Mihara, a small village in the mountains of Shimane prefecture near my village recently held a Kagura Festival to celebrate the local groups 60th anniversary. There are several hundred Kagura groups in the Iwami area, though it is hardly known outside this area, which is a real shame as it is very exciting and dynamic and very entertaining. The festival was free, and as I had not seen some of the groups performing we decided to visit for a few of the dances.
Periods of frenetic dancing are punctuated by speeches. The stories are mostly taken from the ancient legends in the Kojiki and Nihongi, though there are a few medieval tales as well. Men play the womens parts, as in the photo above.
But its the masks and the monsters that attract the most interest. Iwami Kagura masks and costumes have developed their own ornate, detailed style, unique to the area. These are scenes from the Katsuragi legend.
The most common format for the dances is of a battle between the "heroes" and the "bad guys". In every instance the good guys win after 15 minutes of wild dancing with swords, spears, and bows.
Kagura Dance Flutes
Kagura in Ichiyama Shimane
Omote Kagura Museum
Japan kagura festival podcast Shimane