Listen to the sounds of Norito (Shinto prayers)
It is said that the root of Japanese religion lies in shamanism, though there are only a few vestiges of shamanic practise left in Japan.
One such vestige is Omoto Kagura, which took place last weekend in a local village.
The intent of Omoto Kagura is to have the local Kami (God), here called Omoto-sama and represented by a rope snake, descend and "possess" a villager so he may be asked questions about the upcoming year.
Preparations in the village have been going on since the new year began, but the ceremony proper begins at 3.pm. with a procession carrying the snake from its "home" in a nearby grove of sacred trees.
From then until sunrise the next day a continuous series of ceremonies and dances are held.
The shamanic dances are performed by priests who have come from all over the area.
In between the ceremonies villagers perform Iwami Kagura dances, including the popular Hanya Oni (photo above), the result of female jealousy.
Around 1.a.m. the Tengai "dance" takes place. The tengai is the canopy above the kagura performance area and is decorated with the colors of the 5 elements and directions. The kami descend through these paper streamers.
Arranged within the tengai are paper lanterns attached by ropes to 3 priests who, like puppeteers, "dance" the lanterns around. The tempo of the accompanying music increases and the movement of the lanterns becames wilder and faster, yet still choreographed.
Later, around 3.a.m, the first dance using the 17 metre long snake begins. The 8 priests carry the snake in an "S" movement around the stage area. As with the tengai dance, the tempo and priests movements gets faster and faster.
I left at 4 a.m., but will go to another performance next week in a neighboring village and will report on the final 2 dances.
Books on Japan
Japan images by Jake Davies
Japan shimane Sakurae Shinto kagura shamanism Omoto dance
Tuesday, November 14, 2006