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Victimage in the Kojiki of Japan

 by Barbara Mikolajewska in cooperation with F.E.J. Linton

Copyright © 2005 by,   New Haven, CT 06511-2208 USA.
First Internet Edition. All rights reserved.


Part I

In the place of pure beginning



Chapter 2

The Takachiho Yokagura


       Once it has entered Takachiho, after threading its way through the tunnel under the hill on whose slopes lies the park Takama-ga-hara, and before it bids Takachiho a final farewell as it rolls on to other destinations deeper inland, the main road to Takachiho from Nobeoka on the coast becomes for a time one of Takachiho’s principal thoroughfares, lined on either side by gasoline stations, ramen vendors, welding depots, lumber yards, shops of all sorts, private dwellings, apartment houses, hotels, and just on the right before its final turn before leaving Takachiho, the low hill occupied by a grove of ancient evergreens amongst which are to be found the wooden buildings that make up the Takachiho Jinja, the Takachiho shrine complex where nightly are performed four selected morsels from the Takachiho Yokagura dance ceremony.

       The several buildings that this complex comprises include the sacred central shrine itself, where the kamis are enshrined; a separate building where administrative tasks are carried out, and where visitors may purchase a great variety of religious articles; assorted utilitarian outbuildings; and a Kagura-den, the sacred building housing the performance-space in which the nightly Yokagura presentations are mounted.

       A broad, shallow threshold area separates the outer entrance to the Kagura-den from the performance space itself; here, if not already earlier, visitors are expected to doff shoes and dispose of umbrellas before entering further. The actual performance space, a theater after all, in some sense, is hard to distinguish from a generic shrine: in the distance, against the back wall, is a slightly raised altar-like structure – the stage, in fact – with low railings along most of its front edge; the rest of this large room is just floor, covered with woven sea-grass tatami mats, like the floor on which worshippers at a shrine might sit during a ceremony, where the Yokagura audience disposes itself to view the Yokagura performance.

       Like the altar in a shrine, the stage is adorned in classic Shinto fashion, with sprigs of sakaki tree, with cascading cut-paper gohei wands, with cut-and-folded paper strips resembling bolts of lighting, and with tufts of rice stalks (Plate 1a). The back wall of the stage, on the other hand – for this is a stage – sets the scene for the Yokagura performance by depicting the exterior of Ama-terasu’s hiding place, the dark cave Amano-Iwato, its mouth blocked by an imposing dark boulder, a spare but effective set (Plate 1b). And at far stage left (on the right side of the stage as the audience sees it) there sits a large hide-covered drum (Plate 1c) which, along with a flute, will provide the musical accompaniment to the dance.

       The performance is preceded by the appearance of one of the shrine’s priests (Plate 2a), who offers a brief introduction to the events to come  and then, using a purification wand which had been standing ready behind the drum, undertakes a ritual purification (Plate 2b) by alternatingly swishing that wand, with its long, rustling mass of cut-paper tresses, over first one shoulder and then the other, replacing it, finally, behind the drum when he is done.

       In the dances themselves, one first sees the god Tajikarao (Plate 3), armed only with divine bells, gohei wands, and the great strength he is famous for, searching for the missing Ama-terasu. He finds the cave Amano-Iwato, its mouth sealed by a great boulder, and, suspecting that this may be Ama-terasu’s hiding place, listens intently for any sounds that might confirm her presence within.

       Next, once Tajikarao has satisfied himself that Amano-Iwato is in fact harboring Ama-terasu, one sees Am-n-uzume (Plate 4) performing the flamboyant dance, for which she is so remembered, by which she hopes to lure Ama-terasu back out of the cave. And indeed, the noisy merriment it is said to have engendered in the eight-hundred myriad deities all assembled there is thought so to have intrigued Ama-terasu that she would at least peek out from just behind the boulder for a closer look.

       Now Tajikarao (Plate 5) puts in another appearance, first working up his strength to the level the task at hand requires, then setting about to lift the boulder up out of the cave mouth, and finally, after a dance of triumph with that boulder hoisted jubilantly overhead, becoming subdued with awe and reverence at finding within the now open cave mouth the long missing Ama-terasu, in the visible form of a bright mirror borne on a miniature shrine, mirror that, for the audience, because it is after all just such a mirror that, enshrined at Ise, embodies the spirit of Ama-terasu, clearly serves as spiritual replica of Ama-terasu herself.

