Posted by: 栗本奈央子(Naoko Kurimoto) 08 Mar 2018

Enjoy Gagaku at Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine in the autumn evening: Shrine of the Month

Enjoy Gagaku at Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine in the autumn evening: Shrine of the Month © N.Kurimoto

“Shrine of the Month” is a project to make more people understand the attraction of shrines and was started by a recognized journalist who loves shrines. From protective charms to shrines associated with famous people from history, once a month for the next half year, various shrines from regions around the country will be introduced.

Hot and humid summer has finally gone by, and now I’m enjoying a sign of autumn season. Autumn must be a popular season for visiting Japan, mainly because of the autumn foliage, but it is also a great time to visit shrines as well. There are many autumn festivals held at shrines all over Japan. Although many people associate festival in shrine with various food stands or floats marching through the town, there are festivals that dedicates dance and music. In this article, I will introduce Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine in Tokyo, where you can experience “Gagaku,” an ancient Japanese court dance and music.

Shrine of the Month Profile

Name: Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine
Enshrined Deity: Emperor Oujin, Empress Jingu, Emperor Nintoku
Benefits: Easy Childbirth, Longevity, Wisdom, Happiness and Prosperity

Watch Gagaku at Reitaisai (Grand Festival)

Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine is located about ten-minute walk from Shimokitazawa Station in Tokyo. On the first Saturday and Sunday of every September, Reitaisai (Grand Festival) is held where people can watch the dedication of Gagaku. Reitaisai is the most important festival for the shrine, which is held once or twice a year. It is a major event for the locals as well, with floats marching through the town and people bustling around numbers of food stands called “Yatai”.

Ancient music and dance at the shrine

Gagaku is an ancient Japanese court music and dance, and the one that features dance is called Bugaku, which is performed in many shrines nowadays. At Reitaisai of Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine, I saw four different programs.

Beautiful dance in one of the program called “Rinka.”

My favorite is the dance program called “Ryuou.” This is the program base on the heroic story of Gao Changgong, legendary general of the Northern Qi dynasty in the 5th century China. Legend has it that Gao Changgong wore ferocious mask all the time to cover up his handsome face in order to raise the morale of his troops in the battlefield. ”Ryuou” is one of the classic Gagaku programs and one of the characteristics of this program is that the performer dances with dragon-like mask on.

“Ryuou” is the program that features active movements, which is also referred to as “Hashirimai (running dance).” Along with the beautiful music played with traditional instruments like Kakko (small drum), Ryuteki (flute), Sho (mouth organ) and Hchiriki (oboe), the performer powerfully dances like a brave general.

This time, although I’ve seen “Ryuou” program in various venues, I was very much fascinated by the powerful performance. This is why I like live performances!

It is an emotional experience to watch the performer dancing to the restful music of the strings on the dimly lit stage in the dark early evening. Although the shrine was bustling with full of people, atmosphere around the stage is filled with tranquility.

Autumn in shrine is full of events

In autumn, there are many opportunities to watch Gagaku in shrines, such as Reitaisai or Mid-Autumn Moon. Why not try experiencing Gagaku at the festival this autumn?

Float made with traditional artisan skills

There are many attractions in Reitaisai other than Gagaku. Float (“mikoshi” in Japanese) is the chief attraction of Japanese festival.

One of the float used in Reitaisai of Kitazawa Hachima Shrine weighs about 400 kg, decorated with state-of-the-art woodworks. As it is made with all kinds of sophisticated skills, some say that it cannot be restored if it wrecks.

栗本奈央子 / Naoko Kurimoto

栗本奈央子 / Naoko Kurimoto

This is Naoko Kurimoto.I'm reporter for the Travel Vison; online travel trade media.I'm really into Shinto shrine!