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Hikari no Mai

Hikari no Mai is a new sacred dance. Half of the back page of the March 18th issue (yes, this post got significantly delayed) of Jinja Shinpō  was devoted to an article about it, and the article was unsigned, which means that it was produced by core staff.

The dance was created at the initiative of the Fukushima Prefecture Young Priests’ Association, which first proposed it in 2016. The idea was to create a dance that could both commemorate people who had died in natural disasters, and pray for the recovery and prosperity of the affected regions. The dance was first offered last year, on the anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, at a ceremony on the Tōhoku coast. Obviously, things took a while.

The article describes the process of creating Hikari no Mai. The first step was choosing the text for the music. It is based on two waka (31-syllable traditional Japanese poems), one by the previous Tennō and one by his Empress, both written in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake. The Tennō’s waka is about grief for the damage, while the Empress’s is about recovery, so that together they capture the themes of the dance. Apparently, the Imperial Household Agency was consulted about the choice of waka.

The composition and choreography were entrusted to the Ono Gagaku Kai, a group that plays classical Japanese court music, and can also compose new pieces. This took a long time, with a lot of back-and-forth, but it was completed early last year. According to the composer, the music is somehow familiar, but also calm and peaceful, while the dance represents people coming together to unite in overcoming trouble. The rehearsals for the first offering of the dance seem to have been quite intense, but it was a success, and the creation of this dance was even mentioned in the previous Tennō’s review of the year, issued on his birthday in December.

It is clear from the later part of the article that the national Young Priests’ Association wants this dance to become a standard part of the repertoire. The basic dance is for four people, and it seems that it is supposed to be danced by both men and women at the same time. The first offering involved two men and two women, and the photograph of a later training session shows lots of mixed groups. It would obviously have been straightforward to create single-sex groups if that had been desired, so the fact that there are none in the photograph strongly suggests that they were deliberately avoiding that. This is interesting in itself, and probably associated with long term goals for changes in the Shinto world. On the other hand, the March 25th issue included an article reporting on a matsuri where it was performed by two priests, and the photograph makes it clear that they were both women. I think there is also a one-person version, so it obviously is not essential to have both men and women involved, but I still suspect that this is the default assumption.

Videos and other training material are available on the members’ webpage of the Young Priests’ Association, and DVDs and CDs were sent out to all the prefectural associations in March. I would not be surprised if they also hold more training sessions. This is also interesting. The standard national kagura repertoire is four dances, but they seem to be making a concerted effort to add this one. This is the sort of change that is not, as far as I am aware, controversial in the Shinto community.

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4 thoughts on “Hikari no Mai”

  1. The standard national kagura repertoire is four dances, . . .

    —Is that a matter of indeed There are just four dances, or, is it more a matter of Here’s a bunch to chose from, pick four?

    1. There are four that are used nationally. There are a bunch of others, but they are restricted to particular jinja or particular events. I suspect that there are borderline cases where you could argue that they really count as being generally performed, but most priests/miko have limited time to learn dances, and accessible teaching opportunities are limited to the standard set.

  2. When will it be possible to see this new dance online ? Indeed, is there a site where all sacred dances can be viewd ?

    1. Eventually, I imagine someone will put a video up. You can find most of the standard ones — there are links in the book. However, there isn’t a central site. These are sacred dances for the kami, not entertainment, after all. I have thought about suggesting something to Jinja Honchō, though, so I may talk to them about it.

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