After the Tokasan Yukata festival, I enjoyed Kagura storytelling at its best performed by the Uegouchi Kagura Troupe on June 9th. The performance was titled the Momiji-gari, which is a story about three ‘Demons setting up a ‘Momiji (Maple Leaf) Viewing Drinking Party Trap’.
I have seen many Kagura performances by many troupes and really enjoyed the colorful flair and fast pace of dance movements by this troupe. It was a fun and exciting performance to watch.
As is typical of many Kagura performances, the story begins with a musical introduction of flute, cymbals and Taiko drums. Then our typical warrior heroes make an entrance to do an introductory dance. All seems quite mundane, but we know there is trouble ahead for these characters.
Soon after the heroes leave the stage, the smoke billows in from behind the curtain and the audience is introduced to three demons making a dramatic entrance and telling us of their cunning plan.
These demons are tricky and have special magic that allows them to disguise themselves as beautiful maidens. These evil maidens then set up a trap for the heroes by pretending to have a Momiji leaf viewing party in the forest. They announce their evil plan to the audience in detail. They will ensnare the unsuspecting men with their superficial beauty and ply them with Sake so they can destroy them.
Their trap goes to plan until a powerful God comes to the heroes assistance by warning them in a magic dream and providing them with powerful swords.
The next few scenes are the most exciting as the men and demons twirl around the stage fighting and leaping about in a well-practiced, beautifully choreographed routine. This part is a beautiful blur of costume and mask changes, swordplay and paper confetti action.
An Evening at Kagura is a fantastic tourism product in Hiroshima city to introduce one of Japan’s most unique and exciting art forms to the international audience.
Upon arrival, there is a short video introduction to Kagura in English. During the performance, an English guide is shown on an adjacent screen describing what is being said by the performers.
At the end of the performance, an interpreted Q+A session is held to allow the audience to ask the performers questions directly. Thanks to a visitor from Hilo, Hawaii, this performance’s question time explained the fact that none of the music is written down, but existing musicians must personally pass down the notes, rhythms and techniques. The music is always performed live for practices as well as performances as the timing and rhythms are as unique as each performing troupe.
The question time is followed by a chance for the audience to take pictures in the beautiful costumes and ornate masks assisted by the performers on stage.
There is great value in creating sustainable tourism products like An Evening of Kagura which help promote and protect important traditional cultural assets such as Kagura: YouTube Sustainable Tourism Product: An Evening of Kagura.
This performance was held at the YMCA on a Sunday in June, but regular performances are held almost every Saturday at either the city central Hiroshima YMCA International Cultural Hall or the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum (next to Shukei-en Gardens) basement auditorium.
Check for venues and dates on the official Hiroshima Kagura website.