Urayasu no Mai Dance (浦安の舞)

Urayasu no Mai is a type of kagura (sacred music and dancing performed at shrines) (mikomai (female Shinto dance that the young girls each carry a small baton with bells)). It was created in the modern era.

It was decided that a new kagura should be made for the special festivals that were to be held as part of 'the 2,600th anniversary of Imperial rule' on November 10, 1940, and Tadatomo ONO, head of the Imperial Household Ministry's Music Department, composed the dance and music based on traditional Kuniburi no utamai songs and dances.

Lyrics written by Emperor Showa in 1933:
I pray to the deity of heaven and earth that the world be just like a placid sea before dawn. These lyrics are used in the kagura.

Workshops were held nationwide to prepare for the special festivals of the 2,600th anniversary of Imperial rule and instructors were even sent to shrines in overseas territories such as Korea and Taiwan. The dance was performed at 10 o'clock in the morning on the day at shrines all over Japan. The dance has been performed occasionally at every shrine since then.

Since the Meiji period, there had been no official provision for shrine services by women and the establishment of this dance provided them with an opportunity to participate in services
Furthermore, conducting nationwide workshops and full-scale performances of the dance contributed to popularizing kagura dances among the shrines.

Kagura made in the modern era, including Urayasu no mai, are based on Kuniburi no utamai songs and dances or bugaku (traditional Japanese court music accompanied by dancing) and, in a broad sense, can be seen as a continuation of gagaku court music. In a narrow sense, however, they are distinct from gagaku, being specifically created for religious festivals. In particular, Tadatomo ONO, in his composition, emphasized the importance of kagura being based on Japanese mythology for shrine ceremonies.

Urayasu no mai is a dance for women performed by shrine maidens as a solo, in pairs or by four people. The formal form of the dance is performed by four dancers. The dance consists of two parts: the first half, ogi no mai, is a dance using a formal folding fan made of hinoki cypress; and the second half, suzu no mai, is a dance using bells attached to straps.

Etymology of 'urayasu'
Ura' is an ancient Japanese word meaning mind or heart; 'urayasu' therefore means supposedly 'peace of mind.'
In Nihonshoki, or Chronicles of Japan, there is a phrase: Long ago, Izanagi, a male deity of creation, said here is the country of Yamato, a country of urayasu, a land of peaceful mind. The use of 'Urayasu no kuni' as a synonym for Japan is found in other literature, suggesting that the term 'urayasu' in the title of the dance is used to encompass the pacification and appeasement of the Amatsu kami (god of heaven) and Kunitsu kami (gods of the land), as well as peace throughout the land.

Musical instruments
Musical instruments used are: kagurabue flute, hichiriki (double reed Japanese flute), koto (Japanese harp), and taiko (Japanese drum). The drum most often used is the tsuridaiko, a drum that hangs in a frame and is used in gagaku, but standard drums are also acceptable. Drums are typically used to keep other instruments in time; if a drum is not available, shaku byoshi (clappers) can be used instead. The flute used should be a kagura flute; other types of flutes, such as the ryuteki and shinobue, are not suitable as their pitch does not match the music in any way. Music for stringed instruments was originally written for both the six-stringed wagon and the thirteen-stringed gakugoto but since the use of zokuso (common koto) was permitted, the koto has become more popular.

The costume that was established in 1940 based on twelve-layered ceremonial kimono is regarded as the official costume for Urayasu no mai and is called akome shozoku or honshozoku. The costume consists of hitoe (kimono with no lining), akome (inner wear), omigoromo (ceremonial jacket used for Shinto rites at the Imperial Court), mo (long pleated skirts), and hinohakama/hibakama (scarlet Japanese pants for men), with a symbolic hi-ogi (wooden fan) held by the dancer, which is used in the fan dance. The blue color of the omigoromo indicates that the dance is specifically performed for ceremonial purposes.

The dancers swap the wooden fan for bells during the dance. The dancers wear flowers in their hair or a tenkan (golden crown) on their head, with their hair tied in the back in a style known as Emotoyui. If the dancers have short hair, they wear a wig.

Informal costume
The informal costume consists of chihaya (Japanese coat for female priests) and hibakama. The coat has a blue pattern, called aozuri, usually of pines and cranes, but there is also a chrysanthemum pattern, called a 'Urayasu pattern', for use in the Urayasu no mai. In some shrines, instead of using a hi-ogi fan, a mai-ogi fan, used for dancing to zokugaku (vulgar or common music, as opposed to gagaku court music) is decorated with cords to look like a hi-ogi fan.

Also, synthetic costumes being relatively inexpensive, lightweight, and available in children's sizes, the informal costume is worn by most young dancers.

Although officially the hoko-suzu, a dagger with bells attached, is used, it may be substituted for kagura-suzu, or kagura bells.

The hoko-suzu has a 20cm blade and a guard attached to the handle, and 6 or 8 bells attached to the guard. The hoko-suzu symbolizes the three sacred imperial treasures with the blade representing the Tsurugi sword of Ama no Murakumo, the guard the Yata no Kagami Mirror, and the bells the Yasakani no Magatama jewel.

