Showing posts with label iwato. Show all posts
Showing posts with label iwato. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Month of Little Sleep part 9


Past midnight and the inevitable Iwato was performed. It is one of my least favorite dances, but the last sequence after Amaterasu has been brought out of the cave and the assembled kami celebrate is performed with gusto by 8-beat groups such as Tanijyugo, and it gets quite frenetic with much leaping about.


Then onto Jinrin with the usual spectacular demons entrance.....


Next up was a rare performance of Benkei & Yoshitsune. Benkei, the legendary and archetypal sohei (warrior monk) is waiting on Gojo bridge in Kyoto to challenge the next samurai who passes. he has done this successfully 99 times. A slight, young Yoshitsune comes along.


Yoshitsune had been trained in swordsmanship by a tengu in the mountains north of kyoto, and his acrobatic skill is too much for Benkei who after being defeated becomes Yoshitsunes lifelong loyal vassal.... a very similar story to Robin Hood and Little John....


next dance was Tenjin, the first time I had seen the dance this season. Sugawara Michizane, the hero,, deified as Tenjin, wears a mask uncannily like the Guy Fawkes mask in V for Vendetta, takes on his arch-enemy Fujiwara no Tokihira.


It was 2:30am, still 4 more hours of kagura to go, but I left to grab some sleep as the next day there was an all night Omoto Matsuri up in the mountains and I wanted to stay all night for that....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Month of Little Sleep part 7


Last saturday the villages of Matsukawa had their matsuris, so we started out in Tsuchi, home to one of the best kagura groups in the area, and the teachers of our own villages kagura group.


The night opened with a ceremonial dance, Suzu Kagura, bell kagura. I dont remember ever having seen it before, and the two main sources on Iwami Kagura in English dont mention it, but those books were based in Hiroshima and Masuda and so dont know much of the detail of kagura in our area. The name of the bells that are used are kagura suzu.


Next the kids performed Shiobarai, the dance that purifies the space. Like everything the Tsuchi group does it was tight and fast,,,,,


Next up, Iwato, and while I find it one of the less interesting dances a few moments in this performance grabbed my attention, like when Tajikarao did some wild leaps in front of the cave.......


Around midnight we headed down the valley to the Suwa Shrine in the village of Kamikawado,... not so much a village rather a collection of farms strung along a narrow valley. The village doesnt have a kagura group so our villages were performing here...... Iwato, one more time.....


And one more stop on our way home at the shrine in Ichimura where the dance Yamato Takeru was underway. Ive always found this dance strange because it celebrates the defeat of local leaders by the Yamato, kind of like Native Americans or the Welsh celebrating their subjugation. So deeply has the national identity overidden local, tribal identities....

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Month of Little Sleep part 4


Around 2:30am the kagura group took a break, something I have never seen before. I suspect that as the village has shrunk, so has the kagura group, and fewer members means each must do more and therefore not get any breaks during the long night. The audience took the opportunity to pull out some food and spread out... All night long Mr Yama operating the barbecue grill outside had been passing free food into us.... fried noodles, barbecued squid, barbecued crab legs..... along with copious amounts of cold beer and sake, so we were full but could not refuse the offers from different groups in the audience who insisted we join them and share their food....this, for me, is the essence of matsuri....


After the break the action started up  with the Oeyama dance with lots of demons including the favorite of the audience, a junior demon...


The spiders web trapped the hero but he was of course able to free himself and kill the demon...


next up was Iwato, usually one of the first dances at a matsuri....


And then Ebisu, ably assisted by junior Ebisu, distributing lucky candy to everyone in the audience...


The penultimate dance was Shoki.......


Outside the sky was lightening and more people had been arriving...... in the countryside people get up at 5... and so it was time for the finale, Susano's battle with the multiheaded Orochi.... It was a small kagura group, so there were only four heads to the serpent, but even so they took all the dance space and spilled out into the audience. An exciting end to a great night..... time to go home to bed and rest up..... in 3 days it would be an Omoto Matsuri up in Nakano....

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Month of Little Sleep part 1


For me, the month of October has to be "The Month Of Little Sleep". In our area the rice has been harvested and now it is time for matsuri, and around here matsuri means all night kagura. Every village has their own matsuri and there are some I try to visit every year as well as many I have not had time to visit yet.... the first for me this year was saturday night in Ichiyama...


Got there around 10pm and the Iwato dance was just starting....


Next dance was Hachiman with the almost obligatory demon/hero battle.... I keep rooting for the demons but they never win.....


