In Japan, there are several different types of centuries-old performing arts– Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku are perhaps the most well known forms. These ancient disciplines have been passed down from generation to generation, and have still managed to remain culturally, and now globally relevant. Despite being less renowned, Iwami Kagura has an even deeper history and is equally as impressive as its more widely known counterparts.
Iwami Kagura is a traditional, theatrical dance that was originally performed by Shinto priests in Iwami, the western region of the Shimane Prefecture. The priests would hold performances (from sunset to sunrise of the next morning) at the Shinto shrines during the annual autumn festival as a performative way to thank the gods for a successful harvest season.
These performances were grand and colorful spectacles often characterized by the fast-paced and playful music, gorgeous, flamboyant costumes, and most notably for the emotive Kagura masks that are essentially synonymous with Iwami Kagura. There are a variety of characters who make an appearance in Iwami Kagura― divine deities, frightening demons, fearless warriors, young maidens, and the ever popular ‘Orochi’ (serpent) to name a few.
Although its symbolism has deviated from what it was originally intended centuries ago, many people from around the world still go to theaters and festivals to marvel at the true beauty of Iwami Kagura.
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