There are different types of kagura all over Japan, but it is especially popular in Shimane Prefecture, one of the birthplaces of Japanese mythology. There are more than 100 kagura troupes in the prefecture, and the form of kagura performed in the western region is called Iwami kagura, taking the former name of the area. This influence can be seen in the northern part of neighboring Hiroshima Prefecture, another kagura hotspot. This region is known as Geihoku, and the type of kagura performed here is known as Geihoku kagura.
Sandankyo Valley (above) and the Osorakan Ski Field (both Akiotacho)
Kagura performances draw large crowds.
Akiotacho, the hub of Geihoku kagura, is a town of about 8,800 people that was formed in October 2004 through the merger of Togouchi with a nearby town and village. More than 90% of the town's 342 square kilometers (132 square miles) is forest, and the area looks completely green from above. Akiotacho is about one hour by car from Hiroshima City via expressway. Its main industries are farming and tourism, and more than 300,000 people visit the area each year to see Sandankyo Valley, which has been designated as a place of great scenic beauty, and to stay at Mt. Shinnyu, which has a campsite. In the winter, many skiers come from as far away as Kyushu and Shikoku to enjoy skiing on the 1,346-meter-high (4,416 feet) Mt. Osorakan.
There are 18 kagura troupes in Akiotacho, two of which are for children. Each troupe is connected with a shrine, which is the base for their activities, but there are many other opportunities for them to perform, such as lifelong-learning festivals sponsored by the local Board of Education and joint performances. There are also events in nearby towns, as well as regular practice sessions, so the sound of hayashikata can be heard year-round in Akiotacho. For the people of the town, kagura is a traditional art that is a part of their lives and souls.