That’s entertainment~ the report of Iwami kagura


Date: Usually on Saturday night of first week of August
Location: Ebisu Shrine, Furuichiba 古市場, Misumi-cho 三隅町, Hamada 浜田 City, Shimane Prefecture
Access: About 3 km from Miho Misumi 三保三隅 Station. If you walk, it takes about 30 minutes. Cabs are available in front of the station. It takes about three hours from Matsue 松江 to Miho Misumi by local train
Kagura troupe: Matsubara Shachu 松原社中

Have you yet to see an Iwami Kagura show?

Amplified loud music with speakers. The person in charge of taiko drumming is loudly stirring up the mood. His voice deafens people with a microphone. In the center of the stage, dancers in gorgeous costumes decorated with gold and silver threads performed at a dizzying pace. And large masks glare at the people. Smoke on the stage. And a fire-breathing monster. Heroes fighting with swords.
It is rare in Japan to see an art form that excites people so much. These are not exaggerations in the slightest. In the Iwami region of Shimane Prefecture, there is a traditional art form that still excites people. In this article, I would like to introduce the reality of this art form.

Shimane prefecture

The most sparsely populated region in Japan. This is the region called San’in. It consists of Shimane and Tottori prefectures. It is also the only region in Japan that is not served by the Shinkansen bullet train. There is not even a plan. Shimane Prefecture, in particular, has a population of 700,000, which is less than the size of a single ward in Tokyo. The results of the prefecture’s own image survey are as follows. “Depopulated and desolate” accounted for 68 2% of the score. “It’s dark and lacking in vitality,” scored 26 7%. On the other hand, 45% of the respondents said that “the scenery is beautiful and tranquil. In a word, it has a gloomy image with a small population, but it is rich in nature. Taking advantage of this, the prefecture commissioned a cartoonist from the prefecture to create a calendar of self-deprecating slogans for the prefecture. It attracted a lot of attention and sold very well. In it, there is a sentence that reads. “The population of humans is 700,000 and population of deities is 8 million,” which needs some explanation. Shimane Prefecture is home to Izumo Taisha (grand shrine), one of the most famous shrines in Japan. It is said that deities from all over the country gather here once a year. This is why the old way of referring to October is “the month when deities are present”, while in other prefectures they refer to it as “the month when deities are absent”. And in Japan, there are about 8 million deities.

Where is Iwami ?

Shimane prefecture has a small population but a vast area (it takes about four hours to go from one end of the prefecture to the other by train), so in the olden days, the eastern part of the prefecture was called “Izumo” and the western part “Iwami. The Izumo Taisha Shrine, a prominent tourist attraction, and Matsue, the prefectural government, are located in the “Izumo region” to the east. As a result, the distribution of the species tends to stay in the Izumo region. In other words, it is no exaggeration to say that the Iwami region is the least populated place in Japan. However, there is actually the hottest Kagura in Japan here. Compared to its small population, there are more than 100 kagura groups, and they are always active. As proof of this, people upload countless videos of Kagura on Youtube, and even DVDs of Kagura are available for sale. This is unthinkable in other regions. Even if you hold a Kagura performance in Tokyo, only a dozen or so people gather at most. It is not unusual to have only two or three people at the worst. What is this all about? From the video, it looks incredibly interesting. I’ll have to give this a try. So this time, I would like to send you a report on how I thoroughly enjoyed this Iwami Kagura.

Going to Iwami

There are several routes to the Iwami region. The most common is to take the Shinkansen to Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi, the southern route, and then take a local train to the north (Shimane Prefecture side). Shimane Prefecture is long from east to west, so the route varies depending on where you want to go. Alternatively, you can take a sleeper train to the Izumo area. Regardless of the route you take, it will take about 6-7 hours from Tokyo. So, I (the author of this report) decided to take the local train. In the summer, JR sells a ticket that allows you to get on and off the train freely with just one ticket, as long as you are on a local line. To coincide with this, there is a night train service from Tokyo to Osaka. If you take this train, you will arrive at Kyoto around 7:00 in the morning. This time, we were going to Masuda, the western end of Shimane Prefecture, so I would have to take the local train from there. I was scheduled to arrive at around 8:00 in the evening. At this time, we decided to spend the night a little further ahead and head for Masuda the next day.

