Gagaku at Sosha Shrine

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July 9th 2019
Published: July 15th 2019
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To reacclimatise to Himeji, Jacinta organised for me to attend a cultural performance at the Sosha Shrine which is in the heart of Himeji, just below the castle. We were accompanied by Kasumi who is a member of the shrine.

Two amazing facts about the visit: It was the first I'd heard of Gagaku, and the whole event was catered to English speaking tourists - a first in Himeji for me. Unfortunately we were the only two obvious ones at the event and consequently have been immortalised on many digital recordings of the event.

Gagaku is music and dance from about 1500 years ago formerly performed in the Imperial court. I think this would have been in Kyoto. However, the company bringing back this cultural art form are from Kobe city, about 30 minutes away by train. The art form originated in Iran and came to Japan via China.

The priest in charge of a shrine Kobe is the leader of the company and he performed the dance in the gorgeous and valuable ($300,000) costume from the era, featuring a dragon on top of the headress/mask and four embroidered dragons in the sumptious panels of his costume. It was only the sixth ever performance by the company. It is unusual for them to perform in the humid summer weather outside so we were extremely fortunate. The costumes can be damaged by sweat and the 5.30pm performance was in 30 degree heat at about 80 per cent humidity.

I was particularly delighted at the wind instruments and you can see the three wooden instruments featured in the photos.

The first item Gagaku Etenraku was instrumental. The music was slightly familiar to me and was well know to the Japanese audience who would have heard it at some formal ceremonies during their lives. Jacinta had heard similar music in Chinese ceremonies when working there.

The second item,Toyosaka no Mai, consisted of two female shrine attendants who do a dance at formal ceremonies and weddings in shrines. My friend Fusako commented that it was the first time she had seen the dance performed to the audience; for her a huge treat. In a ceremony, the attendants are calling the deities attention to the ceremony and they face the deities so the audience only get to see their backs as they perform their dance. At Sosha shrine they 'have visits' from 178 deities. So I imagine the attendants have to work hard at this dance.

The final item Bugaku Ranryo, was the dance in the dragon costume. The dancer was very elegant even though his dance had few movements, because of its style and its historical location. He was in perfect time to the music and his Japanese audience were enthralled. I have seen Noh and Kyogen players - other historically based performers - and this dancer was of a high standard, even though I have never before seen Gagaku.

To balance out the weekend, we attended the Takarazuka Review on Sunday. For those of you unfamiliar with the Review I find it fantastic. It has a huge female fan club and is one of the slickest musical performances I have seen. It was established by an industrialist from Osaka over 130 years ago. He built a train line from Osaka to Takarazuka (now a 20 minute trip) and found it was not profitable. So to increase its use, he bought land and established a theatre. He decided it would be a spoof on Kabuki - the traditional Japanese theatre where both male and female parts are played by men - to create an all female review in his theatre - all parts are played by women. Well he is a rich man and the concept expanded so he has theatres in Takarazuka and Tokyo and it is hard to obtain tickets as the performances sell out within hours of tickets being released on the internet. Our performance had an historical Japanese first component dramatising the cultural move from the samurai era to the Meiji era the latter being when Japan looked outwards to western societies and opened itself to them.

So I feel settled back into a life in Japan.

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