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Kagura – Shinto dances meant to please the Gods. The tale of the original Kagura is that the sun goddess Amaterasu (of whom the Japanese emperors are believed to be descendants) had become upset after her brother had damaged her property and killed one of her maids and hid away inside of a cave to prevent become further impure, thus casting the world into darkness. The goddess of dawn and revelry, Ame no Uzume, stripped down and performed a lively dance atop a bucket while other on looking gods and goddesses laughed, or in some iterations played music in cooperation with her. Amaterasu was drawn out to see what the fuss was over. A mirror was placed outside of the cave and she was drawn out by her bright reflection. The cave was quickly closed and sealed behind her, and she was asked and agreed to serve as the sun goddess again.
There are many regional festivals set around Kagura dances and many more dances for each day or night of each festival. While there are Imperial Kagura performed at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, there are many village Kagura performed based on regional customs or gods. Shinto Shrines have a Kagura hall specifically for these performance ceremonies. In general, Kagura call to the gods, welcome them to where they are being summoned with entertainment, then see them off. These three stages could be seen to reflect the pacing of Noh performances as well. Evil spirits being taken away or vanquished by the visiting gods is also a common theme of the last stage. The four main categories of village Kagura are:
Miko Kagura, where one or more shrine maidens called Miko dance with bells and other decorations and are said to be possessed by the gods who care called down. The dances performed by Miko at the Imperial Kagura are said to be done by descendants of Ame no Uzume who had done the first Kagura dance to lure out Amaterasu.
Izumo-style Kagura where performers with Noh masks act out the myths of the gods and Noh inspired songs and dances.
Ise-style Kagura centering around a pot of hot water used to purify objects or even observers.
Lion Kagura where performers dress up as a long, serpentine bodied lion with a puppeteer-manned head.
Torimono performances – Kagura dances with props. Torimono literally translates into "something in hand." In some cases the god is believed to be within the divine item, at other times it's believed to summon a divine power. They can also be ceremonial dances to bless or purify the objects in question. It varies greatly based on the region and festival. The props can be anything from sacred leaves, rods and bows as mentioned to vines, grass, swords, bells, head dresses and branches. One object mentioned in Shiki is the sacred cedar bow.
Cedar – The Japanese cedar, sakaki, are used in Shinto rituals and are a common sacred offering. Ever green and always thriving, it's also thought of as a "border tree" (Sakae meaning border, ki meaning tree) to set off an area as a sacred space. There are legends of cedar trees and branches being used and decorated for events such as the first Kagura that drew out Amaterasu. The most common decorations are mirrors, swords and jewels, which are known as the three sacred treasures of Japan.
Month of the Frost Kagura – One type of Ise-style Kagura, named and set based on the eleventh month of the Lunar calendar, known as the month of the frost. Many areas Month of the Frost Kagura also include Miko dances around and interacting with the cauldron of water offered for purification. They're usually harvest festivals but may also be used to pray for good hunts, and are close to the winter solstice. For convenience they're often held on the weekends in November or December.
Noh – Ancient Japanese musical theatre, focusing heavily on dance and precise movements that (ideally) have not changed over the decades. The dances-as-plays are performed based on following precise movements rather than individualistic expression as is common in other, especially more modern types of theater. Many Noh plays don't have the traditional story arcs with a climax and denouement either, though there is a required pacing taken from Kagura festivals that predate them. Just as Kagura have the welcoming, the entertaining, and the lively, if perhaps violent seeming send off, Noh have a slow beginning, rising action, then quickening with a swift end.
Traditionally performed by all male troops, characters sex, age, and even emotions are expressed with wooden masks whose expressions can change based on the shadows and angle. Example image of a mask displaying many angles and emotions from Wikimedia commons (Public Domain).
Most of the stories involve divine elements such as Oni or gods, and many of the masks may hold a distinctive role just as certain character names represent a certain character type even if it isn't necessarily the same character in any canonical continuity, just as the aforementioned Hachigoro character in Rakugo.
Noh plays are divided into five categories:
God plays in which a god disguises themselves as human and reveals themselves to a human, usually a monk, during the course of the play (See: Takasago).
Warrior plays in which ghosts of ancient warriors find a monk to send them to salvation and purify them, often with a reenactment of their final battle to purge their lingering regret. (See: Sanemori)
Wig/Woman plays in which the main character is a female role, which may still be a disguised god or oni character as in god and oni plays, still played by a male actor usually emphasizing the grace of the dance and costume (See: Miwa; below, which has elements of the above two types as well).
Oni plays in which the main role is a monster or an Oni, usually with lively, violent dancing.
The Three Rituals - Noh plays aren't usually prefaced by The Three Rituals outside of specific special occasions such as New Years Day or such festivals, as they're considered more of a spiritual rite than a performance. In some practices, the three actors must undergo purification rituals or abstain from certain things for a period before the dances. Even less of a story than Noh, they're dances of abstract ideas from when the dance arts that would go on to become Noh were being formed. The three dances, or perhaps more accurately rites, are performed in the role of the venerable old man or the white haired old man who performs for peace, the black haired old man who performs a fertility rite and for a good harvest, and the fatherly old man who performs for longevity. They perform in both thanks for and in petitioning the things which they represent. The three have also been said to represent the three rules of Buddhism (the law, retribution, and obedience); the gods of rice, renewal and ancestry; the three religions (Shintoism, Buddhism, Confucianism); or other sets of three.
