Discover the Japan Adventure – Michinoku Coastal Trail – Sanriku Trail and Train

Discover the best of Japan Adventure tour, in Michinoku coastal trail with sustainable life.

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Traditional Performing Arts Culture

Unotori Kagura:

A dance for the gods

As a flutist sends notes cascading above the rhythmic beat and jangle of drums and cymbals, a masked dancer prowls across the outdoor stage at Unotori Shrine. To one side sits a small band of musicians dressed in traditional robes. Behind hangs a large gold and red curtain, upon which two cormorants are depicted riding ocean waves. On it, in ornate calligraphy, two Japanese words appear: Unotori Kagura.

Over generations, this scene has been played out thousands of times along the Sanriku Coast. Called Kiyoharai, it is one of the core dances of Unotori Kagura, a form of theatrical dance that worships and celebrates the gods of the Unotori Shrine in Fudai Village.

“We always perform this piece first to purify the stage,” says the troupe’s director and chairman of the Unotori Kagura Preservation Society, Mr. Shinsaku Takayashiki. “Then we can summon the gods with our other dances.”

Mostly dating to at least the Meiji Era (1868-1912), there are 53 stories in the Unotori Kagura repertoire, varying in style from comedic skits to dramatic tales, but the end goal is always the same: entertain the gods to earn their blessings. That includes tales like Ebisu Mai, in which the Japanese god of fishermen and good fortune goes on a fishing expedition to catch a sea bream – a humorous story that ends with a member of the audience being asked to tease the god with a fish that he struggles (but finally manages) to land.

Taking in a show

For hikers passing through Fudai, the best time to see a performance is at Unotori Shrine’s annual festival in May, when fishermen from along the coast of Aomori and Iwate prefectures come to pray for good catches and safety at sea.

However, you might also catch a performance as the troupe travels around the region from January to March, putting on dances at public halls as far afield as Hachinohe 80 kilometers to the north and Kamaishi 100 kilometers south: when, as Mr. Takayashiki puts it, the troupe functions as a “delivery shrine” service, carrying Unotori’s gods and good fortune to communities along the Michinoku Coastal Trail. But don’t worry if you aren’t visiting then: there’s also the possibility of booking a performance at inns on the trail, such as Kurosaki-so in Fudai Village.