Gosechi no Mai (五節舞)

Gosechi no mai was a dance that took place during a Toyoakari no sechie (a ceremony at a seasonal holiday) which was held at Daijo-sai festivals (a festival to celebrate the succession of an emperor) and Niiname-sai festivals (a ceremonial offering by the Emperor of newly-harvested rice to deities); in the dance, there would be four to five women dancing to music sung by the chief of the Outadokoro (an organization that provided the education and management of ancient Japanese music). At a Daijo-sai festivals there were five dancers.

Dancers were selected in a manner of two daughters from noble families and two from the zuryo (the head of provincial government) or tenjobito (a high-ranking courtier allowed into the Imperial Court). Having a daughter selected for the dance was considered an honor for the family. In some cases, Nyobo (court lady) were also selected as dancers.

Selected dancers spent days practicing until the evening of the day of the Ox (one of the twelve animals of the oriental zodiac), two days before the Niiname-sai festival, where they went to the Imperial Court and made a demonstration called 'Chodai no kokoromi' in front of the Emperor at Joneiden palace. On the day of the Tiger, a day before the festival, the dancers made another demonstration called 'Onmae no kokoromi' in front of the Emperor at Seiryoden palace.
On the day of the Rabbit, the day of the festival, the warawame (little girls) would accompany the dancers to Seiryoden palace where the Emperor would get to see them in a demonstration called 'Warawame goran.'
As shown by the number of demonstrations given, even the inspections by the Emperor were very strict.

The dance was derived out of a legend from the era of Emperor Tenmu telling how a tennyo (heavenly maiden) appeared and danced at Yoshino. As part of the performance, the dancers waved their sleeves in five different dances. Waving sleeves was akin to an occult art and shared the same meaning as the Chinkon-sai (a ceremony for the repose of a spirit), held on the preceding day of the Niiname-sai festival.

In a column on the first year of the Shoko era (Lu) compiled in "Chunqiu Zuoshi Zuan," it is described that, 'The former emperor composed music using Gosetsu (五節), using it to educate people.'
Du Yu of West Jin interpreted Gosetsu (五節) as Gosei (五声 - five tunes), wherein it was understood that the former emperor composed music using five tunes to educate the people. Based on this interpretation, a number of people assert that Emperor Tenmu invented the Gosechi no mai with the aim of introducing Reiraku philosophy (ancient Chinese philosophy emphasizing propriety and music) (Incidentally, when Emperor Shomu got Empress Koken to dance in a Gosechi no mai for the Retired Empress Gensho, the Emperor said to the Retired Empress, 'Emperor Tenmu invented Gosechi no mai with the intention to govern the nation and in order to make rei (propriety) and raku (music) take root among the people' ("Shoku Nihongi" - June 3, 743)).

There is a famous waka poem composed by Sojo Henjo that depicts the spectacle of a Gosechi no mai. Amatsukaze kumonokayoiji fukitojiyo otomenosugata shibashitodomen' (Wind of the heavens, please close the road through which the tennyo return to the heavens in the clouds, for I wish the dancers to stay on the ground for a while longer).

Preparation and performance of the Chodai no kokoromi
Naga mushiro (a kind of carpet) was spread on an inner chodai (a raised platform placed in a room and covered by a kind of tent) in the west nurigome (a palace room) of Joneiden palace. On top of this, people would sit on cushions for the Gosechi dancers and placed plain wood tables in front of each cushion with a candle on top. The southwest corner of the east chodai was curtained off for a kouta (a person who sung contemporary songs) and the north nurigome was allocated as the daishi no tsubone (a room for daishi (a teacher of the dancers)). A temporary seat was prepared for the outa (singer of ancient songs) at the east corner of the palace and set at the gosechidokoro, a waiting place for dancers, at the four corners of the palace. At a fixed time, dancers arrived at Genki-mon gate, stepped out of a car and entered a predetermined gosechidokoro accompanied by nobilities wearing sokutai (traditional ceremonial court dress). Upon hearing of the arrival of the dancers, the Emperor, wearing noshi sashinuki (a court nobles informal costume) and kutsu (footwear) started from the northern lower level of the Seiryoden palace's east eaves and went to the daishi no tsubone (a room for daishi) via nagahashi, which was temporarily set at the southwest corner of Shokoden palace, minami-sunoko of Shokoden palace, medo kisakimachi no ro of Shokoden palace and medo of Joneiden palace. Inside the room, courtiers held shisoku (a kind of lighting) and two to three nobles attended to the Emperor. The dancers, who were individually led by one warawame holding a hitori (a tool to charcoal fire), another warawame holding a shitone (cushions made of cotton), a maid holding three kicho (a kind of sliding door) and a hairdressing woman, sat down in order on the shitone facing north, starting from west. The outa would sit down at the edge of the kisakimachi no ro and the dancing started at the call of outa and kouta. During the preparation and performance, nobody other than the hairdressing women, the warawame, the beiju (attendant of the Emperor) and the attendant court ladies were allowed to enter the palace, and anyone other than the Kurodo no to (Head Chamberlain) or Gyoji no kurodo was not allowed to even approach the palace. The dancers left the palace at the end of the dance.

These arrangements changed during the Kamakura and Muromachi periods, and the following description is seen in 'Daihajime-washo.'
In the past, the festival was held at Joneiden palace. When it is held at the ministry bulding, a portion of seven ken (about 12.74m) west of the building is to be used, and a portion of two ken (about 3.64m) to the north side will be named daishi no tsubone (room for daishi). It will also be called chodai. In the past, the ceremony of the dancers' entrance was conducted on a large scale. It will now be conducted quietly at dawn. Chodai no kokoromi means that the Emperor goes to daishi no tsubone to view the gosechi dancers by himself. At this time, the Emperor will wear noshi sashinuki.
This is because the Emperor will be sitting together with other court nobles.'

[Original Japanese]