       An intermission now follows, during which one of the Shinto priests of the Takachiho Jinja provides further explanations to the audience, who may be as few as two or three, or as numerous as a whole tourbusful of visiting travelers, all wearing their current ryokan’s yukata lounge-robes. It may be worth remarking that these onlookers, while respectful in their demeanor, are quite casual in their attire and, with full approval of the shrine, make use of their still and video cameras to capture photographic records of the events here enacted.

       Finally, with the mirror that “is” Ama-terasu still prominently enshrined within the open mouth of the stage-cave Amano-Iwato, there appear dancers depicting Izanagi (Plate 6a) and Izanami (Plate 6b, c), the gods who, after descending from heaven to earth to become the first earthly couple, jointly created and populated the islands of Japan, and are credited even with inventing the production of sake. They are shown here gathering the first rice, fermenting the first rice-mash (Plate 6d-g), enjoying the world’s first sake (Plate 6h-j), and, ultimately, succumbing to their tipsy drowsiness and falling happily asleep (Plate 6k).

       What is striking in this last dance, even more than the asynchrony inherent in its being presented after the depiction of events that, chronologically, can only have happened much later–after all it was only after Izanami’s death that Izanagi had fathered Ama-terasu, and by the time of her seclusion in Amano-Iwato Izanagi too had already passed on–is that, performed in plain view of the Ama-terasu-mirror so visibly enshrined within the mouth of the cave, it seems almost a dance of homage to the spiritual replica of Ama-terasu now residing, captive, in that mirror. By the same token, what is striking in the first dances is the parallel between the original events, in which Am-n-uzume’s dance before the mouth of the cave has all the assembled gods as audience, and its stage recreation here, where it is almost as if the audience is standing in for those eight-hundred myriad heavenly deities.

       And we learn from this abbreviated Yokagura of the centrality of Ama-terasu’s role in the cultural fabric of Japan. Catastrophic as was her concealment within the cave, so was her restoration providential; finding an effective means by which to cause to rise again a sun sunken beneath the surface of the earth – finding this communal solution to the problem of restoring order after some unspeakably heavy, dark, long-lasting, chillingly oppressive, social calamity – has somehow become a discovery that needs continually to be reaffirmed, to be celebrated and celebrated again, and reenacted, and thoroughly appreciated, here in what is, after all, among other things, known as the Land of the Rising Sun. And the same structure of theater inherent in Am-n-uzume’s original performance seems to be required as the setting for its subsequent reenactments.


Plate 1. Proscenium







a. The proscenium, as decorated with strips of paper and sprigs of sakaki tree.

b. The cave Amano-Iwato, boulder in its mouth, behind two wands of symbolic paper offerings (gohei).

c. Drum, with purification wand in the background.


Plate 2. The Purification Ritual







a. A priest addressing the audience before the performance begins.

b. Priest using purification wand in purification ritual.


Plate 3. Dance of Tajikarao









a, b, c. Tajikarao searching for Ama-terasu.


Plate 4. Dance of Am-n-uzume









a, b, c. Three stills of Am-n-uzume in the flamboyant dance she is remembered for.


Plate 5. Totori Dance (Tajikarao removing boulder and revealing Ama-terasu)












a, b. Tajikarao’s preparations before removing the boulder.

c. Tajikarao with that boulder.

d. Tajikarao facing the open mouth of Amano-Iwato, with Ama-terasu-mirror revealed within.

e. Close-up: Ama-terasu-mirror in its shrine mounting.


Plate 6. Goshintai Dance: the Creation of Japan









a. Izanagi.

b  Izanami.

c. Izanagi and  Izanami performing in full view of the Ama-terasu-mirror.













d, e, f, g. Izanagi and Izanami fermenting rice-mash and brewing sake.

h, i, j. Taste-testing the results.

k. Amorously succumbing to its tipsifying effects.

First posted 2005.05.18. Last updated 2005.05.21. All rights reserved.