Yamaage Festival held in July every year in Nasu Karasuyama City, Tochigi Prefecture is a dynamic performance of outdoor kabuki, which is nationally designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property. The history of this outdoor kabuki dates back to 1560, when Nasu Suketane, the castellan of Karasuyama Castle enshrined Susanoo no Mikoto at Yakumo Shrine and prayed for the country’s stability and a rich harvest. During the Kanbun era (1661-1672), a dance performance was first dedicated to the deity in addition to the sumo wrestling matches and Kagura Loin Dance. In the Horeki era (1716-1763), kabuki dances began to be performed and later it took the form of the outdoor kabuki plays.
On the day of the festival, about 150 young stagehands quickly build a kabuki stage with “yama (backdrops),” which is made of bamboo and traditional Japanese paper produced in the Nasu area. When musicians start playing the Tokiwazu-bushi shamisen, local kabuki players appear on the stage and play kabuki dramas such as “Masakado,” “Modoribashi,” and “Yoshinoyama.” After the performance, the stagehand staff quickly breaks up the set, carries all necessary parts to the next locale and re-builds the stage for the next performance. The performances are held five to six times a day.