Heading into the world of Iwami Kagura

This time, I will introduce an overnight festival held a short distance from Masuda. It’s called the Kominato 古湊 Summer Festival. I waited at Matsue Station around noon, and a train came right away. Iwami Kagura wrapping train. Two cars. From here, I headed west for about four hours. I arrived at my destination, Masuda, a little after five in the evening. Masuda is the hometown of the famous painter “Sesshu 雪舟”, an artist who nobody in Japan knows, so there were banners saying so. However, If you have just landed at Hamada Station, the center of the Iwami region, you could immerse yourself more in the world of Iwami Kagura. Iwami Kagura already fills the entire station and town.

Hamada station ticket gate
ticket window
a frog and a vending machine
On the road

There is a book in which the author, like me, visited Iwami Kagura and wrote about his surprise. The description begins with a visit to see the New Year’s Eve kagura. He says “I wondered if there was really such a thing as going to see a kagura performance on the most emotional night of the year”. TV programs are also putting a lot of effort into this. Not so much anymore, but there used to be a singing program with a viewership rating of over 80%. There are also preparations to welcome the New Year. They may even choose to take their friends to watch the New Year’s Eve events. And yet, it’s kagura! The author writes “The old man said, ‘My grandchildren bring me here.’ It’s not the parents or grandparents who are making them watch traditional arts. It is the children who pull the parents in. How is that possible? I wondered”. The author of this website report had the same question. I wondered if people would willingly go to see such an old-fashioned art form as Kagura, no matter how popular it was. Young people, too.

Kagura starts around eight o’clock in the evening. I left the hotel hoping to make it in time. There is only one train an hour in this area. There was a little trouble here. It seems that I mistook the weekday and holiday timetables, and when I arrived at the station, I was already just in time. A station attendant told me this. “There was already a train on the other side of the station. Please hurry up.” I hurried to the other side of the platform. The driver was standing at the front of the car. He seemed to have been waiting for me. By the way, I saw a station attendant at the ticket gate making some kind of phone call. This is completely unthinkable in the city. I even felt as if eight million deities were guiding me.
It was dark in front of the destination station, unlike in the city. There were two cabs parked in front of the station. I had brought my bicycle with me at the time, so I took it. The 20-minute ride was dark. I wondered if they were really doing it. These questions kept popping into my head. Finally, I found a light. It was on! That was my honest first impression.

Kagura~ prologue

The time was 8:30 in the evening. The first performance had begun on the stage. The stage was a flat roof. (Although I found out it in the morning) the roof was made of red-colored Sekishu 石州 tiles (Sekishu means Iwami region), which are unique to this region. The lighting was simple, just a few bare bulbs hanging from the roof. There were also a number of paper decorations hanging from the ceiling. This is a common sight in authentic Kagura. They are called “Gohei,” which means “the papers which deities dwell” in Japanese. The light from the bulbs made them shine brightly, giving them a more luxurious impression than I had imagined. In front of the building (Kaguraden) is a large area with a small harbor on the other side and the ocean nearby. There were already people in front of the building on their knees on sheets spread out. Behind them are people with small chairs that look like director’s chairs. At the very back are six or seven people with tripods. Perhaps it was because of the early hour, but at this point it was not yet full. But as the performance progressed, more and more people came.
The first dance is called “Kamimukae (invoke deities)”. The first thing to do is to let the deities come down to this place. As a substitute for deities, countless ornaments are hung from the ceiling. Although it was a ritualistic dance to welcome the deities, it was not a leisurely one. It is a dance that involves intense rotation. A single male dancer with a gohei followed. Another dance by four men followed. The meaning of this dance is that the deities of the four directions, east, west, north and south, will bring peace to the earth. At the beginning, a woman’s voice gave us an explanation.

