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Performing Arts

Inaba no Kirin Shishi-mai

Kirin Dance of Inaba

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- Kirin Dance led by shojo at Ube Shrine.
- Kirin Dance at Ohwasaminomikoto Shrine.

Filming DateNA

A variation on the lion dance found in many places in Japan, but in this case the lion is composed of two people with one head-mask of a kirin, a unicorn, and an elegant slow movement reminiscent of a No play. The lion dance performers are lead by shojo character, a mythical creature also of Chinese origin, which resembles an orangutan.

Reasons for selection

This is a sort of lion dance (or shishi-mai ), found mainly in Inaba area (eastern part of Tottori Prefecture, western part of Honshu Island of Japan). It is unique, not only in Japan, but in the world, in that the head-mask used by the dancer is in the form of kirin, a mythical unicorn animal of high virtue, created in China more than 2500 years ago. Its very elegant, slow movement is also unique among the variety of lion dances in Japan.

Area where performed

There are 148 kirin headdresses in Inaba area (eastern Tottori Prefecture)and there are 14 in Tajima area (northern part of Hyogo Prefecture). In addition, there are two kirin heads found in Tottori town, Kushiro city in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, where some people from Tottori immigrated about a hundred years ago.

Essential elements of the performing art


Detailed explanation

The Kirin Dance of Inaba is performed by a group of about ten people. Two of them constitute the kirin, one playing the part of the forelegs and wearing a golden head-mask, the other being hind legs, both dressed in a bright mantle-like garment. The kirin dances to the tune of flutes, drums and bells. The group is led by a shojo character (see below). The movement is elegant and slow, unlike many other lion dances in Japan, and is reminiscent of the traditional Japanese theatrical art of No.

The dance is performed at annual festivals of local shrines in the Inaba area of eastern Tottori Prefecture, altogether close to 150 in number. Two-thirds of the festivals are in spring in prayer for wishing a good autumn rice harvest, and most of the rest are in autumn as a mode of thanksgiving. The kirin head-masks are stored in each shrine and taken out for festivals.

The dancers are young men who belong to the ujiko of each shrine. An ujiko is a group of community people who are followers/worshipers at the community shrine, and who also help in many ways in the administrative chores of the shrine.

The lion dance is found in abundance in Japan. Characteristic of this Kirin Dance of Inaba is the head-mask which is in the shape of kirin - a mythical creature of high virtue, born out of Chinese mythology more than 2500 years ago, which looks part lion-dragon and part unicorn. The slow and elegant movement of the kirin is also very unique.

The history of the Kirin Dance of Inaba goes back about 350 years. In 1650, the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1868), the first generation lord of the feudal Tottori clan, the Ikeda family, Ikeda Mitsunaka, constructed in Tottori a large shrine, a sort of branch shrine of the famous Nikko Toshogu Shrine, wherein was enshrined Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Edo Shogunate. Ikeda also introduced a new form of lion dance to dedicate this newly constructed Tottori Toshogu Shrine. Before, the head-mask for the lion dance in this area was a normal lion. He introduced the kirin, whose figure is famous in the wood-carved decoration of Nikko Toshogu, and the tengu, long-nosed goblin, which led the lion dance troupe, was replaced by shojo, a mythical creature of Chinese origin with red hair like an orangutan, almost as old as the kirin.

Thus the kirin image, born in China probably more than 2500 years ago, and conveyed to Japan in the seventh to eighth century AD, was introduced into the Lion Dance of Inaba.

At first, the Kirin dance was confined to the Tottori Toshogu Shrine, which was also a family shrine to lord Ikeda, but later, spread to neighbouring shrines of smaller scale, all over Inaba area and some neighbouring areas. Today this number is up to 148 shrines.

The dance has been treasured by local people, but in recent years there is a lack of young performers in some of the troupes.

Publication and textual documentation

NOZU Tooru
1993 Inaba no Shishi-mai Kenkyu Research on Kirin Dance of Inaba.
Tokyo: Daiichi Hoki. In Japanese.

Audio documentation

no information at present

Visual documentation

Ima Yomigaeru Kirin Shishi Densetsu Kirin Legend Comes Back to Life.
Shin-Tottori Ekimaechiku Shotengai Shinko KumiaiNew Tottori Station Shop-owners AssociationVHS video, in Japanese.

Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

Tottori Ekimae ShotenkaiShop-owners Association in front of the Tottori Station, Inaba Shishi Society, Tottori Junior Chamber Inc.

Data provider

Mr. Tooru Nozu
Professor, Faculty of Education
Tottori University
Address: 3-101-51 Koyama-cho Minami, Tottori-shi, Tottori, Japan