Kagura Koshien brings together high school traditional dance troupes from around the country for two days of friendly competition at the Kagura Dome in Akitakata, north of Hiroshima city. On the second day of this year’s event, I had the chance to join a group and watch the troupes slay – showing skills honed through many hours of practice and tutelage.
With live flutes and drums playing, chanting, acting, singing, dancing and super-fast costume changes each 45 minute play was performed with great style and passion.
The troupes all came from from high-schools who uphold the tradition of folk dance by practicing the art as an extra-curricular school club activity. Most high-school troupes came from nearby, but some traveled from as far away as Iwate, Miyazaki, and Tokushima. The group from Iwate in the Tohoku region started the day off with a traditional Lion Dance. A wooden lion mask snapped away bad luck from grateful members of the audience as the finale.
So many of the favorites were represented- traditional Kagura stories depicting demon traps, transformations, the mastery of the warriors, protection of the gods, and ancient legends- were all performed with great style.
Around mid-day, a group from Tokushima (Shikoku) performed the lively and fun Awa-Odori dance. The music was upbeat and the dancers were so enthusiastic that it drew out members of the audience. Many were charmed into joining the line-dance that circled the dome. The Awa’s signature costumes of straw hats, high-heeled geta sandals, and the fast and funky moves were real crowd-pleasers.
Although each performance was less than 50 minutes, including changeovers, it was a long day of performances spanning the day from 9am to 3pm. The Kagura Dome venue, however, was easy to pop in and out of and stretch the legs. This was also a great opportunity to take a bath at the onsen hot-spring and enjoy the shops and aesthetic appeal of the charming Kagura Village.
As well as the hot-spring bathing facility, the village has a museum, gallery, bakery, retro-toy shops, souvenirs, restaurants, an air-conditioned resting room. Inside the Dome, there were food stalls selling Kaki-Gori shaved ice, draft beers, noodles, and other festival-type foods.
The Kagura Dome is a fun venue to enjoy watching a day of Kagura performances. There is a great atmosphere as the local fans cheer, shout and react to the action on stage. As the event is held in July, it was quite hot inside the dome, so plan accordingly. Most of the audience were well prepared with coolers filled with cold drinks and snacks.
There were no explanations or announcements in English, but the staff and local audience members are friendly and welcoming to international guests.
Although some in our group were surprised to see some locals starting to consume alcoholic beverages from the start of the event at 9am, the atmosphere remained pleasant and fun throughout the day without getting rowdy. This is certainly an event everyone can enjoy; very relaxed and family-friendly. The dome is entirely non-smoking and there are clean toilet facilities inside.
The ¥1,000 ticket price was very reasonable and there was ample seating on tatami mats or chairs. If you choose tatami, I would recommend renting the ¥500 floor-chair-set for added comfort. The design of the dome is well-thought-out to make it easy to enjoy the performances on stage from any of the seating areas.
Overall, it was a great event and really a fantastic day out in the countryside. It is well worth the effort to get out to the Kita-Hiroshima area to visit Kagura village and see a performance of this traditional art.
For the Koshien event, I was really impressed by the high-school performers. All the troupes were very professional, enthusiastic and so athletic! I can’t imagine wearing those heavy costumes and performing difficult spins, balancing moves and doing such rapid costumes changes in the summer heat. The dedication of these teens shows how much respect and determination they have to carry on the important cultural heritage of this great art form for future generations to enjoy!
Kagura Koshien is held annually in late July over two days at Kagura Monzen Mura (Kagura Village) in Akitakata.