This past weekend I was invited to attend a local festival in Misato-cho. The festival took place on the grounds of a mountainside shrine in Daiwa City. Throughout the previous week an international work camp had been helping to prepare for the festival by cutting down bamboo, transporting goods, and setting up for a culminating performance of kagura. I was unfortunately not able to see the daytime festival – which involved a great deal of merry-making, including a parade of children going to door to door in decorative costumes. That evening, however, I attended the kagura show and was pleasantly surprised to find warm sake and udon being sold at the shrine. The stairs up to the shrine, as well as the hillside behind, were covered in varying lengths of bamboo lit by tea candles. It was beautiful. It was an unfortunately rainy day, however, and most of the candles were extinguished throughout the night.
The kagura was performed by a local group – Miyakokagura, which is apparently quite famous throughout Shimane. The show began around seven o’clock, and a massive crowd of spectators was eagerly awaiting the performance. Because the show would last late into the night, there were several “acts” that were broken up by short intermissions, convenient times for sake refills and conversation.
The feeling of the event was one of deep community connection – most everyone knew each other, and many had helped to prepare for the event. It felt more like a large family gathering than a town festival. I was happy to be a part of it.
The kagura began with an introduction of the characters. I am yet to familiarize myself with the common characters and storylines of kagura performances, but I was told by a friend that this gentleman was a “joker” of sorts:
The story developed through the addition of multiple characters, including a hilarious elderly couple who were constantly bickering, and the oni (devil).
The performance climaxed with the appearance of three dragons and a great battle in which all three were beheaded.
After the performance the kagura group leader gave a brief speech and the work camp volunteers tossed small packages of mochi into the crowd. Everyone dissipated quite quickly, and I spent the night locally, with intent of helping with post-festival clean-up the next morning.