Next up was a ceremonial dance, Kenmai, which means "sword dance" but involved no swords. It was seperated from the sword part of the dance which is performed at Omoto Kagura.....


Next up was Jimmu, a dance based on the exploits of the mythical first emperor of Japan who subjugated the various clans and tribes of Western Japan in his invasion from Kyushu to kansai....


Next up was Kakko, a dance about a comedic figure who steals a sacred drum and attempts to unlock its power.....

Around 2:30am,  we took our leave of the good folks in Ichiyama and started to walk towards home...

More information about these dances, including videos, can be found by clicking on the labels of this post...

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Origin of shimenawa


Shimenawa, the ropes usually made of rice-straw though increasingly of plastic, are found in many places in Japan though typically at shrines. They can be found wrapped around sacred rocks, sacred trees, strung across torii, shrine entrance gates, and across shrine structures. they come in a huge diversity of styles and sizes up to the 5 ton giant at Izumo Taisha.


There are many theories as to the origin of shimenawa, many connecting it to the use of rope to mark possession of things or space, and I have also read that it originates in the rope tied around the campsite of central Asian nomads, but the simple truth is nobody knows for sure.


When it comes to the mythological origin of the shimenawa however we are given two different origins, one connected to Amaterasu and the other to Susano. Not surprisingly the myth connected to Amaterasu is by far the dominant.


According to the Iwato myth, wherein Amaterasu hides herself away in a cave and plunges the world into darkness, she is finally tempted out by the dance of Uzume, and after Tajikarao pulls her out another kami stretches a rope across the cave entrance to stop Amaterasu from going back in. I realize that myths do not have to make sense, but this story makes no sense at all because if a shimenawa is supposed to stop a kami from entering a space, then why are they used to mark space that is inhabited by kami?


In Okayama there is a story that tells how Susano instructed the local people how to make a chinowa, a hoop woven out of reeds or sometimes rice straw that by passing through purifies the person. Further north in Tottori a similar story tells how in return for a kindness Susano teaches a local man how to string a rope along the street to purify it and keep out disease. Shimenawa mark sacred space, and in Japan the sacred is equated with purity, so these stories make much more sense.


So why is the Amaterasu version the most common? Since the beginning of recorded history the Yamato have been denigrating Susano and elevating Amaterasu. Much of contemporary "shinto" is still tied to Imperial Shinto and the State Shinto of the late 19th Century. These forms of shinto placed the imperial family and Amaterasu at the apex and this is still put forward today. The Yamato were relative latecomers, even their own myths say that Susano and his descendants ruled over "Japan" before they did, so it makes sense that some of Japanese culture must originate from Izumo traditions.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


October Means Matsuri, Matsuri Means Kagura.

It's that time of the year again......... apologies to any of you who don't like kagura....


Saturday night we headed up into the mountains to the matsuri at the hachimangu shrine in Yamanaka. Never been to this matsuri before so I'm interested to see the kagura. On the 10k drive up to the village we pass 4 shrines all with lanterns blazing..... 4 more all night kagura matsuris....a lot of people in the area will not be sleeping tonight.

We arrived about midnight. Matsuris usually start around 9pm, but the first 2 dances are ritual dances and fairly standard..... not likely to be anything different or unusual. The third dance, the first "theatrical" dance is usually Iwato, and Ive seen that so many times.......

When we walked into the shrine Ebisu was dancing...... and the smaller one was 3 years old. They start young with kagura round here....


We were soon approached by people from the village.... "thank you for coming", "where are you from?" "would you like to eat some Oden?" "would you like some Omiki?".

Bowl after bowl of tasty Oden, cup after cup of Omiki,... 4 or 5 of the village men join us for conversation.

How does our kagura compare to your village? was a question often asked.

The next dance was Jimmu, a tale about the mythical first Emperor. a standard 4 person sword fight, the goodguys.... Jimmu and his aide. The badguys... The Nagasune Brothers, leaders of the people living on the land that the Yamato are invading and taking.

Spent a long time chatting with a man from Izumo. Again, comparisons between Izumo kagura and Iwami kagura were much discussed. He was well-versed in the old stories of Izumo and disdainful of the Kojiki/Yamato version of things..... He knew that Susano was the original kami of Izumo Taisha.... and he told me that most of the kami of Izumo were from Sila (Shiragi). Refreshing.


The next dance was Iwato! It should have been the first dance, but apparently one of the dancers was "tired" (a euphemism for too drunk already I suspect) so it was rescheduled.

