Kagura (神楽)

Kagura is a chanting and dancing performance dedicated to gods in Shinto rituals. Kagura may be observed at shrine festivals, and rarely at some temples.


The word 'kagura' is commonly believed to have been transferred from 'kamukura' (a seat for gods). Kamukura means 'a place for gods to stay' where Shinto gods shall descend and enjoy together with the people a feast of chanting and dancing, which became called kagura, while miko (shrine maidens) purify uncleanness of gathered people and become mediumistic to transfer the gods' will to the people and the people's wish to the gods. According to Kojiki (the Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihonshoki (the Chronicle of Japan), kagura had its origin in a Japanese ancient myth of the oracular Amenouzume (goddess of the dawn and revelry) who had performed a dance in a chapter of Ama no iwato (Cave of heaven). Since Sarumenokimi, who was regarded as a descendant of Amenouzume, was engaged in rituals for the repose of souls, the original form of kagura may be considered to have been an entertainment of the gods accompanying formal rituals for repose and the shaking of souls.

Kagura can be classified into two kinds, mikagura and satokagura, the former being performed in the imperial court and the latter among ordinary people. Yasuji HONDA (1906 - 2001), a foremost authority of folklore entertainment, has further divided the satokagura into miko-kagura (kagura performed by shrine maidens), Izumoryu-kagura (Izumo school of kagura), Iseryu-kagura (kagura of Ise school) and shishi-kagura (lion style Kagura). Their descendant kagura can also be seen everywhere in Japan. Recently, however, the above way of sorting has became occasionally inconvenient and its review is now under consideration. There are also some kagura created in the modern age and performed currently in many shrines.


Mikagura, also known kashikodokoro kagura, is a formal dancing ritual performed at kashikodokoro (a palace sanctuary) within the imperial court, which was originally named as naishidokoro mikagura in ancient time. It is included in the category of gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music) (also known as kokufu-kabu (traditional court music and dance)). It is believed that mikagura were officially established at such events, firstly as the Kinka-shinen (kagura) performed at Seisho-do hall in the imperial court for Daijosai (the first ceremonial offering of rice by newly enthroned emperor) and, secondly, as a kagura dance performed as Kaeridachi (entertainment of chanting and dancing in front of emperor after an official ritual offered to gods) for the special festival of Kamo-jinja Shrine, and, thirdly, as a kagura dance performed for the Sono narabi Kara kami no matsuri (festival for both the southern shrine for Sonokami (god) and the northern shrine for Karakami (god) enshrined in Kunaisho (Ministry of the Sovereign's Household)), and, lastly, as a kagura dance performed for the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine special festival. Such mikagura had been performed every two years since 1002 or 1005 until they were changed to be held annually. Although simplified, mikagura is currently performed at Kashikodokoro in the middle of December every year by Shikibushoku Gakubu (Music Department) of Imperial Household Agency as well as for the Daijosai.


Generally, it is what people called kagura. The word satokagura is used in comparison with mikagura, while, in a more limited sense, it means private kagura performed in Kanto region.

Miko-kagura means a kagura dance performed by miko. Originally it was performed for possession by the supernatural, and later it became formalized as a dance for prayers and devotion to gods. The former case was featured by dances whirling in order and reverse order, and this old manner of dancing is still seen in some performance, although the latter case is now dominant. They perform with torimono (symbolic offerings) in their hands, such as a bell, a folding fan, a dwarf bamboo, a twig of sakaki tree (a sacred tree of Shinto), and gohei (a wooden wand decorated with two zigzag paper streamers), as yorishiro (object representative of a divine spirit).

Izumoryu-kagura originates from Gozagae Shinji (Shinto ritual of God place change) performed at Sata-jinja Shrine. This Gozagae Shinji (also known as Sata Shinnoh (a kind of Noh plays dedicated to Sata-jinja Shrine)), is composed by such as torimono-mai dance to purify newly placed mats for gods, and Shinnoh adopting various Japanese myths and legends of shrines, and in this school, the kagura has become more dramatic and spread all over the country, especially in Chugoku region. Especially, a school of Iwami-kagura in the west part of Shimane Prefecture and the northwest of Hiroshima Prefecture has now established as an amusement art which is popular among people including children.

