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What Is Kagura?


Kagura features colorful costumes and exciting movement

Kagura is a form of music and dance dedicated to Shinto gods. In the Kojiki and other ancient books that tell us about the mythology of Japan, there are stories of one god hiding within a stone and another god dancing to coax it out, and this is said to be the origin of kagura. Long ago, the Shinto priests who took care of the shrines were the only people allowed to perform kagura. Nowadays, though, many ordinary people enjoy this form of music and dance.

Kagura performers can be divided into two groups: the maikata and the hayashikata. The maikata dance while wearing elaborate and colorful embroidered costumes, and the hayashikata play musical instruments. The maikata also wear wigs called gasso and masks over their faces, and they speak between dance sequences. The hayashikata play the odaiko (a large drum), kodaiko (a smaller drum), chochigane (a kind of cymbal), and yokobue (a kind of flute).


Many stories involve driving away villains

Since ancient times, kagura has been performed as a ceremony in which people ask for a good harvest and abundant catches of fish and also wish away illness. While kagura these days is a form of entertainment that is often performed in an auditorium or a hall, in the past people performed it where they lived and dedicated it to local gods. Even now in farming villages, when the autumn rice harvest is completed, kagura is still performed on special stages in shrines to show appreciation for the harvest. People gather and watch kagura all through the night. In the past, some performances of kagura lasted as long as three days.