Oct 10, 2008

Shishimai (Lion Dances) and Kashima odori

Long into Okutama Lake, a tongue of land juts out. A path, which seems so narrow that vehicles cannot pass each other, ascends toward the end of the tongue. Seeing the dark-green slightly rippling water of the lake on the right, I walk up the road. As I inch my way to the end of the tongue, the road goes on the left side of the tongue of land and winds up. Now I am on a cliff and I can look down the surface of the lake which now appears tranquiller than before through cherry trees and others. The mountain air in the early autumn feels crisp.

I continue walking and find myself at the entrance of the square where the shrine office building stands. In the square, several tens of people already occupy their own places. I climb the stone stairs on the right. Below on the right of the stairs is the road I have just trodden. Soon, I reach Ogochi Shrine that stands at the highest point of the tongue.

In 1957, the construction of the Ogochi Dam, which backs up the water of Okutama Lake, was completed. Then, this shrine was built to collectively enshrine the gods of the shrines in nearby districts that are now sunk deep in the lake.

Today, September 14, a festival of Ogochi Shrine was held. From nine o'clock in the morning, shishimai (lion dances) and Kashima odori dances were to be dedicated to the shrine. To see these dances, we got up early in the morning, take trains and a bus, came a long way, climbed the road of tongue, and were finally here.

When I was waiting for a band of shishimai on the stone stairs leading to the shrine, I heard bamboo fifes resounding through the cool air from a distance. Drums accompanied clear high-pitched sounds of the fifes. I traced the road lying below but it curved left and disappeared behind the mountain. The music of the shishimai band was getting closer and closer and I was anticipating the band would suddenly appear from behind the mountain. I was very much excited.

Finally, a band of shishimai lead by a guy wearing a happi coat came into view. Fifers, sasara players (sasara is a musical instrument made of bamboo and it makes rubbing sound, a sasara player plays this instrument wearing headgears ornamented with paper flowers), mando-bearers (mando is an object with drooping sprays of flowers and a stem to hold it up), and three dancers wearing lion-heads were marching over here. Children were running back and forth around them.

This shishimai band came from the Sakamoto district, and the other shishimai bands who were going to subsequently show their performance were those from the Kawano and Hara districts. The style of these shishimai dances is called sanbiki shishimai (three-lion shishimai) or sasara shishimai. Usually, the shishimai dance of this style is danced by three lion dancers who beat the drums tied to their waists and several sasara players who wear ornamented headgears, accompanied by several fifers.

The three lion heads used in shishimai are called oodayu, kodayu, and mejishi, translated into a big male lion, small male lion, and female lion, respectively, although how to call them varies according to the district. They can be distinguished from each other by their colors and horns. For example, an oodayu has voluted horns and a mejishi has no horn or has an orb on the head.

These three lions dance various dances, many of which represent simple, unaffected and trivial themes. For example, the story of the play called saogakari is like the following: The three lions were wandering in mountains and came to a point where a fallen tree was blocking their way. They were troubled because they could not go on. However, finally after some trial and error, they could successfully overcome their obstacle and they happily danced and played together. Quite a pleasant story, isn't it?

When the dances of the bands from the three districts were over, it was time when Kashima odori dances were going to be dedicated to the shrine. In this performing art, six women-kimono-clad men dance.

The dancers were wearing fascinatingly elegant kimono and golden crowns, and danced artistic dances, which were graceful and settled, to meaningful songs. It is quite amazing that such wonderful performing art was conveyed to the place in so deep mountains long ago and still exists even now.

Today's Sake
Honjozo Ginrei Tateyama (Tateyama Brewing)
When I went to scale Mt. Tsurugi in the North Japan Alps in August, I stayed in a mountain lodge. Fortunately, they were selling beer and sake in the lodge. At that time, I bought Ginrei Tateyama and drank it cold. It was palatable sake, I could drink it smoothly, and at the same time I felt stable body in this sake. The aftertaste was quite dry but flinty. Recently, I found the same sake on the shelf in the nearby liquor shop, and I bought it. This time, I am enjoying it hot. When warmed, it is not bad but it becomes somehow strong in terms of an alcoholic sensation.

Rice used: Gohyakumangoku
Seimaibuai: 70%
Alcohol: 15.3%
Nihonshudo: (+)5.0
Acidity: 1.4

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