The Beginning of Entertainment “Hachiman”八幡

When they were done, it was already 9:30 pm. The number of spectators had increased considerably. The next performance was “Hachiman“. This is where the real entertainment with masks begins. The locals knew exactly what they were doing, and by this time the square was almost full. Here’s a brief look at Iwami Kagura’s specially based battles with gods, heroes and demons. Most of them are simply good and evil. The demons are just like demons, and they keep their evilness. So basically, if you watch it and you don’t know the characters, you won’t feel much discomfort.
The Hachiman in the title refers to the Hachiman deity, which is said to be the second most worshipped shrine in Japan after Inari. The most famous shrine dedicated to Hachiman is Usa Hachiman Shrine in Kyushu. In ancient times, around the eighth century, the oracle of Usa Hachiman thwarted the ambition of someone who wanted to usurp the emperor’s throne. Since the Middle Ages, the shrine has attracted the faith of samurai warriors and spread throughout the country.

The first part of the ceremony begins with the appearance of the Hachiman deity, who makes a speech (self-introduction). He is dressed in a flamboyant costume, just like the rumors. The masks are also large and powerful. The dance was graceful at first, and then became faster and faster. Just as they were finishing up, a mysterious smoke billowed out from the wing of the stage. This is another characteristic of Iwami Kagura, where a smoke screen always appears when the bad guys come out. When the smoke screen appears, you can be sure that this is the signal for the appearance of the bad guys. The lighting also changes to a slightly dark and suspicious color. And this time, from the beginning to the spark. This is also unique to Iwami Kagura, and they use fire without hesitation even though they are in a shrine. Fireworks are placed in the mouths of the masks, and the performers manipulate them. Of course, the fireworks are designed not to catch fire.

Hachiman casually withdrew from the stage once, and the demon king gave his speech. Here, he said, “I’m Dai rokuten Mao 第六天魔王 ( Demon King of the Final heaven of six desires)”. In Buddhism, there are six worlds of desire. In the sixth world of desire, which is the closest to the human world, the “Sixth Heavenly Demon King” presides over it. However, there is no need to know such a name at all. You just need to be able to recognize that he is a demon king who hinders the peace of people. He is simply a villain. And then, he says things that are typical of a villain in a dignified manner.

Hachiman pointed his bow and arrow at him and shouted. “Get out of here right now, and get out of this country.” Of course, the demon king would not back down with such threats and intimidation. Rather, it shows a power that seems to overwhelm Hachiman. If the villain is not strong, the main character will not be able to stand out. This kagura knows the basics of entertainment.

And finally, the villain falls. The demon king falls down with a cry of agony. But then…. From here, he comes back to life again. This is one of the characteristics of Iwami Kagura. The demon king is not so easily defeated. He’s a villain, but he has an admirable spirit. From there, the battle continues even more fiercely. There are many turns in the dance. They move their positions, turning around and around each other. It’s like a figure skater. I was amazed at how he was able to keep his eyes on the ground. The sense of speed. In addition, the taiko drummers were shouting “Eisa, Eisa” to the crowd. He was almost shouting himself hoarse and beating the drum as if he wanted to burst it. Kagura is originally based on the Omoto 大元 Kagura. This Omoto Kagura is based on a slow musical style called six tones. However, when it became Iwami Kagura, the rhythm changed to a faster rhythm called eight tones. This aroused the excitement of the audience more and more. All of this was amplified by the huge speakers set up in the back. The volume was so loud that it almost damaged my ears. By this time, the venue was pretty full. It’s a quiet fishing village where you can only hear frogs. It would be the same whether they were at home or at the venue if the sound echoed at such a loud volume. In other words, no one would complain about playing Kagura at such a high volume. This is proof that kagura has permeated this area.


The Hachiman actor withdraws once, takes off his mask, and performs a dance as a final greeting. The villain does not take off the mask. This also seemed to be an expected way to end. It took about 30 minutes. It was still past ten o’clock in the evening.

