Shimotsuki kagura (霜月神楽)

Shimotsuki kagura is kagura (sacred music and dance performed at shrines) that is performed in November (according to the old lunar calendar; December through to January of the following year according to the Gregorian calendar). As it was performed in combination with yudate (a ceremony in which Shinto priests sprinkle hot water over worshippers using bamboo leaves that they have dipped in a large pot of hot water before the gods), it is sometimes called Yudate kagura, and because it is performed at the geku (outer shrine) of Ise-jingu Shrine, it is also sometimes called Ise-ryu kagura (Ise-style kagura).

Summary

Kagura is believed to have originally been considered an event to be held in November of old lunar calendar, with kagura held at Sonokarakamino-yashiro Shrine, which was enshrined in the imperial court in ancient and medieval Japan, performed in November, and kagura (which included a Yoriai [meeting] kagura and Hono [dedication] kagura) conducted by geku onshi (low-ranking Shinto priests) of Ise-jingu Shrine every November 13 (according to the old lunar calendar) at the residence of the priest that led the kagura also performed in November. Though kagura performed by Ise priests went into decline in the Meiji period, it is thought to have spread to various places in Japan before then, having combined with elements of the Kumano Shinko cult, Shugendo (mountain asceticism), Onmyodo (yin-yang cosmology) and Shushoe (New Year's festival).

The eleventh month of the old lunar calendar was a period when gods and Nature became weak, so kagura was performed to prepare for the new year, refreshing and restoring souls in rites such as Tamafuri (shaking of souls). Yudate, a mixture of the Kumano cult rebirth rites Yu no kiyomari (purification by hot water) and Igomori no juho (incantation of confining), is said to have been handed down from that time.

In preparation for welcoming the gods, in the garden where the kagura will be held, a himorogi (sacred space) where the deities will stay is decorated with gohei (ritual wands with paper streamers attached), a large pot is placed in the middle of the stage, a white canopy decorated with 'great vehicles' and clouds is hung from the ceiling, and the area is surrounded with sacred shimenawa ropes and pieces of decorative paper. Around the pot, various prayers, norito (ritual prayers), and dances such as kagura by jinin (shrine associates) are performed through the night.

Though the style of Shimotsuki kagura varies from one region or shrine to another, it is basically conducted in the following order: prior to the ceremony, water drawn from a specific river or waterfall is boiled in a large pot and offered before the gods; after the yudate prayer, participants are splashed with hot water purify them; the kagura then begins with the reading of a list of invited deities; before midnight, the unmasked Torimonomai (dance of symbolic offerings) is performed; prayers are offered in praise of the deities; the invited gods are seen off at midnight; a naorai (feast) is held; after midnight is the Kamiasobi (kagura), with the dancers wearing Oni (demon) or Okina (old man) masks; a blessing ceremony is held. In particular, deities low in rank but having a close connection to the local area were warmly received.

Typical Shimotsuki kagura

The following are typical Shimotsuki kagura. Other kagura continue to practice either the whole or part of traditional Shimotsuki kagura but are not mentioned here.

The traditional folk entertainment designated an important intangible folk cultural property handed down in Yasawagi, Omori-machi, Yokote City, Akita Prefecture. See Horowasan no Shimotsuki kagura (Mt. Horowa Shimotsuki kagura).

The traditional folk entertainment designated an important intangible folk cultural property handed down in Tenryu-mura, Shimoina-gun, Nagano Prefecture. See Tenryumura no Shimotsuki kagura (Tenryu-mura Village Shimotsuki kagura).

The traditional folk entertainment designated an important intangible folk cultural property handed down in former Minamishinano-mura and Kami-mura, Iida City, Nagano Prefecture. See Toyamago Shimotsuki matsuri (November festival in Toyama-go Village).

The traditional folk entertainment designated an important intangible folk cultural property handed down in the Okumikawa region of Aichi Prefecture. See Hanamatsuri (flower festival).