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Hikari no Mai

“Hikari no Mai” (“Dance of Light”) is a particular kagura, or sacred dance. I think a lot of people have an image of kagura as being ancient, but this is not generally the case. Urayasu no Mai, possibly the most common kagura in contemporary Shinto, was created in 1940, and Toyosaka no Mai and Asahi no Mai, the other candidates for the most common contemporary kagura, in 1950.

Hikari no Mai is even more recent. It was commissioned by the Shinto Young Priests’ Association to mark their 70th anniversary, and first performed on March 11th this year, at a ceremony for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake. It was created to be danced for disaster victims, because it is based on two poems, one by the former Tennō and the other by his Empress. The Tennō’s poem means, “The words of those who go on through the pain of a great disaster strike my heart”, while that of the Empress means, “The villages that are now rising up do so on the memories of what was lost”. The original performance was reported in the March 20th issue of Jinja Shinpō.

It has been performed twice more recently, by the Tokyo Young Priests’ Association, both times at the official Tokyo Prefectural memorial for the victims of the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 and the Great Tokyo Air Raid of 1945. The first occasion was on August 15th, which is the anniversary of the end of the war in Japan (reported in the September 4th issue), and the second was on September 1st, which was the centenary of the earthquake (and this was reported in the September 11th issue).

Given its specialised aim, and that it is a dance for four dancers, I think it is unlikely to be performed very often, but I expect it to become a fixture of memorial matsuri like these.

It has one unusual and very interesting feature. So far, it has always been performed by two men and two women. The latter two articles mention that explicitly, and while the first one doesn’t, it has a photograph, and I can see that two dancers are male, and two female. (They are all priests, and they are wearing the gender-coded headgear. The women are on the side away from the photographer, so you probably wouldn’t notice that the dancers included both sexes unless you were looking.)

This is unusual because kagura is normally performed by a single sex. All women is more common in terms of numbers of dances, because miko mai is the form of kagura that is most often performed. All men is probably more common in terms of number of types of dances, because most of the traditional kagura are men-only these days. (The solo dances for priests can be performed by either men or women.)

Given the normal practice, and the fact that it has been exactly two plus two on each occasion, I think this has to be deliberate, and it is quite possible that the dance was choreographed for two men and two women. However, in the photographs I have seen, all four dancers appear to be doing the same thing, so there may actually be no difference in the choreography at all. In some ways, that would be even more significant, because it would indicate a deliberate decision by the Young Priests’ Associations to have male and female priests equally represented in gender-neutral roles.

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2 thoughts on “Hikari no Mai”

  1. Hola David san, much gratitude for this information on an element of modern divine kagura that’s in contrast to the ancient kagura beginning with the Kami of kagura, Her Highness Ame no Uzuma. My Apache Gaan and Eagle Warrior Priest People honor their ally,Princess Ame, during our sacred and fire dances. As my Thunder Elders teach,the Gaans and Warrior Priests,ANY unconditional dance act of kindness from the heart is welcomed and accepted by the Kami.It’s about the love–and obedience. But do you yourself perform any form of kagura? Thanks for your time and attention.

    1. Thanks for the comment. No, I don’t personally perform kagura. I have never had the training.

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