Iseryu-kagura is a combined form of kagura and yudate. This kagura is considered to have been spread widely by players of kagura performed at subsidiary shrines of Ise-jingu Shrine. It is also known as Shimotsuki-kagura (kagura played in November) or Hanamatsuri (flower festival). Yudate, a rite that miko and others boil water in a caldron and splash the hot water on themselves or people around to purify them, is joined by kagura dance played either by a miko with torimono or by a masked Noh player.

Shishi-kagura is a kind of shishimai (lion dances). Different from Furyu School of shishimai, this shishi-kagura is played by a dancer bearing a mask of lion head, which is regarded as goshintai (an object of worship housed in a Shinto shrine and believed to contain the spirit of god), to implement prayers and rituals at various local shrines where a band of kagura players go on a tour. It has two schools; one is called yamabushi-kagura (kagura played by ascetic monks living in mountains) which is performed in Tohoku region, and another called dai-kagura which is performed in Ise and other provinces.

The classification mentioned above is very rough, and, in addition, there are some local kagura which possibly contain a number of mixed features of the various kagura.

Dai-kagura is a kind of kagura performed by jinin (associates of Shinto shrines) of Ise-jingu Shrine and Atsuta-jingu Shrine, who travel around the country to visit various local shrines (kaidan (literally, circuit ritual services)) and distribute talismans, as kamado-harai (purification of cooking ovens) and akuma-barai (expulsion of devils) to be performed on the street of a village. Dai-kagura (太神楽) can also be written in Japanese letters as 大神楽 or 代神楽. It is composed of shishimai and kyokugei (acrobatics). Shishimai for Ise dai-kagura (lion dances for dai-kagura plays dedicated to Ise-jingu Shrine) were transmitted at various local villages of kaidan, and they are now known as shishimai of Ise dai-kagura. Atsuta school (jinin of Atsuta-jingu Shrine) shifted their headquarters to Edo at the start of the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). Kyokugei played as a form of entertainment have developed to become a part of dai-kagura played on stage, namely Edo dai-kagura and Mito dai-kagura.

Kagura as Art for Public Entertainment
Since the emergence of yose (vaudevilles) in a late Edo period, performances in a range from ritualized kagura to entertainment kyokugei (so called juggling) have come to be often played on stage.

In the world of yose, kagura is often referred to as iromono (various entertainments in storytellers' theater other than story telling) and called dai-kagura kyokugei (acrobatics of Dai-kagura), apart from rakugo (comic storytellings) and kodan (historical narratives).

Major Programs
"Kyokubachi" (an acrobatic performance using a number of drumsticks)
"Nagabachi no kyoku" (an acrobatic performance using two normal and one long stick)
"Hagoita Aioi no kyoku" (an acrobatic performance using two hagoita battledores and one temari ball)
"Magemari" (an acrobatic performance using a number of temari balls)
"Kasa no kyoku" (an acrobatic performance using an umbrella to roll rice bowls and other magemono bowls or temari balls on it)
"Hanakago-mari no kyoku" (an acrobatic performance using flower baskets and temari balls)
"Gokai-jawan" (an acrobatic performance using a long rod to support numbers of rolling rice bowls and other items well balanced on top of the rod)
"Aioi-jawan no kyoku" (an acrobatic performance using two rice bowls and numbers of temari balls)
"Mizukumoi no Kyoku" (an acrobatic performance using a long rod to support rolling bowls or glasses filled with water and other items all well balanced on top of the rod)
"Suehiro Ichimanto" (an acrobatic performance to make up a high tower with lamps by stacking up four separate stories)

Major Kyokugeishi (acrobats)
Somenosuke EBIICHI and Sometaro EBIICHI
Up to second generation Ebizo EBIICHI
Okinaya Waraku shachu (members of Okinaya Waraku School) of Edo dai-kagura
Waraku OKINAYA, currently third generation. Koraku OKINAYA, currently fourth generation (who is now acting as a member of Okinaya's Waraku and Koraku combination).

Maruichi-sen-o shachu (members of Maruichi-sen-o School) (formerly called Kagami-kosen shachu (members of Kagami-kosen school))
Kosen KAGAMI, currently thirteenth iemoto (the head family of a school)

Tokijiro KAGAMI
Kenjiro KAGAMI
Jiro KAGAMI (who is now acting as a member of Candy Brothers)

Mito dai-kagura
Shoraku YANAGIYA is now third generation (the eldest son of Juo).
Katsuzo YANAGIYA (second son of Juraku)
Koyuki YANAGIYA (the third generation is daughter of Shoraku)
Gennosuke MATSUMOTO, current fourth generation

[Original Japanese]