Ise Daikagura is a form of Lion Dance, or shishi dance, the Japanese word shishi meaning symbolic mythical animals. It is an interesting example of folk performing arts of Japan with itinerant performers traveling around the Western part of Japan. Part of its value is helping in understanding the common features and transmission of cultures in the regional context, because similar lion dances are found in many places in Japan, as well as in East and South-eastern Asia, each with specific characters. Despite its high artistic standard, Ise Daikagura is facing the problem of attaining enough successors.
Tradition is followed by a group of performers from the town of Tayu in the city of Kuwana, Mie Prefecture, the central part of the island of Honshu in Japan. The group travel around mainly in Western Japan to give performances.
Ise Daikagura is a folk performing art, which is rooted in Tayu Town of the city of Kuwana, Mie Prefecture. Several performers' groups of Ise Daikagura are collectively called Ise Daikagura Kosha.
The main performance is the Lion Dance, or shishi-mai in Japanese. A pair of men, one wearing a lion head-mask and acting for fore legs and the other as the hind legs, are both covered with a large, rectangular cloth, thus representing a mythical lion or shishi.
Accompanied by flute and drum music, the lion does auspicious ritualistic dances to ward off the evil spirits. The lion often holds a symbolic wand decorated with zigzag paper streamers, a sword, a set of bells, or a fan as it dances.
There are acrobatic dances together with the main lion dances. These acrobatic dances have several variations:
- lion-headed dancers standing on shoulders of other people, holding colourful umbrellas with their hands and a foot.
- dance with whirling umbrellas, balancing things on them like balls, or pottery rice bowls.
- dance with wooden rods, or rolling balls on top of them.
- dance with a special technique, water or several colours coming out of the wooden rods.
Where and when do they perform?
The performers' group, Ise Daikagura Kosha travels around various localities of Western Japan. Basically, the group follows the same schedule every year to travel and give performances at private households, where it dances to drive away the evil spirit and to give house owners good-luck charms from the famous Ise Shrine nearby. After the round, it gives series of performances including the acrobatic dances at a public plaza of the community or a shrine courtyard. They come back to Kuwana city only a few times a year to give special performances at local shrines. An especially important one is on 24 December every year, when they perform at the Masuda Shrine, which houses their guardian deity.
In older days, their whole itinerary was on foot, pulling carts of their belongings behind them. Nowadays, they drive their vehicles.
The origin of Ise Daikagura is not well known. However, it was already popular during the Edo period (1603-1868). At its height, there were twelve performing groups active in Kuwana city, according to historical records.
It was designated by the Minister of Education as Important Intangible Folk-cultural Property in January 1981. However, in the last few decades, there has been a great concern over the lack of successors, and decreasing demand for the performance resulting from the changing living style.
1969 Ise Daikagura.
no information at present
Nihonrekishi to geino Japanese history and performing arts, Vol. 12
Heibonsha Publishing, Nihon Victor (Victor Company of Japan), 1990. In Japanese.
Ise Daikagura Kosha (both preservation society and performers' group)in Tayu Town, Kuwana city, Mie Prefecture
Mr. Hiroshi Hoshino
Director, Department of Performing Arts
Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties
Address: 13-43 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-8713, Japan