Oct 15, 2008

Takigi Kagura of the Mitake Shrine

October 12, my friend and I visited the Musashi Mitake Shrine to see takigi kagura performance. Kagura is a type of dances performed as religious rituals and is to be dedicated for gods of shinto. Seventeen pieces of kagura have been handed down to the Musashi Mitake Shrine. At this time of the year, some of these pieces of kagura are performed in the nighttime surrounded by bonfires. The word takigi literally means firewood.

We got off the funicular train at the station on the mountain top and walked about 20 minutes to reach a street flanked by souvenir stores and restaurants. We went through the street and came to a squire in front of a big torii gate. This was the place where takigi kagura was to be performed. There was already a temporary stage in the squire.

Until around seven o'clock, we spent time in a souvenir store restaurant called Chimotoya. When I visit this area, I often drop in this restaurant for a cup of coffee. The coffee served here is special one called "Iwashimizu Coffee," which I would recommend. Every morning, the owner of the restaurant goes into the mountains, gets water from a spring, brings it to the restaurant, and makes this aromatic coffee by using this water.

Every time you order the Iwashimizu Coffee, they serve some confections to eat with the coffee. In addition, they serve even a konjak food, which almost makes me order atsukan (warmed sake).

By the way, I found good sake bottle and cups and purchased them. The moon was in the state called jusanya-no-tsuki (a good moon to see) on the previous day, the design of these sake bottle and cups seems very suitable for drinking sake while admiring the moon.

Well, the takigi kagura started at 7:30. The plays included "Urayasu no Mai," "Hohei," "Daisago Kiri," and "Tanekashi (Inari)." Unfortunately, we needed to leave the place while the "Tanekashi (Inari)" was being performed for fear that we might miss the last funicular train.

"Urayasu no Mai" was created in the early Showa period and its song words were made by the Showa Emperor. The words express a prayer for world peace and this slow and elegant kagura dance is danced by two shrine maidens.

"Hohei" represents gratitude to the gods of shinto. The dancer jingles bells and swings a wooden stick at the end of which paper strips hang down, purifying the place ceremonially.

During the dance of "Daisago Kiri," the two dancers express movements of scattering rice grains. I am sure that the rice has been playing a very important part in the history of Japan. Since the rice is emblematic of the entire crops, the "Daisago Kiri" kagura is probably a prayer for rich harvest.

The rice also appears in the next play of kagura "Tanekashi (Inari)." A dancer wearing a hyottoko mask (droll faced mask) sows rice seeds, and a fox-masked dancer makes fun of him. A fox is the familiar of the god Inari. Inari is written "稲荷" in Japanese and the character "稲" means rice. Thus, this dance is also related to agriculture and a prayer for rich harvest. The hyottoko-mask actually climbs down from the stage, comes to you, and gives you real grains of rice.

Considering the fact that the food self-support ratio of Japan is lower than 40 percent, It is obvious that Japan must increase the production of agriculture. When seeing these dances, I feel that Japanese people should seriously think of Japanese agriculture not in terms of only the food self-support ratio but also the protection of Japanese culture.

Today's Sake
Sawanoi Honjo Nama(Ozawa Brewery)
I drank this sake in the restaurant Momijiya near the big torii gate of the Mitake Shrine.
A sake with the same brand tends to slightly change in its taste depending on its brewery year. One of the good points of Sawanoi sakes is that they have stable quality, having little fluctuation in taste.

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