Noilly Prattle: Road Trip to the Sea of Japan (3)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Road Trip to the Sea of Japan (3)

Kagura - 神楽

impression of the Japan Sea
     After a roughly two-hour drive from Izumo Taisha along the Japan Sea coast we arrived at our ryokan in the hot spring town of Gotsu for an evening kagura performance at a small theater in walking distance of the hotel. The hotel is unusually laid out. It is built along a narrow river valley. There was a series of long hallways from the front lobby to our room. I estimated some 200 to 300 meters in length. Along the way there was a charming room done up in reds where you were free to taste several different kinds of sake and wine. You could buy a bottle if you wished, but there was no supervision and no compulsion to buy or limit on how many “tastes” you could have. The plum wine was excellent.

one of a series of hallways
in the long hotel

the "tasting" room

back at ya!


outdoor bath with cedar wood tub 
        Our smallish room had its own private hot spring bathroom (actually as big as the room). Although much smaller and far less elegant than the rocky pool we enjoyed the previous night in Matsue, the cedar-wood tub was still a pleasant if more confined soak before going down to the restaurant for dinner and then walking the short distance (far less than the distance between the lobby and our room) to the kagura performance venue.

a very small theater
         When we arrived there were already a few people seated on a bench at the back of the small room and on the tatami floor. I started to sit on the mats since the bench was fully occupied but some of the men insisted that I sit on the bench and made a place for me (in deference, I guess, to being a foreigner who might have difficulty sitting on the floor for a long period and consideration for my advanced age)--kind, but not flattering. It was, I admit, more comfortable that way, though.

performance catalog
        So then, what is kagura? Kagura (神楽, かぐら, "god-entertainment") is a Japanese word referring to a specific type of Shinto theatrical dance—with roots arguably predating those of Noh. They were originally ceremonial dances performed at Shinto shrines depicting mythological themes from the oldest chronicles of Japan the ca. 712 CE Kojiki and the ca. 720 CE Nihon Shoki.

5th Grade boy dances the Ebisu dance
        Four different dances were performed on the tiny stage which included the orchestra--traditional drum, flute and percussion instruments (some played by very young children), and the dance floor space. One dance was performed by a 5th Grade boy. He portrayed the god of plenty called Ebisu, a somewhat rotund and jolly faced character. He ended his dance by tossing wrapped candies, of which I caught quite a few, into the audience.

Gorgeous Costumes and Fantastic Masks

Susano-o and the Yamata no Orochi

the Earth Deity and wife (The Old Couple)
Susano-o pouring sake into Yamata no Orochi
        The main dances of this evening concerned the Japanese Deity Susano-o no Mikoto god of the sea and storms (brother of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu) and his battle with the giant 8-headed snake-dragon Yamata no Orochi who was devouring young maidens, who were the daughters of an old couple who had only one daughter left. The old man was an Earthly Deity named Ashi-nadzuchi. His wife's name was Te-nadzuchi. Their surviving daughter's name was Kushi-nada-hime.The old couple pleaded with Susano-o to save their last daughter from the monster. Susano-o agreed if they would give him the girl to be his wife. The snake dance is usually performed with eight snakes (representing the 8-headed monster) if the stage is big enough. Our stage was far too small to accommodate eight snakes and only three were used; but in the small enclosure the final battle was quite impressive and loooong. The battle was touch and go with sometimes the snakes winning and then Susano-o seemed to have the advantage, then the snakes writhing and wrapping him in their snaky bodies; the snakes were plied with buckets of sake until one by one Susano-o severed the snakes heads and, at last, emerged victorious.

Susano-o chopping off one of Yamata's heads

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