As of 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 6, due to the forecast of heavy rainfall, the performance on May 6 has been canceled.
To commemorate the G7 Summit to be held in Hiroshima from May 19 to May 21, 2023, the City of Hiroshima, in cooperation with the Hiroshima City Kagura Promotion Liaison Council, will be holding two very special free public kagura events. The first will be held on April 21 (Fri) and 22 (Sat), and the second will be held during Golden Week on May 5 (Fri) and 6 (Sat).
But what is kagura? For those who aren’t familiar, let’s take a deep DIVE! into the wonderful world of kagura!
Kagura is, as the legend goes, the oldest form of entertainment in Japan. The kanji that make up kagura (神楽) literally mean “gods” and “entertainment” or “entertaining the gods.” One of the oldest legends in Japan is the story of the Sun Goddess closing herself off from the world in a rock cave (essentially, the modern equivalent of locking yourself in your room) after her brother does some truly awful stuff. To lure her out of the cave and save the world from complete darkness, the goddess Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto starts to perform a lively dance, which becomes the first kagura performance. Fun fact: Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto is still worshiped today as a goddess of entertainment and the arts!
So, what can you expect at a Hiroshima Kagura performance?
Kagura plays tell stories through musicians and dancers. During the performance, four musicians playing the kagura flute, hand cymbals, small taiko drum, and large taiko drum provide the soundtrack, as well as chant or sing background information during the performance. The dancers are the main actors that act out the story. Some plays can have as many as ten or more dancers on stage at once! Wearing lavish, hand-embroidered costumes, wigs, and make-up, the dancers act, sing, and dance around the stage much like a musical.
Let’s talk about what makes kagura different from other traditional Japanese performing arts like kabuki or noh. One of the biggest differences is its religious roots in Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan. Kagura was originally performed only at Shinto shrines as a way to give thanks to the gods for a bountiful harvest. As Shintoism spread throughout Japan, so too did kagura. Another difference is that kagura is performed by members of the local community, not by professional actors like kabuki and noh. Kagura is closely connected to their local regional community and is a wonderful example of grassroots folk art.
Characteristics of Hiroshima Kagura
So, now that we have the basic history of kagura covered, let’s take a deeper look at Hiroshima Kagura in specific. One defining characteristic is the existence of kyū-mai and shin-mai. Originally passed down to Hiroshima from the Iwami region of Shimane, early Hiroshima Kagura was centered on ritual performances at Shinto shrines, known today as kyū-mai, meaning “old-style dance.” Kyū-mai performances are characterized by their slower pacing and use of religious texts for stories.
Shin-mai, or “new-style dance,” on the other hand, dates back to post-WWII Japan. During the post-war occupation of Japan by US forces, the Shinto Directive was issued, abolishing Shinto as the national religion and prohibiting some rites deemed to be nationalistic or militaristic. Kagura was one of those rites. It was Hiroshima-resident Junzō Sasaki who saved kagura from falling into extinction by creating shin-mai kagura based off stories found in kabuki and noh, instead of religious texts. This allowed kagura troupes to continue to perform under occupation. Shin-mai plays are dynamic and fast-paced with stories that generally focus on good versus evil.
Another characteristic of Hiroshima Kagura is kagura competitions, in particular, the Geiseki Kagura Competition. This huge kagura competition, generally held in Chiyoda-cho (current Kita-Hiroshima-cho), is actually where the terms shin-mai and kyū-mai originated. In 1965, the head judge of the competition, Hisato Shinfuji, declared that the stories of pre-war kagura were instrumental in creating the mindset of the Japanese people and should be preserved for future generations. From then on at the competition, they used the terms shin-mai and kyū-mai to differentiate between the two.
These competitions are also the reason why modern kagura plays are roughly 45 minutes long, as it would have been difficult for audiences and judges to sit through performances that lasted for hours. Another prominent feature of Hiroshima Kagura that came from these competitions is their dramatic staging.
Everything began with their performance at Aster Plaza. It was the first time in kagura history that it was performed not just as a traditional performing art, but also as a stage art, and crowds packed the performance hall, leaving many watching from standing room only. The crowds left the venue after rousing rounds of thunderous applause, and soon word began to spread in Hiroshima City about how incredible and entertaining kagura was.
