The dance of the gods, handed down from ancient times to the present
The town of Miyako, located in the Keichiku district in japan, is dedicated to preserving kagura, an ancient form of Shinto music and dance. Kagura has been passed down for centuries by the people who live and work in Miyako as a way to offer thanks to the local guardian gods and pray for a good harvest. Every year, from the end of April to the beginning of May, Miyako holds a festival called “Shinkosai” accompanied by kagura offerings. This festival is a joyous occasion for festival-goers to participate in and connect with the ancient traditions of the area.
Kagura is a dance based on Japanese mythology, and its name translates to “entertaining the gods.” It originated as simple dances similar to miko (shrine maiden) dances or puppet dances. Over time, kagura evolved into a grandiose and theatrical performance influenced by noh and kabuki. In Miyako, kagura is characterized by its re-enactment of Japanese mythology, particularly the story of “Amano-Iwato.” The dancers wear colorful, archaic costumes and masks, and the performances are accompanied by traditional Japanese flute music and taiko drums. Some programs even feature priests playing the roles of mythical gods.
Kagura has long been a primary form of entertainment and a ritual for local communities. The people of Miyako and the Keichiku region consider kagura to be a source of pride for their community, and they have worked diligently to preserve and pass on their traditions. As a result of their efforts, the region has become one of the best places in Japan to see and learn about kagura. There are five kagura groups in Miyako and over 30 groups in the Keichiku area that actively perform kagura. Each group has the community’s support and carries out its own unique traditions while making efforts to pass them on to the next generation.
In March 2016, the form of kagura handed down in the Buzen area (the old name for the Keichiku region) was recognized as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan. This recognition highlights the cultural significance of kagura in the region and the efforts made to preserve its traditions.
Festivals dedicated to kagura are held in Miyako and the Keichiku area from late April to early May each year. These festivals feature performances at shrines and other venues throughout Miyako. Each kagura troupe in Miyako performs an outdoor ceremony at the town’s local Ubusuna Shrine during this time. Traditional festivals where kagura is performed as an offering are held exclusively in Miyako. However, during the Kagura Festival, visitors can see kagura as an event rather than a Shinto ritual at venues in neighboring Buzen or other locations in Fukuoka Prefecture. The dedication of traditional kagura begins in the evening and continues until midnight. In the past, the festival was held until dawn, symbolizing the opening of the Iwato “rock door” to light up the surrounding area, just like the mythological “Amano-Iwato.” Visitors are welcome to watch kagura, but it is important to be mindful of the sacredness of this tradition and be respectful of the local community.
To get to Miyako, the town host of the main festivities, it is best to access it by car. From Kitakyushu, the drive should take around 45 minutes. Miyako and the Keichiku region offer a unique opportunity to experience and learn about kagura, one of Japan’s ancient traditions. The preservation and transferral of kagura’s cultural heritage in this region are a testament to the dedication and pride of the local community.
In conclusion, kagura is a dance of the gods that has been handed down from ancient times to the present. Miyako and the Keichiku region in Japan are dedicated to preserving this ancient form of Shinto music and dance. Kagura is performed during festivals held in Miyako, offering festival-goers an opportunity to connect with the ancient traditions of the area. The dances are based on Japanese mythology and are characterized by colorful costumes and masks. The people of Miyako and the Keichiku region have worked diligently to preserve and pass on their kagura traditions, making the region one of the best places in Japan to learn about this ancient art form. Festivals dedicated to kagura are held annually, and visitors are welcome to watch and appreciate the sacredness of this tradition. So, if you ever have the chance to visit Miyako or the Keichiku region, don’t miss the opportunity to witness the dance of the gods and experience the rich cultural heritage of kagura.
Address And Maps Location:
Miyako, Miyako-gun, Fukuoka-ken