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West Japan Iwami Kagura dances livestreamed to keep tradition alive

A performer from the Tsuchie children's kagura troupe dances energetically in Oda, Shimane Prefecture, on May 29, 2021. (Mainichi/Kenji Konoha)=Click/tap photo for more images.

ODA, Shimane -- A number of Iwami Kagura theatrical dance performances have in recent months been streamed from the west Japan prefecture of Shimane to try to raise funds and keep the tradition alive.

    During one recent show, children in splendid costumes danced to the sounds of Japanese flutes and drums at a Shinto shrine pavilion. Iwami Kagura is a traditional performing art mainly from areas in western Shimane Prefecture, and dates back to the Muromachi period (1336-1573); it was registered with Japan Heritage in 2019.

    The coronavirus pandemic has canceled almost all kagura performances since 2020. Out of concerns the art could be lost, and to try to raise funds for expensive costumes that can each cost over 1 million yen (about $9,100), performers led by the Iwami Ginzan Kagura Federation's 38-year-old secretary-general Takahiro Kawamura started online shows last October. Its fourth performance was given by a group of elementary and junior high school students at Tsuchie Shrine in the city of Oda.

    Due to cash shortages, federation members do almost all the video production themselves, including shooting, lighting and sound recording. Hideki Wada, a 53-year-old appliance store owner, uses his own camera to creatively capture the performances, such as by shooting dancers and musicians up close and having performers explain kagura and the program.

    "I am not a professional camera operator, but I try to catch the features of each kagura," Wada said. Koga Yasui, 15, played the drums. He told the Mainichi Shimbun he'd been practicing with others for two months, and that "I did my best, as if in front of an audience."

    Foreign audiences had been increasing in recent years, and Kawamura said, "We are thinking about adding subtitles to archive videos to stream to people abroad."

    The children's kagura will be streamed June 13. For details, access the federation's website at https://www.iwamiginzankagura.com (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Kenji Konoha, Osaka Photo Department)

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