This is how Hiroshima Kagura evolved into the crowd-pleasing form of entertainment that it is today, using props like smoke machines, ornate masks for demons that shoot sparks and flames, and paper streamers to represent magic or blood.
What to Expect at the G7 Hiroshima Summit Commemorative Kagura Performance Series
This very special free commemorative performance series showcases two different types of kagura in Hiroshima, Geihoku Kagura and Aki Jū-ni Jingi (The 12 Plays of Aki), as well as some of the most well-known and well-loved plays. With three plays performed each evening, complete with English subtitles, it’s perfect for kagura beginners! Join in and experience the magic of Hiroshima Kagura.
The series features kyū-mai, shin-mai, and Aki Jū-ni Jingi plays:
- Invoking the Gods (Shihō Harai)
- The Eight-Headed Snake Demon (Yamata-no-Orochi)
- Lady Takiyasha (Takiyasha-hime)
- Katsuragi (Katsuragi-zan)
- The Demon Spider (Tsuchigumo)
- Ōeyama (Ōeyama)
Aki Jū-ni Jingi
- Eight Flower Petals (Yatsuhana-no-Mai)
- Dance of the Gods (Seki-no-Mai)
Quick Introduction to the Plays
Shihō Harai (Invoking the Gods)
Shihō Harai (Invoking the Gods) is an extremely important play because it is the first play performed at autumn festivals as a way to purify the space and welcome the gods into the shrine. The performance includes all of the basic kagura movements and the meanings that go along with them. It is said that these basic movements evolved into the different performances and movements in modern kagura.
Yatsuhana-no-mai (Eight Flower Petals)
This performance features four swordsmen training for battle. When looking at the four dancers in a circle with their swords drawn, it looks like a flower unfolding, which is where the title, Eight Flower Petals, comes from. An extremely acrobatic and dynamic performance, Eight Flower Petals requires each dancer to be in sync with one another.
Seki-no-mai (Dance of the Gods)
This performance, also called Arahira-no-mai (The Dance of Arahira), is not only a representative of the Aki Jū-ni Jingi style of kagura, it’s also a highlight. While the character of Arahira is usually an evil demon who has done countless terrible things, it is also said that the more terrible things Arahira does, the more blessings are bestowed once the demon changes their ways. Arahira holds a large staff known as the taishi-hanjō (lit. “ambition and prosperity”) that has the power to turn people young again and bring about peace.
Yamata-no-Orochi (The Eight-Headed Snake Demon)
In the land of Izumo-no-Kuni (current eastern Shimane prefecture), there lived an elderly couple with eight daughters. However, year by year and one by one, their daughters were eaten by a fearsome eight-headed snake demon called Yamata-no-Orochi. Left with only one precious daughter, the elderly couple is in despair over how to save her. It was then that the powerful god, Susano-o, happened upon the elderly couple and their daughter. When he asked why they were so sad, they told him the story, and he agreed to slay the demon in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage. The elderly couple agreed, and Susano-o hatched a plan to slay the demon: he has the elderly couple make a barrel of poisoned sake, then, their daughter stands behind it, so her reflection is visible in the sake. Orochi would then consume the sake, thinking it was the daughter, and be weakened by the poison. Once weakened, Susano-o would attack and triumph over Orochi. Susano-o’s plan works, and after slaying the demon, a sword falls from its stomach. Susano-o claims the sword as proof of his victory, and it becomes a national treasure.
Takiyasha-hime (Lady Takiyasha)
Set about 1,000 years ago, when the aristocrats in Kyoto, the capital of Japan, lived in the lap of luxury while the people living outside of the capital lived in poverty. Angered at this disparity of wealth, General Taira-no-Masakado, a resident of the Kanto area, decided to overthrow the current government and create his own capital province in the east where wealth would be distributed more evenly. However, when the government received word of his plans, they ordered him and his entire family to be killed. This play centers on Lady Takiyasha, the sole survivor of the Taira clan massacre. Seeking revenge, she is gifted dark magical powers by a god and assembles an army to destroy the government forces who murdered her family.
