Saturday, November 8, 2008

"hime" Iwami kagura masks


Here are 2 versions of "hime" masks in the Iwami Kagura style.


Hime is commonly translated as "princess", although it meant a woman of high birth.


Nowadays, in terms of masks at least, is simply means female.


There are several female characters in Iwami kagura, and often the same mask is used for all of them, but the commonest is Amaterasu in the Iwato dance. Most kagura groups use the same mask for Uzume, the other female character in the Iwato dance, but we use a slightly different mask which I will post next.

Kagura mask index

Friday, November 7, 2008

Giant Radish


The Daikon are now big enough to start being harvested. Daikon literally means "big root", but it is commonly called Giant Radish in English. Originally introduced from Asia, I remember seeing it in Asian shops in England when I was a kid where it was known as Mooli.

When I first came to Japan I really didn't like daikon, but once we moved to the country, and received daikon from neighbors on an almost daily basis, I came to love it. It grows easily, and quickly, and is used in an astonishing number of dishes in Japan.


Dakon hanging in the sun to dry is a common site now anywhere in the countryside. After a couple of weeks they are then turned into takuan, the yellow daikon pickle in just about every bento.

The young leaves are used as greens, and the older leaves turned into another kind of pickle.

Raw, grated daikon is the bed on which sashimi is served, and is also added to the dipping sauce for tempura. There are also a variety of salads using daikon.

Big chunks of daikon are found in Nabe and Oden, the 2 types of winter stew.


Our surplus we peel, slice, and then dry until rock-hard. Stored in airtight containers it stays usable for years. My neighbor dries them, then reconstitutes and cooks them in a mix of sake and soy sauce, and then dries them again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Comfort town


This is the manhole cover for Koryo Town in Izumo. It is actually a new administrative town,.. really it's just a collection of villages scattered over a wide area near Jinzaiko (Lake Jinzai) southwest of Izumo City. The design shows swans on Jinzaiko.

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The wording around the outside of the cover says "Nukumori no konforto taun" which means "Comfort town of warmth", and is obviously the town slogan meant to entice people to live there.


I spent a day wandering around visiting all the shrines in the area, and it's the kind of place I enjoy exploring. Quiet and friendly.

God's Music

Gods' Music - The Japanese Folk Theatre of Iwami Kagura

Terence Lancashire

Florian Noetzel

351 pp.

ISBN 3-7959-0890-6

As is obvious by reading this blog, I am a big fan of Iwami Kagura, and there is precious little information about it in English.

However 2 weeks ago I came across this book published in 2006 and had to have it even though it's expensive, like all academic publications.

I devoured the book in one day, and will re-read more slowly several more time for sure.
It is almost like an encyclopedia, with a full list of the dances, words and texts to the songs, as well as musical notation for all the pieces. As reference material this alone is worth the high price of the book.

The book is really outstanding when it comes to history. The Iwami kagura tradition is transmitted orally, so the further one goes back in time the less sure we can be of anything, but as well as thoroughly surveying all the literature on Iwami kagura in the Japanese language, lancashire also applies his own research to other older materials. He looks at all the other kagura tradition in Japan and where they might have come from, as well as setting kagura within other musical and theatrical and religious practises.

For his research he was based in the Masuda City area, and so concerns himself most deeply with kagura as it is practised there, but writes frequently about the other traditions in Iwami, including the area I live in with its' older Omoto Kagura tradition as well as the kagura traditions in neighboring Izumo, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi.

The only minor quibble I have with the book is that the pohtos used don't really do justice to the dance.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Suga Shrine, Matsubara, Hamada

Suga Shrine

Tucked away against the hill is the Suga Shrine in the little fishing village of Matsubara.

The shrine grounds were being used as a car park, and the place did not look like a very busy shrine.

Suga Shrine

It has a fairly large honden though, leading me to think it was a more important shrine in earlier days.

The Kami enshrined in Suga shrines are Susano and his wife Kushinada. Within the shrine grounds are smaller secondary shrines, Hachiman, Atago, and a Mishima shrine enshrining Oyamazumi.

Suga Shrine

The original Suga shrine is located in the mountains of Izumo, and is believed to be the site of the "palace" built by Susano after he slew the serpent Yamata no Orochi and married Kushinada. Susano then wrote a poem....

Many clouds rise up
clouds appear to form a fence
holding this couple;
They form layers of a fence
Oh, the layers of that fence.

This is considered to be the first example of a Tanka in Japanese history.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October Harvest 2


With no sign of a frost yet, the garden is still producing tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, and the first of the winter carrots too.

Spinach, called horenso in Japanese is harvestable now too. Horen is Chinese for Persia, and so means plant, so the Japanese name means "Persian plant", Persia being the area it originated from before being introduced into Japan from China.

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Lettuce, retasu in Japanese, are also being picked. I planted 3 kinds with seeds from England. Lettuce was introduced into Japan from the U.S. after WWII.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A protracted and theatrical death.

In this final video from the recent annual matsuri in my village. In this ending sequence to the dance, the hero, Yorimasa, and his sidekick dispatch the evil demon. The demon is hit by arrows at least 6 times, hacked and stabbed with swords, and still manages to keep fighting!!

The Yorimasa story is set in the 12th Century, with the Emperor being afflicted by an evil spirit inhabiting a dark cloud. Minamoto Yorimasa is summoned and he dispatches the monster with a single arrow shot into the cloud. In the story the monster has the face of a monkey, the back of a lion, the tail of a fox, the feet of a badger, and the voice of a bird.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monkey Attack (comedic interlude)

Continuing with videos from the annual matsuri in my village last week. A couple of weeks ago I saw 2 kagura groups use the Kakko dance to inject a comedic interlude into the all-night performance, but the Tanijyugo group uses the Yorimasu dance for this purpose.

After a bit of stand-up comedy, the hapless farmer is harassed by a troop of monkeys who serve a demon. This is the dance that uses the baby monkey masks. The monkeys chase the farmer through the audience, stopping sometimes to pose for the cameras. Kids, and sometimes adults in the audience will also be grabbed and dragged on stage. I've seen very young children grabbed and be absolutely terrified, much to the delight of their parents.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Demon's entrance

Continuing with some videos of kagura performed by my neighbors at the village's annual matsuri.

It's usually dramatic when an Oni (demon/ogre) makes it's appearance on the stage. In this sequence Hachiman, the God of war based on the semi-mythical Emperor Ojin, is dancing alone on the stage. Amid clouds of smoke and brandishing a firework, the demon arrives and begins the battle with Hachiman. Good versus Evil, and Good of course wins.

Though a traditional folk art, Iwami kagura is notable for having adapted over time. Smoke machines and fireworks were first used at a performance of Iwami Kagura at the World Expo held in Osaka in 1970. Now their use has spread and most kagura groups utilize the technology. Radio mikes are now also standard equipment.

Tanijyugo kagura group dance in the 8-beat style.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jingi Daiko

Last weekend was the annual matsuri in my village, Tanijyugo, so I'm going to post several videos of the all-night kagura performed by the villagers.

This first piece is called Jingi daiko, and is local to Iwami Kagura. It's not very common, I've only seen it performed once in Ichiyama, and they did a different version than this one from my village.

The 4 drummer dancers represent the 4 seasons.

If there is one sound that represents Japanese music to me it's the sound of the Taiko, the big drum.