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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Kagura in Ichiyama Shimane


Ichiyama kaguraWe head over to the neighboring village of Ichiyama for the annual children’s kagura performance. It’s being held in a small one-room community center in the middle of the village. The sliding doors have been taken off the front of the building so it acts as a stage opening onto the street. Above the road a large blue tarp has been suspended in case of rain, and beneath it chairs are set up in the street.

As we arrive a Shinto ceremony is still taking place. At the rear of the room are a couple of kamidanas (small household shrines) with offerings in front of them, and the Shinto priest intoning a prayer.
The ceremony is to ask the kami for protection for the crops. The rice has begun to be harvested, but most of it is still uncut, and the typhoon season is just beginning, and it is from the typhoons that protection is asked for.

The priest has come from a nearby town as Ichiyama no longer has its own priest. The last one passed away 12 or 15 years ago, and the villagers expected that his son would return from the big city and take over his father's position, but very, very few of those who move to the cities come back. So a beautiful, big, old house up next to the shrine sits empty and slowly disintegrates.

After the ceremony finishes 2 gentlemen move around the gathering audience offering cups and sake to everyone. Slowly more people arrive and settle in and then more sake is offered around, though this time it’s only a thimbleful. This is special sake, Omiki, the sake that had been on the altar as an offering to the kami.

The musicians start up, so we know that the dancing will soon begin. A gentleman comes around and gives everyone a selection of "bar snacks": dried squid, beans and nuts.

Kagura danceThe first dance begins and it is a sedate and formal dance as befitting its purpose, for the 4 young boys dancing are purifying the performance space in readiness for inviting the kami to descend and attend the evenings performance. Kagura involves deep concentration, and without masks to hide it, these boys’ faces show it. They don’t look out into the audience to see if mom or dad are watching. (which of course they are, with video cameras recording.)
And the sake cups are refilled.

The next dance involves Hachiman, and, of course, a demon (Oni) The children’s Kagura is in every way the same as regular adult kagura. The same dances are performed. In Ichiyama only boys perform, as it is "original" kagura, so it is explained to me, though I guess they don’t realize that female Miko used to do the dances.
And the sake cups are refilled.

Kagura demonTonight there will only be six dances. A friend who is a dancer with the Ichiyama group tells me that when he was a kid they would do 12 or more dances, but as the village population has reduced, there are fewer and fewer kids.
And the sake cups are refilled.
All the free sake starts to take its toll on me, so I weave my way homewards after a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I don’t know how it is in the cities, but community events in the villages of Japan often include free food and drink. An admirable tradition.

Omote Kagura Museum in Oda Village

Demon Masks

Mihara Kagura Festival

Listen to Kagura

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