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Itako no Kuchiyose

Kuchiyose ritual by Itako


Japan_A05_Itako
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(c) Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties

Filming DateNA
Filming PlaceMutushi, Aomori


Itako are the blind female shamans. The kuchiyose ritual is held during a funeral mass and on the anniversary of a death. Performing on the instruments itako act as mediums for the spirits of the dead or gods.


Reasons for selection

It is a unique representiation of shamanistic performance tradition of Japan.


Area where performed

Tsugaru and Nanbu districts of Aomori Prefecture and central northern part of Iwate Prefecture


Essential elements of the performing art

Music


Detailed explanation

Itako are the blind female shamans who are active in the Tsugaru and Nanbu districts of Aomori Prefecture and central northern part of Iwate Prefecture, in northernmost Honshu. The gathering of itako is held at the mountain Osorezan in Aomori, from 20-24 July.

Young girls who wish to became itako are bound as apprentices to a teacher and undergo a rigorous training. After kamizukeshiki or initiatory marriage with a god ( kami ), they become itako.

In kamioroshi rituals, also called oshira asobi, itako sing the special songs to celebrate Oshirasama, the god of the family. The kuchiyose ritual is held during a funeral mass and on the anniversary of a death. Performing on the azusayumi (musical bow), a juzu (rosary), a kane (small bell)and a shakujo (sceptre)alternately, itako act as mediums for the spirits of the dead ( hotoke )or gods. The former are called hotokekuchi, the latter kamikuchi. Kuchi literally means words as well as mouth. According to Miura (1977 84), the kuchiyose ritual can be divided into five stages:

1)Ho no musuba (to set in order): Salt and rice are scattered around to purify the place where the ceremony is to be held. The power of the gods enters the body of the itako.
2)Kamiyose (causing the gods to approach): It refers to the calling on various gods to lend their strength in convincing the departed soul ( hotoke )to descend from the spirit world.
3)Hotoke yobi (causing the descent of the spirit): It refers to the act of calling the god of the place where the ceremony is being performed and asking for its protection.
4)Hotoke oroshi (causing the descent of the dead): The itako relates the background of the departed spirit in a song-like narrative known as kudoki, borrows the itako voice to tell of his happiness, sadness, suffering, etc.
5)Kamiokuri (sending off the god): The songs which are sung are the common saimon about hell, insects and birds.

MIURA Teeji
1977 Itako and the azusayumi. Asian Musics in an Asian Perspective. pp.83-85.
Tokyo: The Japan Foundation.


Publication and textual documentation

KOIZUMI Fumio, TOKUMARU Yoshihiko, and YAMAGUCHI Osamu, ed.
1977 Asian Musics in an Asian Perspective.
Tokyo: The Japan Foundation.


Audio documentation

Asian Musics in an Asian Perspective.
1977 Tokyo: Victor Musical Industries, Inc.


Visual documentation

Traditional Musics in Asia: Malaysia and Japan.
16mm. Tokyo: Mitsu Productions.


Institution/organisation involved in preservation and promotion

The board of education in Aomori prefecture.
2-3-1 Shinmachi, Aomori 030-0801, Japan


Data provider

Ms. Hiroko Yamamoto
Editorial Advisor
Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU)
Address: 6 Fukuromachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-8484, Japan