese people often utter to cheer themselves.
The performance starts with the Demon Dance, performed by children. It is then followed by 12 other performances, including Yusaguri in which people try to change the heart of a bad person by putting him into hot water and Daijya Taiji in which an old man asks people to capture a giant snake that has swallowed his daughter. All of the dances are based on local folk tales and they entertain the audience until midnight.
The performers range from elementary school students to adults all of whom decorate themselves with vibrant costumes and Kagura masks. The Jindai Kagura tradition is still alive and well today and it is dearly loved by Japanese people.
Jindai Kagura has been designated as an Intangible Folklore Cultural Asset by Tokyo.
Kandaten Shrine located in Koshu City in Yamanashi Prefecture is a shrine pertaining to the Takeda clan. Enshrined are Susanoo no Mikoto and other seven deities. It is said that the shrine was founded in 842 by the provincial governor, Fujiwara Iseo, by the Imperial order. When Sugawara no Michizane was enshrined together in 1004, the kanji “suga (菅)” was borrowed and the shrine came to be called Kandaten (菅田天). In the precinct is the statue of Zagyu (lying cow), which is believed to be the messenger of Sugawara no Michizane.
During the Warring States period (1493-1573), the shrine was protected by the Takeda clan as the god to guard the ominous direction of the provincial capital. The shrine is known for the possession of Kozakura Kawaodoshi Yoroi, which was one of the 8 armors handed down to the descendants of the Genji (the Minamoto clan). This armor was so strong that the one who wore it didn’t have to use a shield, so it was called “Tate-nashi-no-yoroi (the armor without a shield).” It was handed down to the heads of the Takeda clan, one of the rightful descendant family of the Seiwa Genji, as the family treasure together with Japan’s oldest Rising Sun flag.
Popularly called “Chiryu Daimyojin,” Chiryu Shrine in Chiryu City, Aichi Prefecture, was one of the three distinctive shrines on the Tokaido Road in the Edo period (1603-1868). The shrine possesses a lot of precious cultural properties including the Tahoto pagoda, which is thought to have been built in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) and masks for Maigaku (court music), Noh plays and Shishi-mai (lion dance).
Among the renowned festivals held at this shrine, Akiba (Autumn Leaf) Festival in September every year serves as the annual festival of Akiba Shrine, a sub-shrine located in the precinct of Chiryu Shrine. According to the shrine festival record written in 1758, the kagura dance and ningyo-joruri (doll plays) were dedicated as the autumn festival in conformity to the Grand Festival of the main shrine in spring,
The main feature of Akiba Festival today is the display of tube fireworks, which started to be dedicated in 1907. During the day, young men of six towns of the city shoulder the box called “Tama-bako (ball case),” in which the stone representing a firework ball is placed, and valiantly parade through the city, singing “Nagamochi-uta.” When they return to the shrine in the evening, they stand in circle and display dynamic tube fireworks.
Kagura is a traditional theatrical dance in the Shinto religion and Musashi Mitake Shrine Daidai Kagura is one of these dances that have been passed down since the Edo period. Musashi Mitake Shrine sits on the top of Mount Mitake in Okutame, Tokyo.
The dance is said to have originally come from the Masaki Inari Shrine in Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, and it is based on the Izumo-style of Kagura dance.
The shrine still serves many different kinds of “kou” each of which represents a group of followers. The people in a kou believe that the highest form of praying to their god is to dedicate a dance and Daidai Kagura is performed on special occasions.
There are two different types of performing style in Kagura dance. In one type, masks are worn and in the other they are not. Masked Kagura has more of an entertainment aspect with clear story lines, many of which are based on popular mythologies from folktales such as Kojiki. The non-masked dance has a more religious or ritualistic aspect and it is performed to purge the place of evil spirits. These two dance performances used to have 12 titles each, however only 17 in total have survived and are still performed.
Because Daidai Kagura is dedicated to god, the dancers kneel down and bow at the start and at the end of their dance. Also, all of these dances are performed facing the image of god.
Daidai Kagura preserves the essence of true Kagura which encourages people to enjoy themselves while they honor god.
The Kumi kagura dance has been handed down at Ise Mikoto Shrine in the Kumi area on Oki-Dogo Island. It was derived from the Ochi kagura dance that has been performed on the islands of Oki. The Kumi kagura dance is prefecturally designated as an intangible folk cultural property. It is dedicated at an annual festival held at Ise Mikoto Shrine on July 25th in the years ending with even numbers and 26th in the years with odd numbers.
The kagura dances in the Oki Islands are usually performed by the people called Shake (hereditary kagura dance performers). However, the Kumi kagura was handed down to the local worshippers from the Wada family, the successor of this kagura in the Aburai area, in 1889, since when it has been performed by local people.
The dances are performed all through the night from 9:00 P.M. till the dawn of the following day. The repertoire includes “Miko-mai (the dance by shrine maidens),” which is typical to this kagura, gallant “Sarutahiko-no-mai,” and humorous “Taizuri (Sea Beam Fishing).” The combination of dynamic dancing and colorful costumes gives a deep impression on the spectators.
Amidst the dances, a small banquet ritual called “Nusa-no-sakazuki” is held, where the dancers and the directors of the shrine parishioners’ board are served with sake wine.
Nishimura Kagura, or also called Mugi (Wheat) Kagura, has been passed down in the Nishimura area on Oki-Dogo Island, Shimane Prefecture. It is designated as an intangible folk cultural property by the town of Okinoshima.
Nishimura Kagura used to be performed on June 4 on the old calendar, when each family of the village brought 1 go (about 150g) of wheat to the shrine and invited 3 Shake families (hereditary kagura dance performing families) from 3 areas on the island and asked them to dedicate the kagura dances.
However, Nishimura Kagura was handed down to the people in the Nishimura area from the Murakami Shake family, the successor of this kagura in the Togo area, in 1950. Since then it has been performed by the people in Nishimura in August, when many family members return home for the bon rituals.
Today, the Nishimura Kagura Preservation Society has been organized by volunteers and shrine priests to pass down a variety of distinctive plays to the future generations.