These are my recollections growing up in a small village called Uyagawa in Iwami region (presently Uyagawa-cho, Gotsu-shi, Shimane prefecture) between 1946 to 1950 from ages three to six.
Watching the Iwami-kagura (sacred Shinto dances) had been one of the most exciting annual events in the village.
In mid October, the rice field became a golden carpet and farmers tirelessly cropped the rice when the weather permitted. Then, they prepared for the annual rice crop festivity at the Hachiman Shrine.
The formal Shinto festivity started during the day with the kagura-dance in front of the shrine’s altar by the young girls (called Miko or virgin).
Most villagers, young and old, tried to secure a viewing spot for their family near the center stage. However, the closest spots were always reserved for the village officials, dignitaries and land owners who donated large amounts of money for the festivity.
My family spot used to be far from the center stage and was different every year, sometimes we could not see the center because of the pillars and other large families. If we were fortunate then we were all inside the shrine’s roof. If not, then we had to watch it from outside the shrine sitting on straw mats or on temporary viewing stands.
The excitement of Iwami-Kagura sometimes made us forget the penetrating coldness coming from the ground when the temperature dropped to near freezing during the night.
Like most other families, my mother and grandmother prepared a set of meal boxes with cooked food of locally
supplied vegetables and root crops, Gomoku-zushi (mixed vegetable sushi), cooked seaweed (kelp) and fish cakes, persimmons, figs, as well as rice cakes which were only prepared when major annual
events took place. Super markets and convenience stores were not found in the late 1940’s to 1950’s. This meant that we did not find any scattered
garbage or trash.
Traditionally, local temporary stores opened along side of the shrine gates to attract children and young people. They sold colored balloons, gold fish, cotton candy, Menko, assorted candies, pinwheels, marbles, lemon soda, various masks, bananas and rare fruits, and various sundry goods.
Then, a series of Iwami-kagura dances were performed to the Gods at the center of the service area in the shrine, some other shrines had their own Kaguraden or dedicated Kagura stage performances, starting from night (around 9pm) to dawn.
They performed seven or eight stories called Enmoku, each lasting about 40 to 60 minutes. Some of them were very dynamic exciting dances and others were slow and calm, yet very spiritual.
The drum beats and bamboo flute set the stage for the story and the meticulously curved masks and glittering
costumes emphasized the story’s characters.
The most typical Enmoku or stories in the 1940’s were :
l Daija or Yamata-no-Orochi, a story of the eight headed serpent
l Shoki, a story of the warrior in China
l Nasunoga-Hara, a story of fox goblins in the area of Nasu plateau (presently Tochigi prefecture)
l Oheyama, a story of evil-minded gangsters
l Ebisu and Daikoku, a funny story of fishing gods
l Kakko with Taiko (small drum), a funny story of the drum god
l Goro-no-Ohji, five natural element gods, thanksgiving for good harvesting. This Enmoku is normally performed as the last of the series.
l Tengai, a specialist performs juggling tricks with a bunch of hanging Gohei (colored cut papers) from the Tengai (a temporary roof made of bamboo trees and Gohei on the top of
the Kagura stage.)
These stories were not exactly performed in the order listed above. Long and serious stories were mixed with short and comical stories.
On the next day of the Iwami-kagura dance performance, there was a procession of a portable shrine which weighed between 200 to 500 kilograms and was carried on the shoulders of more than ten local young men. Usually they were drunk so fights were common. This procession started from the shrine and passed through several main streets of Uyagawa village and back to the original shrine.
On the second day of the festivity, temporary stores with red and white curtains and small opened roof tops opened along side the main street near the shrine. They attracted many children and young adults for the rare gifts and articles which were only available during the festivity.
The second major annual Iwami-Kagura event in Uyagawa village took place in early December at the
Myoken-san or Mount Myoken, three kilometers south of Uyagawa village. This mountain was far from the village, located by the river Uyagawa. In order to access the Myoken Shrine, we had to cross
the river and climb up the mountain path to the top of mountain (about 150 meters above sea level) where the Myoken shrine was built.
Because there was only one annual festivity for the Myoken shrine, there was an old mountain path but no fixed bridge on the river. Every year, local volunteers and shrine retainers prepared a 50 centimeter wide temporary bridge with bundled logs between large rocks in the river. They also cut grown grasses and small bush trees along the mountain trail for easy access to the Myoken Shrine. This mountain was famous for a rare tree called Hyon of which hollow nuts were used to make owl-like sounds.
We went to see the Iwami-kagura dances which normally had only three to four stories in the program, starting at night and lasting about three hours. The main reason was the location at the top of the mountain and limited audiences of local villagers coming from up to 3 kilometers away. Also, watching the Iwami-kagura in late November at the top of mountain was not favored by the local people.
These descriptions are from the late 1940’s to 1950’s. The latest scenes of Iwami Kagura events in the same area will be discussed later.