Tsuchigumo/Katsuragi-zan (The Demon Spider/Mt. Katsuragi)
Long ago in Yamato-no-Kuni (current Nara Prefecture), high on Mt. Katsuragi, there lived an ancient spider demon bent on throwing the world into chaos. When the great general Minamoto-no-Raikō falls terribly ill, the demon seizes on the opportunity to be rid of him. Raikō sends his maid, Kochō, to fetch some medicine to cure him, but before she can return, the demon attacks her and possesses her body. The demon then brings Raikō poison, telling him that it is a potent medicine. Raikō takes the medicine, but realizes that Kochō has been possessed by the spider demon and attacks with his sword, a family heirloom with magical powers. The spider demon, bleeding, flees to its lair on Mt. Katsuragi. Raikō entrusts the magical sword to his men and sends them to Mt. Katsuragi to slay the spider demon.
Set about 1,000 years ago, this is the story of a fearsome demon named Shuten-dōji who lives on Mt. Ōe-yama in Kyoto. Shuten-dōji and his loyal henchmen terrorized the people of Kyoto with every evil deed imaginable. Seeing his people suffering, the emperor ordered Minamoto-no-Raikō to deal with the demons of Mt. Ōe-yama once and for all. Raikō and his men disguise themselves as yamabushi mountain monks and head to Mt. Ōe-yama. On their travels there, they stopped at a local shrine to pray for victory over the demons and receive a very special sake from the god of the shrine. The sake, when imbibed by demons, would make them lose their power, and so Raikō offers it to Shuten-dōji to weaken him. Once weakened, Raikō and his men attack, and after an epic battle with the demons, our heroes emerge victorious.
Kagura Viewing Etiquette
You might think that because kagura is a traditional performing art, it’s a formal and ceremonial affair. While Hiroshima Kagura upholds its traditional roots as a sacred ritual, it has also evolved in a unique way, adding various elements of entertainment and becoming a highly artist performing art all its own. So, we invite our first-time viewers to think of kagura as a musical, rather than a ceremony. Relax. Feel the rhythm of the pounding taiko drums, get lost in the lilting melody of the kagura flute, and prepare to be dazzled by the dancers and their incredible costumes as you experience the magic of kagura.
Applause and cheering from the audience are not only welcomed, they’re encouraged and part of proper kagura-viewing etiquette! Audience interaction is a huge part of kagura, so when you see the dancers twirling around the stage or holding impressive poses, be sure to give them a big round of applause.
We hope to see everyone at the G7 Hiroshima Summit Commemorative Kagura Performance Series! Detailed event information is below.
Dates: April 21 (Fri)-22 (Sat), May 5 (Fri)-6 (Sat)
Times: Venue opens at 4:30 pm, performances begin at 5:30 pm, show ends around 8:00 pm
Venues: Ninomaru at Hiroshima Castle (21-1 Moto-machi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima), Moto-machi Cred Plaza (6-78 Moto-machi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima)
|4/21 (Fri)||Ninomaru at Hiroshima Castle||Kameyama Kagura Troupe||・ Invoking the Gods
・ The Eight-Headed Snake Demon
|Minochi Kagura Troupe||Lady Takiyasha|
|4/22 (Sat)||Miyazaki Kagura Troupe||・Mt. Katsuragi
・ The Eight-Headed Snake Demon
|Ato Kagura Troupe||・Eight Flower Petals
・ The Dance of the Gods
|5/5 (Fri)||Moto-machi Cred Plaza||Kaminakachōshi Kagura Troupe||・ Lady Takiyasha
・ The Demon Spider
|Imuro Kagura Troupe||The Eight-Headed Snake Demon|
|5/6 (Sat)||Takai Kagura Troupe||・The Demon Spider
・ Mt. Ōeyama
|Ōmori Kagura Troupe||Lady Takiyasha|
- Photography for commercial purposes and filming are not allowed.
- Parking lots for these events are unavailable. We ask for your cooperation in using public transport (trains, buses, etc.) when coming to the venues.
- You will not be allowed to save seats for others.
- You may be asked to leave if the venue/seats are full. We ask for your kind understanding in this matter.
- If you do not follow staff directions or the rules written here, you may be asked to leave, or we may cancel the event.
- This event may be filmed by the organizers. We ask for your kind understanding as audience members may appear in the footage.
- Please refrain from participating if you have a fever or other symptoms.
Economic Affair and Tourism Bureau
The City of Hiroshima
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