Miwa – Literally "Three Wheels," A Noh play named after the setting. The Noh play tells the story of a woman who makes daily offerings to the temple atop a mountain above the village of Niwa. She asked the monk to loan her his kimono as it became colder. She invites him to come down to see her at the base of the mountain before fading into a mist. A villager saw the kimono hanging on the branch of a cedar tree in the village of Miwa and recognized it as the monk's; he asked the monk about it and when the monk told him about what happened, they determined that he met somebody who wasn't human. The man set out to the sacred tree where he found his kimono with a poem written in gold about the "Three Wheels" of Buddha. The Three Wheels of Buddha is the belief that all three parts in an exchange should be pure; the one giving, the one receiving, and the thing being given must be pure.
The woman, the Deity of Miwa, also known as the Deity of the Ise shrine, then appears and asks the monk to purify her. She says deities can be temporarily tainted by the human world and tells the story of a man who only visits his female lover at night. The woman asks why she can't be with him during the day and he says that his appearance would shame them both, and that that night will be their last night together. The woman sewed a thread into his kimono and left it on the spool so that she could follow him when he left. She came to the cedar tree at the base of mount Miwa and found out he was actually a tree. Because she had three spools or wheels of thread, the sacred cedar became known as the Seal of Miwa (three wheels/spools).
The monk was saddened by this story, so the Deity of Miwa then told him the story of when the sun goddess Amaterasu had gone into hiding in the cave and was lured out by the first Kagura. The Deity of Miwa danced the lively Kagura dance and said that her emergence was the beginning of everything. Then the sun rose, just as the darkness faded with Amaterasu's coming out, and the monk mourned that the dream he was experiencing would end as all things, even the stars, must.
The Twelve Divine Arts to the Five Gods, The Thirteen Acts to the Five Gods – The twelve, then amended to thirteen counting The Three Rituals as a single addition, is explained in the text. Inari were briefly described when Kyousuke visited the shrine, and explained in the chapter notes for Book 1, Chapter 2, Part 3. While there are many different legends and folk beliefs about Inari, the one relevant here is the belief or expression of them as five Inari gods. In the past it had been three Inari gods, though which they're believed to be varies. Of course there are also far more than five Inari gods and temples to countless numbers of them. Which gods are Inari or are served by Inari vary by legend. The most common five Inari gods (those who are enshrined at the Fushimi Inari Shrine) are:
Uka no Mitama – the spirit of rice and harvests; said to be connected to the root of life itself. Said to have given man the five grains (rice, wheat, proso millet, foxtail millet, beans), fish, livestock, and other necessary basic foodstuffs.
Sarutahiko – the god of roadways and guidance, famously portrayed as a giant with a very long nose. He is the ancestor of all earthly gods (as opposed to heavenly gods) who guides man into balance with nature. Husband of Ame no Uzume.
Ame no Uzume – Also known as Ohmiyame the goddess of dawn and revelry whose dancing was the first Kagura drawing Amaterasu from the cave. Sarutahiko as the guardian of the boundary between the heavens and earth had refused to allow the god Ninigi sent by Amaterasu to rule over the earth to pass. Ame no Uzume performed another revealing dance to entice him to allow Ninigi to pass.
Tanaka – a god of abundant harvest, said to be a local god, perhaps merely a local term for Inari perhaps based on Oonamuchi, a god of new ventures and successful business.
Shi – Literally 4, the origins of this enshrined Inari are, like Tanaka, various and lost to time. In some telling it said to be the reigning goddess of or alternately the amalgamation of the Shinto goddess Ukemochi, Wakumusubi, and Toyouke (three goddesses of different Japanese genesis legends attributing the creation or distribution of food to the goddess of the story), and the Hindu/Buddhist goddess Dakinishinten who, when being transferred to Japan was often depicted with a white fox and thus associated with Inari.
Alternately, or perhaps concurrently given Japan's history of blending faiths, the development from three Inari gods to five may be seen as a reflection of five major Buddhist deities.
In this view the central figure Uka no Mitama would be a reflection of the Gautama Buddha.
Sarutahiko would be the primary Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism Amitabha.
Ame no Uzume would be the medicine Buddha Bhaisajyaguru.
Tanaka would be Acala, known as Fudo Myou (Immovable One) in Japan and a key figure in Japanese Shingon Buddhism.
Shi would be either be the group of Four Heavenly Kings in Buddhism or specifically their chief Bishamonten.
Seal - Rather than signatures, most Japanese mark any official document with a stamp-seal. If you don't have a stamp, particularly if you're foreign, they will generally let you sign, but the 'signature' space is usually a very small square due to the stamp being the customary 'signature' on most things.
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Snapping turtle door (suppon) - A rising and falling trap door on a stage. It's called a snapping turtle door because the actor's head rises up from the ground like a turtle's head protruding from a shell.
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The crest on the lantern was drawn with white contours, unfilled on black, meaning it was a mourning lamp. - Fortunately the translation included the explanation there natively in the text identifying a shadow crest as a mourning crest. In general, family crests are either dyed entirely in white, with spaces filled in (a sunny crest), they are outlined in white and not filled in (a shadow crest), or are outlined in white with some portions filled in in white (an in-between crest). They are generally on a black background. While sunny crests are the most formal, depending on the family and crest certain ones are used for certain occasions. In this case the Yasumori shadow crest is used for mourning.