Kagura: Interacting with Tradition

On August 4, 2018, I visited the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum to watch a Kagura performance. Although it was my second Kagura performance, it felt totally new for a few reasons.

For one, I had never seen this story. Every Kagura performance depicts a different Japanese legend, one that usually involves a fierce battle pitting good against evil. This time, I had the opportunity to see a story about the Emperor courageously facing Jin-Rin, a flying demon who persistently torments the local villagers. Costumes, song and dance were all beautifully intertwined in the development of tension and excitement throughout this unique story. I personally loved the way the beat of the drums and gentle flute seemed to echo the traits of the flying demon who’s movements were, at the same time, both graceful and aggressive.

Another point that added to my sense of “first time” was the interest I found in watching my fellow audience members react to the performance. One aspect I love about Kagura is how engaging and interactive it is. Before the performance begins, the host indicates that cheers and applause are highly welcome and that active audience response will give added life to the experience. This time, it became clear how my Kagura experience varied depending on the level of audience involvement during the show. At this show, the audience whistled and clapped loudly particularly during the story’s climax. They instantly energized the atmosphere, and I am sure no one who was in that room will ever forget the experience. There was also a question and answer session at the end of the show, which gave all of us, newly minted “fans”, the chance to interact with the performers directly. This gave the whole experience an additional layer of delight.

I fell in love with Kagura the first time I saw it but I notice a richer appreciation now after my second experience because I realized how different each and every performance can be. The story, performers, audience, dance, music, and song; the unique collaboration of every element works perfectly into this evening of Japanese culture. Definitely an experience not to be missed. The Kagura performances at Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum are also friendly to non-Japanese speakers, as they show English subtitles of the dialogue on a screen and have multiple translators present for visitors who want to ask questions.

If you are wondering how to spend your time in Hiroshima, I highly recommend an evening of Kagura. You are sure to experience the beauty of interacting with tradition. Surely an unforgettable event for all!

Words: Hana Shiraishi
Photos Paul Walsh

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