Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri – Otabi Shosai

Yesterday I went to the Onmatsuri festival at the Kasuga Wakamiya Shrine in Nara. I was invited to attend a special sequence of performances called Tabi shosai, staged in front of a  shrine where the god is temporarily residing. An academic treatment of the festival can be found here. I wish I had more time to talk about the performances here, but I don’t. Yesterday it was cold and dark (after 16:30) so I could not take good pictures. However, I wanted to share here a the only few snapshots of a performance that was listed as sarugaku in the programme. It was in fact kagura-shiki, a stripped-down version of Okina usually performed without mask and with plain white costumes instead of the usual okina-kariginu embroidered cloak. This kind of performance is often staged around this time of the year by high-ranking Noh actors. Other analogous acts, part of a ritual sequence called ‘under the pine tree’ such as yumiya tachiai, were performed in the morning. All performances take place on a ‘lawn stage’, the front facing the shrine, so performance need to wear special shoes instead of the usual white tabi socks. These performances remind us of the ritual origin of Noh, though the contemporary staging of such rituals has naturally changed with time. Here are a few pictures:

Matsu no shita, ‘under the pine tree’ – Yumiya tachiai, in an old postcard, showing exactly the same ritual that is performed today
Kagura-shiki: the ji-utai chorus seen from the back. On the left, the temporary shrine where the god resides.
Special shoes worn over tabi


An image of the contemporary Hojo ritual (©Asahi Shinbun)

Last Sunday I attended the Noh Hōjōgawa, which my teacher, Udaka Michishige, performed as part of the Teiki Noh (regular subscription series) at the Kongō theatre in Kyoto. Hōjōgawa is a rather unusal play – I learnt from Ogamo Rebecca Teele that it was the first time to be performed in sixty years, which probably means that the last person to perform it in our school was the late iemoto Kongō Iwao II. Hōjōgawa is a first category Noh (Kami-nō), and is attributed to Zeami. To my knowledge no full translation of he play has been published to date – the only available translation is by Ross Bender, who translated the first half, and has also written on the origin of the Hōjō ritual and its relation with the cult of the god Hachiman in places like Usa and Iwashimizu. In the play a shinto priest visits the Iwashimizu Hachiman shrine in Autumn, during the Hōjō-e ritual, when fish are returned to the river symbolising repentance for the killing of animals, prohibited by the Buddhist law. There he meets an old man carrying a pail with fish in it, who explains to the priest about the ritual. In the second half the god Takeuji appears and dances in celebration of the wealth of the country and of its emperor.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play which features the typical Kami-nō powerful entrance for the waki, and a stately Shin-no-jo-no-mai slow tempo dance. First category plays are not particularly interesting because of their dramaturgy – the real midokoro are the atmosphere of solemnity and sacredness brought by the presence of a god, and emphasised by special music, such as the long shin-no-issei for the entrance of Shite and Tsure in the first half, or the Raijo exit music, where Shite and Tsure, still in the form of commoners, exit the stage at the accompainment of the taiko stick drum, usually associated with supernatural beings, thus revealing their true identity.