This weekend I had the opportunity to see one of Japan’s Intangible Folk Cultural Properties: the Buzen Kagura. This weekend, there was a day of festivities and demonstrations north of Fukuoka at Munakata Shrine, featuring local cultural activities.
What is Kagura?
“Kagura” refers to a specific form of traditional Japanese dance-drama, performed as part of the Shinto religious rituals. The word “kagura” literally means “god-entertainment,” and the dances are performed as a way to honour and entertain the gods. The style and nature of the performances can vary greatly depending on the specific shrine and region. Still, they generally involve a mixture of dance, music, and theatre, performed by a group of performers. Some performances also involve acrobatics, mime, and pantomime.
What makes Buzen Kagura different?
Buzen Kagura originates from Buzen province, which is now part of Fukuoka Prefecture in Kyushu, Japan. Buzen Kagura is characterized by its use of both ritual and secular elements and is known for its lively and energetic dance performances. The dances are performed by a group of performers, who wear colourful costumes and use various props such as drums, bells, and masks. The music for the dances is provided by flutes, hand drums, and sometimes other instruments.
In this type, the performers act out a variety of scenes, including battles, parades, and processions, as well as dances that mimic the movements of animals such as horses and birds. The dances are accompanied by storytelling, with the performers using gestures, facial expressions, and other forms of physical expression to convey the story to the audience.
The exhibition took place near the Munakata Shrine, which is the head shrine for Buzen. Here are some videos of the event:
Another type exhibited was Kuma Kagura. In this type, the dancers wear traditional costumes and use various props such as fans and bells to enhance their performance. These dances often feature exaggerated movements, such as leaps and turns, that are meant to symbolize the power and presence of the gods.
Whereas Buzen Kagura is often performed facing the audience, the Kuma Kagura is usually performed facing away from the audience. This results in a performance towards the temple itself, a true show for the gods.
Here are two videos of some Kuma Kagura that was performed during this exhibition:
How to see it?
The most likely place that you will see Kagura is at large Shinto Shrines around Shinto holidays. My recommendation is to check the websites of some of Japan’s largest shrines. If you are living in Japan, it will probably be easy for you to find one that is convenient for you and then time your visit appropriately.
For those who are visiting, here are some of the major Shrines (and their websites):
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