What is Kagura anyway?
Traditional Kagura-Mai(Shinto dance)
Kagura-Mai(sacred dance) can be seen in many parts of Japan and is performed with an elegant and graceful slow tempo dance by only the Shinto priests and female attendants at Shinto shrines since ancient times(probably in the 7th century.)
According to legend, Kagura originated when the Goddess Ameno-Uzume-no-Mikoto danced merrily in order to lure the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-Ohmikami, to reappear from the heavenly cave where she was hiding.
For the local villagers, Kagura-Mai(a Shinto dance, while Mai is a Noh dance) is a part of Shinto ritual for agricultural fertility dedicated to the god/goddess of a shrine.
Comparatively speaking, Mai(dance), much older than Odori, is used in ceremonial dances of Shintoism and Noh, while Odori originates in Kabuki.
What is Iwami-kagura?
Kagura is the traditional sacred service dance (called Kagura-Mai) to the God/Goddess of the local Shinto shrine during annual rice-crop growth festivities.
The traditional Shinto ritual ceremony takes place at the main alter of the shrine during the day by Shinto priests and female attendants who perform a simple yet graceful sacred service dance called Mai. Then, a series of Iwami-Kagura dance episodes(or stories) follows this ceremony and runs on the Kagura-Den (sacred stage) in the precincts of the shrine from early night to dawn.
Each episode is vividly orchestrated by dynamic drum beats and beautiful nostalgic melodies of the bamboo flute accompanied by stimulating metal sounds of small brass hand-claps. A series of episodes is performed by a group of 15 to 30 members of local villagers or town people of various professions such as rice growing farmers, fishermen, salary men, store keepers and truck drivers.
What is it like?
In short, when you imagine the nature of Iwami-Kagura, it could be somewhere between Japanese traditional Kabuki (target audiences are town people) and Noh (target audiences are feudal lords and samurai.)
The target audiences of Iwami-Kagura are villagers or local community people in the region. Kabuki is a popular dramatic art form that has been a favorite among the Japanese people since the 17th century. Noh is the oldest dramatic art in Japan, having originally developed in the 14th century.
The recent trend of Iwami-Kagura consists of theatrical performances on the stages of cultural halls with special effects such as smoke and sparks rather than traditional local celebrations at the village shrine.
Iwami-Kagura, during the last few decades, has been the major part of local festivities in the Iwami region and is performed at occasions such as tourist events, supermarket commercial promotions, various local memorial events, and even at the Buddhist temples.