Shishimai (Japanese Lion Dance) (獅子舞)

"Shishimai" (Japanese lion dance) is one of the traditional Japanese performing arts, in which performers mimic a lion's movements in a lion costume to festival music.

This section also describes the Chinese version, which is simply called the lion dance.

Various theories exist about the origin of shishimai, such as the Chinese-origin theory and the Indian-origin theory, but nothing can be said for sure.

Japanese Shishimai

Shishimai is seen all over Japan, and its styles differ greatly from place to place. It is roughly divided into two types, "Gigaku" school and "Furyu" school. The headgear of the lion costume, called "shishi-gashira," is mostly made from wood, but there also exists headgear which is made by sticking traditional Japanese paper together, and recently, headgear made from styrene foam is seen, too. A large variety of dance schools exist, including the well-known Furyu school and "Kagura" school ("Kagura" means the sacred music and dancing performed at shrines), and every school can be said to be unique.

Gigaku school of shishimai

The Gigaku school (also called Kagura school) is seen nationwide (in particular, in western Japan), and it is categorized into three types, big lion, middle-sized lion, and small lion, according to the number of people who get into the body part of the lion costume. In the big lion type, "hayashikata" (people who play "hayashi," or musical accompaniment) get into the body part of the lion along with the costume swinger. In the small lion type, one person swings the headgear and also mimics the movements of the body part of the lion. Mostly, "shishimai" performances, including those shown at New Year's or in "kagura," are this school's. This school's shishimai is deemed to have originated from China, so it seems to have the same origin as today's Chinese lion dance.

Furyu school of shishimai

The Furyu school of shishimai is seen mainly in the Kanto and Tohoku regions. In the Furyu school, one person performs one lion, and each person does the dance beating the drum tied to its belly. In some parts of the Tohoku region, "shishiodori" (the deer dance) is performed in groups of seven to eight people, and the most common is the three lion dance performed in groups of three people. This is the general local performing art and folk entertainment at farming and mountain villages in the area that was once called Musashi Province, which overlaps with today's Tokyo Metropolis and Saitama Prefecture. One of the three lions is a female (in Japanese, "mejishi"), and many local communities have a dance program called "Mejishi Kakushi" where two male lions fight with each other for a female lion. The dance is accompanied with "shino-bue" (the Japanese bamboo flute) and "sasara" (the Japanese bamboo percussion instrument). Sasara' performers play at the four corners of the garden stage of the dance.
The three lion dance is sometimes performed without a 'sasara.'
The Furyu school of shishimai is said to have originated from Drum Dance or Imperial Court Guards' Dance, both seen in western Japan, and a predominant theory says Furyu school of shishimai might have began when some star performers changed their headgears into "shishigashira." But another long-lasting theory says that Furyu school of shishimai in eastern Japan originated from ancient Japanese dance, and that the headgear was originally modeled on that of a deer or wild boar. Shishigashira is usually made from wood (paulownia), and besides shishigashira, there also exists the headgear of a dragon and deer.

Chinese lion dance

In Pinyin, the Chinese lion dance is written as "wǔshī." And when we simply say "lion dance," it mostly means the Chinese lion dance.

The Chinese lion dance is said to have existed as early as in the age of the Tang dynasty. "The creature movement mimicker is like the person who was just performing the fish dance, the prawn dance, and the lion dance," says Meng Kang's commentary on the book of ritual and music in the series of Historical Records of the Han Dynasty. Established in the age of the Qing dynasty, the present performance styles of the Chinese lion dance are categorized into two, Northern style and Southern style, - the latter has been handed down in the communities of the practitioners of Chinese martial arts, and it is performed with their physical techniques - and there are dance competitions. A performance group consists of the musical band members and two other people, that is, a person in charge of the lion shishigashira and forefeet, and another in charge of the back legs and back. The dance is performed in celebrations, such as the Chinese New Year and business opening ceremonies, for exorcising evil spirits and bringing good fortune.

Also in Japan, there exist Chinese lion dance groups at Chinatowns and at the municipalities and other institutions that have close ties with China or Taiwan, and their performances are seen whenever an event is held. In "The Young Master," a movie that featured Jackie Chan, the Southern style lion dance was seen.

Chinese lion dance groups in Japan
Yokohama Chinatown (in Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture)
The Dragon and Lion Dance Group of the Yokohama Overseas Chinese Youth Association/Yokohama Overseas Chinese School O.B. Association
Kobe Nankin-machi (in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture)
The Japanese Lion Dance Group of the Kobe Athletic Association
Nagasaki Shinchi Chinatown (in Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture)
Chinese Garden Enchoen (in Yurihama-cho, Tottori Prefecture)
The Japanese Lion Dance Group in Tottori
The Kobe overseas Chinese (in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture)
The Lion Dance Group of the Kobe Overseas Chinese Association/The Lion Dance Group of the Kobe Nankin-cho

[Original Japanese]