ODA, Shimane Pref. – A young woman’s attraction to an old and largely unknown Shinto dance has led her to relocate from Kyoto to a small hot-spring town in Shimane Prefecture in the hope of helping to preserve the local theatrical art, believed to date back to the Muromachi period (1336-1573).
The Iwami Kagura at the Tatsunogozen shrine in Yunotsu Onsen in the city of Oda is “a deep world,” Mana Kubota, 27, said. “I have to brush up my skills much more, because the local people here have been imbued with the kagura (god entertainment) since childhood.”
Kubota first came across the Iwami Kagura in 2007 as a first-year student studying stage illumination at the Kyoto University of Art and Design when Taizo Kobayashi, 35, one of the founders of a group in Yunotsu that stages the dance, performed it in an introductory class at the university.
Kubota, a hip-hop dancer from childhood, was intrigued by the kagura because of the great differences between the two dances and began to causally learn the basic physical movements from Kobayashi. She was gradually drawn deeper into the kagura as she learned about its history and the meaning of the gestures.
“As I had never heard of a dance dedicated to a god, I found it extremely attractive,” she says.
Kubota became captivated by the kagura when she attended a summer event arranged in Yunotsu by Kobayashi and his students involving mystic dances performed on a special stage on the local beach against the backdrop of the sunset over the sea.
She then began to visit Yunotsu repeatedly to learn more about the dance and found it was an indispensable part of local life.
Like other areas in the countryside, Yunotsu was faced with the rapid decline and aging of its population.
“I couldn’t bear to think what would happen to the kagura in 20 to 30 years’ time,” Kubota says. “I wanted to join a group of people who would inherit the kagura.”
Kubota relocated to Yunotsu in spring 2011 upon graduation from university. The decision was in part prompted by Kobayashi’s return to Yunotsu as a maker of masks for the kagura.
Kubota works as a staff member at the local community hall. While learning the Iwami Kagura, she teaches hip-hop dances to locals a few times a week. Her class is now attended by some 40 people ranging from kindergarteners to people in their 50s.
“I could understand the attractiveness of the kagura because of my dancing background,” Kubota says. “I hope children here will have the same experience.”
The kagura dancing group, established by Kobayashi and others some 20 years ago, is called Yunotsu Maiko Renchu and has performed for tourists and local people. While it has some 25 members including elementary school children and people in their 80s, Kubota is the sole member from outside Shimane Prefecture.
The Iwami Kagura has a repertoire of more than 30 dances and Kubota can perform only two of them so far. One of them is a comical dance called “Ebisu” and performed to wish for a large catch of fish and bumper harvest of rice.
“I love Yunotsu so much,” Kubota says. Given her age, however, she wonders if she can marry before 30 and is also concerned about her parents in their late 60s in Tokyo where she was born and raised.
“I want to live here as long as possible but I don’t know what will happen in the future” she says. “So I will make the best of every day.”
“I want lots of people to see our performances and will be more than happy if any of them becomes willing to join us and preserve the Iwami Kagura,” she says.
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