Kagura a nostalgic end to year
Shoichi Nasu / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Photo by Shoichi Nasu
A performance of Shiromi Kagura in Saito, Miyazaki Prefecture
To see men in white with katana swords in one hand, stepping nimbly to the music of a yokobue flute and a kane gong, makes me nostalgic. The kagura sacred dance and music is typically seen at shrines across the country at this time of year.
Before heading home this year, I wondered when was the last time I watched the annual kagura in my home community in the Shiromi district, which is a part of Saito, Miyazaki Prefecture. I don’t have a clear memory. I was certainly there six years ago, on the night of Dec. 14, 2003.
I remember it very well due to a historic event. It was a cold night, and as I was enjoying the graceful movements of the dancers, most of whom I knew from my childhood, my sister came up to me with the news that Saddam Hussein had been captured in his underground hideout. She had seen the news on TV.
I was working at that time for The Daily Yomiuri in Osaka. I felt more than a little embarrassed because I could not join my colleagues, who must have been busy, and it was also difficult to make a quick call to the office. In those days, it was not possible to use a mobile phone from Shiromi as it is secluded deep in the Kyushu mountains.
This annual event is called Shiromi Kagura. Shiromi is one of those communities that has seen its population decrease year by year. The kagura is performed at Shiromi Shrine from the evening of Dec. 14 through to the next day. Even when Dec. 14 happens to be a Monday, the organizers do not move the performance to a weekend.
This conservative attitude to stick to tradition seems to be one reason why the kagura has been popular among both scholars and fans of kagura and folklore. Recognized by the government as an intangible cultural property in 1978, the kagura is one of the chief supports of the community.
As a person who was born and raised in Shiromi, I can’t help feeling proud whenever people express a high opinion of its kagura. It presents 33 acts without any break, so the dancers and musicians have to be up all night. I personally was overcome by fatigue and cold, and headed home around 2 a.m.
One of this year’s visitors was Kenji Kawai, a 60-year-old former high school teacher from Osaka who told me he has been coming to the kagura for the past eight years.
“I happened to meet a person doing this kagura in Osaka Prefecture when he was there selling a regional specialty,” Kawai said. “When I saw the dancing the first time, I liked it. I’ve decided to come here every year until I understand it.”
Like other kagura in the country, the Shiromi Kagura dedicates its performance to the gods. Shiromi Kagura is known for a unique act called shishitogiri (wild boar hunting skit). Waking up the next morning, I walked up the road again to the shrine to see it.
Two men wearing the working clothes of bygone days, portraying an old man and his wife, appeared on the stage amid the laughter of the spectators. The story had them hunting an inoshishi wild boar. The two men’s humorous exchange using the local dialect was fun to watch, and the skit conveys the fact that mountain life revolved around hunting as well as agriculture.
Among the spectators were several students from the local middle school. Most came from cities and towns, and are studying here to experience life in the mountains. I hoped the kagura will stay in their memories for a long time.
Nasu is a senior writer for The Yomiuri Shimbun, Seibu, and a former editor of The Daily Yomiuri. “Out & About” appears once every month.
(Dec. 26, 2009)