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  • Writer's pictureDia KL

Shonai Kagura sacred Japanese dance 庄内神楽


VIDEO version 庄内神楽,高塚愛宕地蔵尊ビデオ


TIMELAPSE version 庄内神楽,高塚愛宕地蔵尊タイムラプス


I am really lucky that one of my friends is performing in Shonai Kagura (庄内神楽) and she invited me to one of their performances in a local festival.

Kagura (神楽) means "entertaining the gods" and it is a sacred Japanese Shinto ritual ceremonial dance. Shinto (神道) is the original religion in Japan, predating the arrival of Buddhism. A polytheistic and animistic religion, it revolves around supernatural entities called the Kami, which are believed to inhabit all things, like forces of nature and various landscape locations. Kagura has been performed since ancient times, usually at regional festivals, as a ceremony to ward off natural disasters and to pray for a good harvest. It spread throughout Japan with each region developing their own form of Kagura.

Kagura performances tell stories about the myths and folklore of Japan. Among the different kinds of Kagura, Shonai Kagura (named after the town of its origin, Shonai in Oita prefecture) is among the most famous. It has a fast tempo and the lively music of drums and flute captivate the audience.

I arrived at the temple of Takatsuga Atago Jizo (高塚愛宕地蔵尊), which has a shrine as well, on a nice rainy morning for the Spring festival. The temple was really beautiful with quite a few things happening besides the Kagura, check this post about the temple:


The performance started with a dance to purify the five directions (east, south, center, west, north). I was positioned diagonal to the stage but I decided to move to the center afterwards to get a better angle.

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

The performers not only dance but play the accompanying music as well so they change their roles often according to the performance. The musical instruments (from left to right at the 1st photo) are the yokobue (a kind of flute), the chochigane (a kind of cymbal), the kodaiko (a small drum) and the odaiko (a large drum).

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

After the purification initial dance, four dancers, each one with a bow and arrow entered the stage.

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

At certain times the music and the dance would take off with fast tempo and a lot of movement. Everybody was enjoying themselves and I somehow found myself very captivated, and it was just the beginning. The stories are related to Japanese mythology about the creation of heaven and earth and the appearance of various gods. Unfortunately I didn't recognize most of the stories depicted in the dance but I was able to enjoy nevertheless. For anybody interested, a summary of the stories played is written at the Shonai Kagura website, you can find the link at the end of the post.


Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

After another character came on the center of the stage with superb energy, jumping and running around, at some point did a pirouette and fell on the floor. And then he left the stage and came to us, the spectators!

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

This god character had a tissue in one of his nostrils. When he left the stage and came to us, one of photographers in the center of the spectators, a lovely granpa, caught his attention. So he took the the tissue from his nostril to wipe the granpas sweat :D After that, with the parents permission, he took one of the children up to the stage!

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

The next god character that appeared was Ebisu, the lucky god of merchants. He goes fishing along the seashore. Then both the god characters came down to the crowd and scattered candies for everyone.

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

The dance continued with swords and then more gods characters came into play.

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

The characters became more and more impressive as the performance went on.


Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

The rain was kept on falling and somehow added to the atmosphere.

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Then came a god character which was my favourite, not 100% sure but I believe she portrayed Amaterasu Omikami, the goddess of the sun.


Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Amaterasu is one of the highest deities in Japanese mythology. According to the legends, due to various circumstances she hid herself in a cave so the rest of the gods had to orchestrate a plan to lure her out, and they succeeded. The story is very interesting as many of the objects used became some of the most famous symbols of Japan today, like the torii for example.


Her dance was so beautiful photos don't give justice.


Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

One of the final acts was the tale of Orochi. Susano no Mikoto, another god who is the younger brother of Amaterasu, being banished from heaven due to his wild behavior, he met an elderly couple grieving. They told him that the last seven years, each year a giant serpent know as Yamata no Orochi had devoured one of their 8 daughters. And now it was coming for their last daughter. Susano decided to help and gave the serpent alcohol with poison. They then fought and once the serpent is defeated, a sword emerged from its tail, which became one of the three sacred imperial regalia which each emperor of Japan passes to the next.

The serpents smoky entrance was really grand.

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Orochi tale, killing the serpent. Shonai Kagura 庄内神楽 sacred Japanese dance at Takatsuka Atago Jizouson temple 高塚愛宕地蔵尊, Kusu, Oita prefecture, Kyushu, Japan

Shonai Kagura was one of the most beautiful performances I've witnessed until now. Everything was so perfect, after it finished it felt as if I was in a dream. Leaving the temple (post: Takatsukasan Atago Jizo temple & shrine to watch Shonai Kagura) it was time to find a nice onsen to bathe. So ended up in Satoyama onsen...


Additional information

GPS coordinates for places in this post, click on them to be redirected to the exact point in google maps. Click on the names to be redirected to their official websites (if applicable).

Shonai Kagura official website: https://shonai-kagura.jimdofree.com/


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