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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Gotsu Iwami Kagura Festival

Listen to the sound of the Fox's Dance


amaterasu The Sun Goddess Amaterasu, emerges from the cave to bring back light to the world, a scene from one of the Kagura dances I watched on Sunday at the Gotsu Kagura Festival.

Kagura festivals are a modern invention, starting in the post-war period and gaining in popularity until it seems that now every year a new one starts up somewhere in Shimane and Hiroshima. They provide entertainment in the period between the end of the summer matsuri (festivals), and the onset of the Harvest matsuri in November.

demon I'm particularly interested in kagura masks, so I was pleasantly surprised to see one that I hadn't seen before, the Demon (Oni) mask in the photo above. Iwami Kagura masks are the best in Japan in my opinion.

The festival was held in Gotsu's Milky Way Hall, a modern 700-seat theatre, and it was packed for the whole day of dances. 1,500 yen for 9 hours of entertainment is not a bad deal.

hero battles demon Iwami Kagura is normally performed in local shrines by local people, and go on through the night till dawn. Kagura festivals however bring together up to a dozen different groups from a wider area and each group performs just one dance.

With a fullsize stage area, and professional lighting and sound system, the venues for kagura festivals have allowed the groups to develop innovations that take advantage of more theatrical forms.

yamata no orochi
The full complement of 8 serpents can dance in the finale, the dance based on the Yamata no Orochi myth, the best-known myth in this area. Thanks to the popularity of Iwami kagura, the people in Iwami probably know more of Japan's ancient myths than most of those in other parts of Japan.

kagura freaks truck I spotted this truck in the parking lot, and it gives a good idea just how fanatical some kagura fans can get around here, but Iwami Kagura is virtually unknown in the rest of Japan, a real shame as it is exciting, dynamic, and easily appreciated without knowing the language or the stories.

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