I still haven’t shared 1% of the photos I took of the twice (or thrice actually) annual Sagimai dance ritual in Asakusa’s Sensoji temple earlier this year. As part of one of their three performances during the day (naturally I saw all three of them) they perform a procession as they retire back to the temple that is their base during the day. In this procession they are guided by local participants that acts other roles of the mythical reenactment. Someday I would love to see them perform or train in their home shrine, the famous Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, one of my favorite shrines in the world.
I think most people who visit Japan wonder a little about the people whose portraits adorn the bank notes, at least I do! At the Tokyo Jidai Matsuri (the Festival of the Ages) one of the final groups to enter the parade represent the westernization of Japan, with a postal office worker, a policeman and an actress that represents the first ever professional female writer in Japan, Ichiyou Higuchi (樋口一葉), who despite a short life (1872-1896) managed to impress the public with her poetry and novels. Today she is remembered and honored by having her portrait on the 5000 yen note. I have not read any of her work yet, someday I hope to. There is a film of her most famous novel, made in 1955 that also looks interesting.
At the festival, the actress was very popular and received a lot of enthusiastic encouragement from some unusually outspoken old men near me which made her blush and laugh. Very cute!
For years I have known the photo of the ladies dressed in white egret costumes, dancing at Japanese temples in certain festivals, but I have never been able to catch one of the performances live. It is said the tradition of dressing up as the slender white egrets that you often see in Japanese rice fields or rivers started in Shimane prefecture about 500 years ago. These days the ritualized dance called sagimai (鷺舞) takes place in a handful of places around Japan, with slight variations. It is probably one of the most spectacular ritual dances in Japan today. I came across this performance in Asakusa on the morning of the great Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages) where they had an unannounced performance right in front of the temple. It was hugely crowded and the only thing I could do to get a decent shot was to use a zoom lens from quite a distance, it was too crowded to get anywhere near the dancers at street level, so unfortunately I can’t show you just how cool the look when they mimic the birds and the move in a synchronized group. After their performance, they paraded out of the temple grounds to prepare for the grand procession later in the day. If you ever have the option of seeing one of these dances, I really recommend you take it! Some day I will get my chance too!
At both the Tokyo and the Kyoto Jidai matsuri (festival of the ages) we could enjoy what I think was processions of the Tokugawa Shogun in fantastic costumes, but I have never seen this particular costume or face painting before! It looks great though. Both men and women took part in this reenactment, but in real life I think walking like this in the huge shogun processions (horses were much rarer in feudal Japan than in Europe at this time) were limited to men. As usual, if you have any details, please share! I would love to learn more! The only thing I know is that they carry “keyari” (毛槍), a sort of ritual pole carried at processions or used in ritual dances. I’m not sure what the hair like material is, but I have seen monkey’s fur used in similar poles. Maybe it is just flax?