The Kagura-suzu is fitted with three rings, the top ring having three bells, the middle ring five bells and the bottom ring seven bells. This represents an ear of rice, and is meant to pray for an abundant harvest.

Each bell has five 1.5 to 1.8 meter long colored straps attached to it.

There are no specific rules for the dancers' makeup; it is often about the same as most women wear everday. However, in some shrines and regions, characteristic makeup such as white face powder or heavy eye makeup is found.


Ceremonies where Urayasu no mai is performed in formal costumes.

Dances that are open to the public, and filming is allowed; * indicates the dance is performed by girls including daughters of shrine parishioners.


June 14 to 15: Annual festival held at Hokkaido-jingu Shrine, Chuo Ward, Sapporo City


September 14 to 16: Shirakawa Chochin Matsuri (Shirakawa Lantern Festival) held at Kashima-jinja Shrine, Shirakawa City (every two years, next one in 2009)

Northern Kanto

April 19 and October 19: Annual festival held at Kuragano-jinja Shrine, Takasaki City
April 25 and October 25: Annual festival held at Karasawayama-jinja Shrine, Sano City
Early May: Gagaku (Japanese traditional music and dance) Evening Concert held at Gokoku-jinja Shrine, Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture
Early October: Gagaku Autumn Concert held at Nukisaki-jinja Shrine, Tomioka City
Early October: Annual festival held at Yahata-jinja Shrine, Fukaya City *(Hitoe and akome are not worn.)

Early October: Osugi Matsuri Festival held at Osugi-jinja Shrine, Inashiki City
Mid-November: Bugaku Festival held at Kasamainari-jinja Shrine, Kasama City

Southern Kanto

May 15: Kanda Matsuri Festival held at Kanda-jinja Shrine, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo (the Grand Festival is held every year on the same day.)
Early July: Gagaku Evening Concert held at Omiya Hachiman-gu Shrine, Suginami Ward, Tokyo
Mid-August: Annual festival held at Samukawa-jinja Shrine, Chuo Ward, Chiba City
September 13: Junisha Hadaka Matsuri (twelve shrines' Festival of naked men) held at Tamasaki-jinja Shrine, Ichinomiya Town
Late September: Autumn Grand Festival held at Katori Gokoku-jinja Shrine, Katori City (performed by shrine maidens from Katori-jingu Shrine)
November 1: Annual festival held at Omiya-jinja Shrine, Ichihara City
Around December: Kagura-mai performance held at Meiji-jingu Shrine, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. (The performance is held every two years, with admission fees, filming is allowed)



January 1: New Year's Festival held at Fujisan Hongu Sengen-taisha Shrine, Fujinomiya City
February 10 and 11: Oni matsuri (ogre festival) held at Akumikanbe shinmeisha Shrine, Toyohashi City *thick makeup
August 15 and 16: Mishima Natsu Matsuri (Mishima Summer Festival) held at Mishima Taisha Shrine, Mishima City
November 4: Annual festival held at Fujisan Hongu Sengen-taisha Shrine, Fujinomiya City


September: Annual festival held at Takase-jinja Shrine, Nanto City

Kyoto Prefecture

January 1: New Year's Festival held at Heian-jingu Shrine, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City

Other Kinki

Early March: Tenma Tenjin Plum Festival held at Osaka Tenman-gu Shrine, Kita Ward, Osaka City
April 4: Kagura Matsuri Festival held at Sabi-jinja Shrine, Tondabayashi City
Late September: Gagaku Evening Concert held at Ikuta-jinja Shrine, Chuo Ward, Kobe City
October 20: Autumn Grand Festival held at Osaka Gokoku-jinja Shrine, Suminoe Ward, Osaka City


Late May: Banto Mitama Matsuri (Festival of Lanterns of spirits) held at Hiroshima Gokoku-jinja Shrine in Naka Ward, Hiroshima City
Mid-September: Urayasu no mai held at Miho-jinja Shrine in Matsue City


January 10: Hatsu Toka matsuri (Festival of January 10th) held at Kotohiragu Shrine, Kotohira Town
Mid-September: Annual autumn festival held at Onohara Hachiman-jinja Shrine, Kannonji City
Late September: Mizuki (moon-viewing) Kagura Night held at Mishima-jinja Shrine, Nomura, Seiyo City


July 10: Hakata Gion Yamagasa summer festival held at Kushida-jinja Shrine, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka City
Sentomyo (Ceremony of a thousand candles): September 25, Dazaifu Temmangu Shrine, Dazaifu City.

About the costumes
Authentic costumes are expensive and can only be used for the Urayasu no mai; consequently, only a few shrines can afford them. Furthermore, the majority of authentic costumes are made for female adult sizes, the weight of the whole costume and the lengths of the jacket and skirt make performance more challenging (e.g., hand movements and moving smoothly with the skirt) than with informal costumes. For this reason, it is very rare for younger dancers to perform in authentic costumes.