Photo By: Randiah Camille Green
Region
Chugoku
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Matsue
Population
761,499

Where to See Kagura Dance in Japan

A wild — yet dying — tradition. Catch these dance performances before they're gone.

With colorful costumes sewn with luxurious golden thread– costing up to ¥2 million– and elaborate masks showing ferocious gods and harrowing demons, Kagura reenacts classic Japanese folklore tales of good versus evil. Iwami Kagura, a style that is found in Shimane Prefecture, is a faster-paced style native to the southern Chugoku region which includes Shimane, Hiroshima, Tottori, Yamaguchi, and Okayama prefectures.

The word itself literally translates to “entertaining the gods.”

Kagura originated within the Kojiki – a book that details Japan’s mythical creation and is regarded as the country’s oldest historical record, written 1,300 years ago. The story, called Amano-Iwato, involves the sun goddess Amaterasu who hid behind a rock obscuring the sun and causing eternal darkness to fall upon Japan. She hid away because her brother was being a total jerk and throwing feces around!

The gods danced and played music to coax her out so that the sun would shine again. This is considered the first Kagura ever performed. The word itself literally translates to “entertaining the gods.”

Oda shimane Kagura

Photo by: Randiah Camille Green Iwami Kagura masks at Tatsu no Gozen Shrine.

Tales of creation in Kagura

Though its origins are traced back to Japan’s early days, when exactly Kagura started being performed by us mere mortals is kind of sketchy and not accurately known by scholars. Back in the Imperial Court days (around 800 AD), it was performed as a ritual by Shinto priests and shrine maidens to honor the gods. These days, it’s more of an entertaining way to share these classic stories.

In comparison, Kabuki was first performed in 1603 – only 400 years ago – and gained a cult following between the late 1600s and early 1800s. Noh, another traditional art form, didn’t even become a thing until the 1800s.

Kagura snakes seething in a wild performance in Shimane Prefecture.

Photo by: Randiah Camille Green Kagura snakes seething in a wild performance in Shimane Prefecture.

Where to see Kagura in Japan

Because the tradition was not always passed down from one generation to the next, it is rarely performed in urban areas.

However, you can still witness it in rural areas of several prefectures including Shimane and Hiroshima as well as one spot closer to Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture. As it spread across Japan, Kagura evolved into different incarnations and styles varying by region so each one offers something unique from the other. If you want to see this killer clash of the gods, check out the locations below.

  • Tatsu no Gozen Shrine in Oda, Shimane, hosts performances every Saturday night from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. ¥1,000.
  • The Masuda EAGA Building in Masuda, Shimane, also hosts Iwami Kagura performances every Saturday from Jan. to Sept. from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. ¥500
  • Shinmeisha Shrine in Tokorozawa, Saitama, showcases Kagura at their yearly Autumn Festival on Sept. 15 (site in Japanese only). Free.
  • The Hiroshima Prefectural Citizens Culture Center has two performances every Wednesday night (at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.) from April 3 until Dec. 25. ¥1,200.
  • Takachiho Shrine in Takachiho, Miyazaki, has performances every night from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Kaguraden performance hall on the grounds of the shrine. ¥700.
Kagura is thought to be the oldest dance form in Japan.

Photo by: @haidar_photography81 for Heartland JAPAN Kagura is thought to be the oldest dance form in Japan.

Kabuki and Noh performances, while amazing in their own right, can be difficult to understand even for Japanese, and the story often drags on slowly. The setting is more formal, and yelling at the performers to decapitate one another is probably not encouraged.

Kagura is the sexier, more exciting older sister who rides a motorcycle and slays serpents. She entices you with gorgeous and expensive outfits and once you’re invested she releases a fury on you.

A long-form version of this article first appeared on GaijinPot Blog.

Topics: , , , , ,

How To Get There

Address

ロ156 Yunotsuchō Yunotsu, Oda, Shimane 699-2501, Japan

By train

Pinpointed on the map is Oda City’s Yunotsu Onsen, Shimane Prefecture, where you can see the dance at Tatsu no Gozen Shrine.

From Tokyo, take the JR Shinkansen to Hiroshima station then take the bus going towards Hamada. Get off at Hamada station and take the San-in line to Yunotsu station.

By bus

From Izumo Airport, take the limousine bus to Izumo station and catch the San-in line to Yunotsu station.

Where To Stay

Tabinoyado Kiunsoh
  • Yunotsu-cho Yunotsuguchi 202-1 Oda-Shi, Shimane 699-2501
  • 8.8/10
  • 0.3 km
Powered by Booking.com
Shimizudaishiji / Vacation STAY 2605
  • Ootsuka Town Osamu Ai 408 Shimizu Daishiji (Shimizu Daisiesi) Oda-Shi, Shimane 699-2511
  • 2.5 km
Powered by Booking.com
Yuzuriha
  • Omori-cho Ni 3-1 Oda-Shi, Shimane 694-0305
  • 9.1/10
  • 9.0 km
Powered by Booking.com
Ryokan Nushiya
  • Arifukuonsen 955 Gotsu-Shi, Shimane 695-0156
  • 9.2/10
  • 21.3 km
Powered by Booking.com