2023 NO.35


A Virtual Journey through JapanA Virtual Journey through Japan


Japan’s Masked Dances

Flowers, animals, ogres, gods—it is traditional for people in Japan to dress in spectacular costumes for regional festival dances.

1 岩手 1 宮城 2 山形 3 埼玉 4 新潟 5 三重 6 京都 7 広島 8 島根 9 熊本

①Iwate Miyagi
Shishi Odori (Deer Dance)

The specific style differs by area, but these dancers typically wear deer-style headdresses, with sasara bamboo sticks decorated in white paper extending high above their heads, beating taiko drums as they dance. Their pounding steps and head shaking, so fierce that the sasara actually touch the ground, is a powerful sight. Photo: photolibrary

Kasedori (Strawbird Dance)

Young people dressed in costumes made of woven straw, called kendai, parade through the city, transformed into kasedori messengers of the gods dancing and shouting “kakkakkaka!” Town residents pray for protection against fire and prosperity in their businesses as they splash the kasedori with buckets of cold water. Photo: Kaminoyama City, Yamagata Prefecture

Kawagoe Matsuri Bayashi

This festival is held in Kawagoe, a city in Saitama Prefecture known for its rows of old warehouses. Dancers wearing fox (shown in photo), lion and other masks are accompanied by flutes and drums as they dance atop floats paraded through town. Photo: photolibrary

Ondeko (Ogre Drum Dance)

An ogre dance from Niigata Prefecture’s Sado Island, a place where the performing arts thrive. This dance is offered at shrines and people’s homes to pray for a good harvest and for peace and prosperity in the household. This highly entertaining performance pairs the beating rhythm of the taiko drums and a gentle dance that incorporates elements of noh. It is performed in some 120 neighborhoods on the island, and trying to spot the differences between them is great fun. Photo: amanaimages

Ise Daikagura (Lion Dance of Ise Grand Shrine)

After touring the country, the Ise-daikagura Kosha (official lion dance troupe) gathers at the end of the year to perform the lion dance at Masuda Shrine, their home shrine in Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture. The audience is treated to such thrilling sights as an acrobatic performance by a dancer wearing a lion-style headdress and spinning umbrellas, all the while balanced atop another’s shoulders. Photo: Kuwana City Tourism Association

Hotoke Mai
(Buddha Dance)

Dancers dressed in Buddha mask and costume perform a graceful dance to classical Japanese court music called gagaku. The dance is held each year on May 8 at Matsunoo-dera Temple in Maizuru City, Kyoto Prefecture.

Hanagasa Odori (Flower Hat Dance)

While many local performing arts feature hanagasa straw hats ornately decorated with artificial flowers, the hanagasa worn at the festival in Kitahiroshima-cho in Hiroshima Prefecture are especially gorgeous. They are decorated with strings of Japanese paper flowers strung on bamboo cord that hang some 1.5 meters long. The costumed dancers are a vision of grace as they parade through the town streets. Photo: photolibrary

Sagi-mai (White Heron Dance)

With its pure white plumage, the heron has been a symbol of good fortune in Japan since ancient times. At Yasaka Shrine in Tsuwano-cho, Shimane Prefecture, pairs of dancers dressed as male and female white herons with heron-shaped headdresses spread and fold wings made of feathers on wooden frames in a dance accompanied by flutes and drums. Photo: photolibrary

Yamaga Toro Odori (Lantern Dance)

Yamaga lanterns made using only handmade Japanese washi paper and glue—no wood or nails—are a traditional craft of the city of Yamaga in Kumamoto Prefecture. Every summer, some 1,000 women wear these sparkling golden lanterns on their heads and dance to the traditional folk song, Yoheho-bushi. Photo: PIXTA