It was a very relaxed matsuri. The dancers only dance this one time of the year. They dont play for other shrines nor enter into competitions. Most men in the small audience spent some time relieving musicians who were playing a little too loosely...... around 3a.m. we slipped out and headed down the mountain.....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Teono Shrine


Teono Shrine is situated atop a small hill, Honozan, between Izumo taisha and Inasa Beach. The 2 kami enshrined here are Taokihooi, a god of measuring, and Hikosashiri, a god of carpentry. They are considered to be the ancestors of 2 branches of the Imbe Clan, and in the Kogoshui version of the Iwato myth the 2 were charged with the construction of a "great palace" outside of the cave that Amaterasu was hiding in. Some consider this to be the first kagura den. Most likely this was the shrine for the builders of Izumo Taisha.


Behind the shrine is a sacred tree home to Shirohebi Daijin, I suspect the site of a visit by a white snake, considered particularly portentious.


Next to the shrine is a small park with an observation tower offering views over the surrounding country. The long beach is Nagahama, and according to the Kunibiki myth it is a rope that tethers this peninsular to Mount Sanbe, just visible in the distance.


Much of the land down below would have been water 100 years ago. Lake Shinji has been reduced by over one third and land reclaimed earlier in the twentieth Century. The Hi River once emptied into the sea here but now empties into what is left of lake Shinj. 10,000 years ago this peninsular was an island separated from the mainland.


Downtown Izumo City in the distance. The plastic greenhouses in the forground are for grapes for the Shimane Winery.

Monday, October 12, 2009

October means Matsuri. Matsuri means Kagura. Part 3


Our next matsuri was in Eno, a small village on the Yato River. This was our first time to matsuri here. It's a fairly new shrine, established under the orders/instructions of Omotojin during shamanic possession at Omoto kagura across the river in Ichiyama. Next month there will be Omoto Kagura here.


The matsuri was well attended! After sitting down we were given 2 steaming bowls of wild boar stew, and later warmed Omiki, the sacred sake. :)


The first dance after the ceremonial dances (shinji) was Iwato.


Something I've never seen before in performances of Iwato was that during Uzume's dance the other "kami" joined in playing the intruments.


Playing before the home crowd is always tough as locals are the toughest critics.


The next dance was Yumi Hachiman with the usual spectacular demons entrance. Around midnight we had to leave as there were 2 more matsuris to visit this night.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

October means Matsuri. Matsuri means Kagura.

At least it does in my neck of the woods.


We decided to head to the matsuri at Imada. Imada, like my village, is not a place you pass through on the way to somewhere. It's out of the way, small, and quiet.

It was a nice warm evening, and the full moon shone through the mantles of mist that lay upon the mountains around the shrine.


As soon as we arrived 2 cold beers were pressed into our hands. Later we were given steaming bowls of oden and more beer. I like village matsuri's :)


The atmosphere was nice and relaxed and there was plenty of space in the shrine to seit. Outside local people had octopus balls, yakitori, and oden cooking. Lots of kids running around as this is one of the few nights of the year they get to stay up all night.


We spent a good hour chatting with Mr. Yamanaka, a local councillor and a trove of information on local history. Several times he grovelled on the floor to show just how low in the social hierarchy Imada was. He seemed curiously proud of how the local people were historically the bottom rung of the lowest class. He also was able to fill me in with some details of a local shinwa. He was very interested in reintroducing the old ways of growing rice and food, in symbiotic relationship with animals, wild and domestic.

The kagura was good. Imada plays the older 6-beat style, and Mr. Yamanaka bemoaned the loss of traditions in the newer more popular 8 beat kagura.The group only perform once a year, but played consientiously.

This short video is from the Iwato dance and Uzume is dancing to entice Amaterasu out of the cave.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Uzume mask


This is the smallest of all the Iwami Kagura masks and is the goddess Uzume. In the most well-known of the ancient Japanese myths, Iwato, it is she who was responsible for getting Amaterasu out of the cave and so bringing light back to the world. She performed a type of shamanic dance, and at the end she pulled down her skirt and exposed her genitals. The cheers of the gathered kami piqued Amaterasu's curiosity so she peeked out of the cave and was pulled out by Tajikarao. This dance is considered to be the mythological origin of kagura.


The kagura dance of Iwato doesn't include the striptease, and is usually a fairly sedate and stylized dance, but I did see one performance wherein Uzume danced frenetically around the stage with sacred sakaki branches and hinted at the shamanic nature of original kagura.