Jimmu 神武


The next performance was called ” Jinmu”. This is based on a story in the oldest official Japanese history book. Jimmu is the name of the first emperor of Japan. He was born as the son of a god, but this is where the history book enters the world of man. He was in Kyushu for a long time, but one day he decided to go eastward. His destination was present-day Nara Prefecture. This is how the history book describes it. There was a tyrant named Nagasune-hiko, who was tormenting the people. Hearing rumors of this, Jimmu attacked and defeated them to bring peace to the land. This is where the foundation of the current imperial family was laid. From Nagasune-hiko’s point of view, Jinmu may be a mere invader, but history is only depicted from the victor’s side. And in the entertainment of kagura, the pros and cons are irrelevant. In short, it is just a symbol that there are good ones and bad ones.
First of all, Jinmu and his attendants appeared and introduced themselves and danced. In the middle of the performance, two demons appeared, creating a suspicious atmosphere. This is Nagasune-hiko and his men. This is a form of two gods and two demons, which you can often see in Iwami Kagura. Once again, a fierce dance ensues. The four of them fought each other with their swords, spinning around like a frame. Performance while wearing masks, heavy costumes and with fierce movements, was quite exhausting. When they returned to the dressing room, they were out of breath. Eventually, they defeat one of the enemies, but the leader still fights. I can’t help but admire the feats of the enemy. However, in spite of his efforts, he meets his end as if a huge tree is cut down from the roots and collapses.


Thanks for the gifts of money-御花御礼

At the end of each act, there is an “on hana onrei”. To put it simply, there is a time to thank the people who donated money. This is also a beautiful, flowing speech.
I wanted to hear this, so I visited the backstage in between. The dressing room was a simple structure with a curtain stretched across the side of the Kagura-cottage. Costumes were lined up in rows, and actors sat on chairs as if they were struggling to breathe after finishing their roles. Inside, people were working hurriedly. It was like a field hospital.
I don’t care how much onrei you have, and there is no need for anything special. All you have to do is hand the money to the person in charge. When the next performance was over, your name would be called. If they read out your name, it will be an unforgettable reminder

to be continued Part 2

Yamato Takeru 日本武尊

At this point, it was around eleven in the evening.
Yamato Takeru is a real person, a hero who fought in various places on the orders of his father the Emperor. On the other hand, he is also a tragic hero who was shunned by his father the Emperor for his good performance and spent his whole life roaming through the country. The story is based on a famous episode in which he survived a fire attack by his enemies.
The story begins as usual with the appearance of Yamato Takeru and his subordinate, Kibitsuhiko, in a dance. It was so beautiful that it looked as if a puppet had jumped out and moved.

ヤマトタケル 剣を持つ

Once they retracted, the enemy brothers now appeared. But here, things change a bit. Normally, they would perform a dance, say a few words, and then get into a battle with the heroes. But here, when they appear, they engage in a dialogue with each other. They speak in the Shimane dialect of everyday life. “You’ve got a nice fan. Is it from the Tokuyama boat race?” “Yes”. ”Still, it’s pretty crowded today” ”I hear there’s fireworks.” I guess they know the audience wants to take a break from the good and bad stories that had been performed for two consecutive performances. A little ingenuity like this is necessary to continue a long performance.

As they were making their plans to defeat Yamato Takeru, their master appeared. Again, he chatted with each other, saying things like, “He’s always been dark-skinned, so it doesn’t make any difference whether he wears a mask or not,” and “He’s excited because he’s a local.” The story goes on even during the comic break. How do we defeat Yamato Takeru? When they asked, the master gave them a plan: “You should set him on fire when he’s caught off guard.” The boss is actually a very wise man.
They then pretend to submit to Yamato Takeru and invite him to hunt deer. From here, a rather famous episode in mythology unfolds. It is a story like this. They lured Yamato Takeru out into the field and set fire to the grass around him, setting him on fire. At this time, Takeru uses a sword given to him by his aunt to knock down the surrounding grass and escape the predicament. For this reason, this sword came to be known as “the sword that cleaves the grass. And from here, another fierce battle dance ensues. The heroes were unmasked, but the villains kept their masks on. But as the battle becomes more intense, the villains finally take their masks off. I can only assume that this is how hard the exercise is.

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