Ennen is a Japanese art which was performed by monks and chigo (child in a Buddhist possession) at temples after Daihoe (great Buddhist memorial service). It is not an independent art but is the collective name of various aristocratic and folk arts, including bugaku (traditional Japanese court music accompanied by dancing), sangaku (form of theater popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th century), furyu with lines (form of theater popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th century), local music and dance, sarugaku (form of theater popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th century), shirabyoshi (Japanese traditional dance) and kouta (a ballad sung to samisen accompaniment) etc.
Though its exact origin is not clear, it is believed that it has been performed since the mid-Heian period. There is no doubt that it was closely related to sarugaku, the original model of noh, and both were mutually influenced, but there are several views concerning which originated earlier. It seems that in early days, it was performed by lower-rank monks and chigo as an entertainment on the occasion of a Buddhist memorial service or court nobles' visit. With such temple performances becoming popular, it incorporated various arts mentioned above in order to afford more pleasure to spectators. Also, it developed into the art to be performed by monks skilled in arts.
Such monks who were specialized in performing Ennen were called 'yuso' or 'kyoso.'
The term Ennen derives from the phrase '詩歌管弦者遐齢延年方也' included in "Teikin Orai," a book in the Muromachi period (it is said to have been written by Gene but unclear). As seen from the above, Ennen has the implication of praying for longevity in its root.
Ennen was vigorously performed during the Kamakura period and Muromachi period. The scale of Ennen performed on the occasion of some temples' festival became bigger. In performing Ennen furyu, which was similar to theater arts, large-scale sets like two-storied sets and movable floats were used. Some people assert that this idea of using affected sets was later introduced into kabuki.
Ennen declined gradually after the Muromachi period and was rarely performed in the Edo period. It is thought that one of the reasons for this is the fact that ruling samurai class patronized noh. At present, Ennen is performed only at some temples in Iwate Prefecture and Tochigi Prefecture. Even at these temples, only a portion of Ennen remains as traces.
44 tunes of Ennen remain.
Ennen no mai (Ennen Dance)
Dance that was performed in Ennen is called 'Ennen no mai' (Ennen Dance). As Ennen no mai was sometimes incorporated into other arts, we can gather from them the image of Ennen in the old days.
In the yokyoku (noh song) "Ataka," Ennen no mai is used as otoko-mai (a male dance) danced by Benkei, one of the characters. In "Kanjincho," one of the kabuki juhachiban (eighteen best plays of the Ichikawa family of kabuki actors) based on "Ataka," the scene where the actor playing Benkei dances Ennen no mai is a highlight of the play.
Temples/regions where Ennen is performed
The following is the list of temples and regions where Ennen is performed as of 2004.
Motsu-ji Temple (Hiraizumi-cho, Iwate Prefecture)
Akutsuhachiman-jinja Shrine (Takahata-cho, Yamagata Prefecture)
Hakusan-jinja Shrine (Kannari-cho, Miyagi Prefecture)
Nechiyama-dera Temple (Itoigawa City, Niigata Prefecture)
Rinno-ji Temple (Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture)
Hakone-jinja Shrine (Hakone-cho, Kanagawa Prefecture, revived in 2007)
Itsukushima-jinja Shrine (Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture)