Hiroshima Kagura refuses to succumb to the coronavirus demon

In response to COVID-19, Hiroshima Kagura goes online to share the thrilling traditional performance art form with the world.

Autumn has been quiet in the year of COVID-19. The sounds of flutes carried on the wind and the pounding of taiko drums resonating from afar have been absent due to the cancelation of autumn festivals held since time immemorial at shrines all across Japan. This is none more so than in the mountainous interior of Hiroshima Prefecture, the home of Hiroshima Kagura.

Traditional kagura dance in northern Hiroshima has always been extremely resilient. Local troupes adapted to survive the clamp down on religious art forms during the Allied Occupation. More recently, through imaginative reinvention, they have reinvigorated an almost fanatical interest in the decidedly rural art form at a time when the communities in which they are based are struggling with the challenge of rapidly declining populations. The pandemic, however, is proving to be a foe far tougher than the fire-breathing, 8-headed serpents and web-shooting earth-spiders that sword-wielding heroes dispatch to the raucous delight of crowds filled with awe and sake.

In addition to annual autumn shrine festivals, since spring 2020, almost all of the performances held in public halls around the prefecture which help fund the troupes have been either canceled or indefinitely postponed. Many troupes went as far as calling off rehearsals out of consideration for the overwhelmingly elderly population of their small communities. And when kagura troupes are idle, so are the artisans who handcraft the striking masks and elaborately embroidered costumes.

The pandemic has also put paid to the weekly “An Evening of Kagura” performances which, with the addition of English subtitles on stage monitors, English speaking MCs and interpreted Q&A sessions with the players, introduced the wonder of Hiroshima Kagura to people visiting Hiroshima from around the world every Saturday night.

However, in the spirit of the legendary heroes they portray on stage, Hiroshima Kagura refuses to succumb to this latest threat. Thanks to government funding, “An Evening of Kagura” will return for a series of 11 special performances between November and February. Two of the shows will be streamed live from a venue in central Hiroshima, while the remainder will be recorded on location in shrines and rehearsal halls in the communities in which the troupes are based and broadcast on YouTube soon after.

All shows will be introduced by an English speaking MC and have English subtitles to help those not versed in classical Japanese follow the action. The program is not only an opportunity to support this vibrant and entertaining art form, but also to share it to a worldwide audience yet to experience the wonder of Hiroshima Kagura.

Hiroshima Kagura YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/RCCBCkagura/


Schedule of performances

Other than live streamed performances on 11/15 and 1/17, all dates are dates of recording with the videos to be uploaded to the Hiroshima Kagura YouTube channel soon after.

November 15, 2020
Kinsho Kagura Troupe (Kitahiroshima City)
Tsuchigumo (The Earth-Spider)

November 21, 2020 8pm-9pm JST (Livestream)
Asahigaoka Kagura Troupe (Hiroshima City)
Tsuchigumo (The Earth-Spider)

November 27, 2020
Miyanoki Kagura Troupe (Hiroshima City)
Momijigari (Maple Viewing)

November 29, 2020
Kawakita Kagura Troupe (Akiota City)
Jinrin (The Winged Demon)

December 4, 2020
Tsunami Kagura Troupe (Akiota City)
Yamata No Orochi (The 8-headed Serpent)


The following dates are under review due to a recent spike in cases of COVID-19 in the Hiroshima region.

January 9, 2021
Kuwatatenshi Kagura Troupe (Akitakata City)
Katsuragi-yama (Mt Katsuragi, home of the Earth-Spider)

January 17, 2021 (Livestream)
Tenjin Kagura Troupe (Akitakata City)
Takiyasha-hime (Princess Takiyasha)

January 24, 2021
Takai Kagura Troupe (Hiroshima City)
Tsuchigumo (The Earth-Spider)

February 6, 2021
Yoshida Kagura Troupe (Akitakata City)
Takiyasha-hime (Princess Takiyasha)

February 13, 2021
Yachiyo Kagura Troupe (Akitakata City)
Katsuragi-yama (Mt Katsuragi, home of the Earth-Spider)

February 14, 2021
Uegochi Kagura Troupe (Akitakata City)
Momijigari (Maple Viewing)

Paul Walsh

Paul arrived in Hiroshima "for a few months" back in 1996. He is the co-founder of GetHiroshima.com and loves running in the mountains.