Yutate Kagura

Festivals reflecting Nature Worship in Medieval Community still remain in farming and mountain villages in Japan. "Shimotsuki Matsuri Festival" is such an old one, which has been held in Kamimura village of Tohyama area in the south of Nagano prefecture since the beginning of 13th century. (The origin started over 10 centuries ago and "Yutate Kagura" has been performed formally since AC 1212.)

The residents of Kamimura village perform "Yutate Kagura" with Juzu (prayer beads of Buddhism) to worship "the God of Mountain" who controls hunting, forestry and slash-and-burn firming in a mountain slopes, and it is older than "the God of Rice Field" in a paddy field cultivation area. Kamimura village has only about 1,000 population now, public transportation was poor until quite recently and there has been almost no flat ground for a paddy field cultivation. That's why the residents have kept on worshipping "the God of Mountain". Furthermore, according to a village legend, they worship the Tohyama family as their lord together not to be cursed, because the residents rose in revolt and killed the Tohyama family at the beginning of the Edo era.

They say that the root of "Yutate Kagura" is from China and India, and probably, Shinto ritual and Kagura (sacred music and dancing performed at shrines) of "Yutate" at the Imperial Court in those days, which were taken into "the God of Mountain" festivals. Since "Shimotsuki Matsuri Festival" reflects these ritual exactly, you can see both Shintoism and Buddhism.

"The God of Mountain" festivals used to be performed under the divine big tree outside originally, but "Shimotsuki Matsuri Festival" has been performed around two special stoves remade every year inside of shrine since AC1502.
At the middle of December, the residents make a fire in a stove, boil water, call the Gods, perform "Yutate Kagura" and have the Gods take a bath to appreciate the Gods' work for the last year. The Gods rise up as the clouds and the residents dance with the Gods, pray for a good harvest and health, send the Gods off and greet the New Year.

Note: explanation of last scene - This is called "Asobi Nusa" which is like a Lucky-Game. Village people throw the Nusa (a prayer's sacred wooden stick like a Christian cross) up into the upper square shaped decoration like a chandelier where the Gods was stayed over the stoves during Yutate Kagura performance. If the Nusa hang on the bar of the decoration, it defines LUCK. If not, they again through them up to try to get their LUCK!

Tasuki no Mai (Dance of Ornamented Sash)
comes from the Mai (Dance) of ritual at the Imperial Court.

Hazoroe no Mai (Dance of Fan)
also comes from the Mai (Dance) of ritual at the Imperial Court.
Men dance with women's Kimono.

Yutate (Water Boiling)
is a series of "Yutate" ritual performed seven times.
The Gods come down through the wooden stick with white paper to take a bath and then rise back to the heaven as clouds.

Misogi (A Purification Ceremony with Water)
must be done by dancers to purify themselves with very cold water of river before the performance with Gods' masks .

Kandayuu-Fusai no Mai (Dance of Mr. and Mrs. Kandayuu)
is based on the tale of aged Mr. and Mrs. Kandayuu who founded the shrine of Kamimura village, and they perform like as a play together with ad-lib some jokes. Wife holds a branch of Sakaki (holly tree) and hits the residents to bring them good health.

Hassha no Mai (Dance of Eight Shrines)
is a dance to appease the soul of the Tohyama family including one princess who reigned over this country in the Edo era. Dancers put on each God's mask of eight shrines, and they say that the soul of Tohyama family is worshipped on the backside of these masks.

Yoomote no Mai (Dance of Four Gods)
is performed by four Gods: the God of "Water", "Earth", "Fire" and "Wood", and then next Tenpaku is "the God of Gold". They are the symbols of the five elements of the cosmos. "The God of Water" and "the God of Earth" splash out the boiling water with their bare hands to purify, and this ritual comes from India.

Tenpaku no Mai (Dance of Tenpaku)
Tenpaku has another name as "Kin-no-Oh Sarutahiko" which means "the God of golden monkey", and he is "the God of Guide" in the Japanese myths.
He is the last dancer dressed in golden hunting wear with God's mask, and shoots arrows toward north, south, east, west, sky and ground to make evil monsters get away.

© Explanation by Monji Kunio
Translated by ichico / February 1, 1997


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