温泉夏祭り向けの獅子舞練習 Shishi Lion Practice for the Onsen Summer Festival

2014.07.03: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance



The 2014 Togura Kamiyamada Onsen Summer Festival will be held on July 19th and 20th. The shishi lion troupe I belong to has been practicing every Thursday to get ready.

On this particular practice day, two of my children came along to cheer us on. If anyone would like to watch one of the practices, just let me know. Everyone is welcome!

どんど獅子舞 "Dondo" Lion Dance

2014.01.13: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance

Kamiyamada's Kagura Shishi Lion performing at Yoshinosato Old Folks Home's Dondo-Yaki Festival


*戸倉福祉センターで新年会 ←信濃毎日新聞取材
*更級「吉野の里」老人ホームでどんど焼き (写真)
*上山田福祉センターで新年会 ←長野朝日テレビ取材


波閉科神社の秋月祭: 日本の伝統はここにある! Habeshina Shrine's Fall Festival -- Herein lies traditional Japan.

2013.09.23: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance

My first time with the 'okama' mask



我々神楽保存会の皆が朝10時から夜10時まで町中で行列して回りました。(途中で私は布団引きの休憩をとりましたが…) とにかく、長い一日でした。



"Modern Japan is all Starbucks and Mickey D's," is a commonly heard complaint.

On the 23rd, the shrine that overlooks Kamiyamada Onsen, Habeshina Jinja, held its 'Shugetsu-sai' (Harvest Moon Festival) in conjunction with the autumnul equinox. The lion dance troupe that I participate in performed all day long, starting at 10am and finishing at 10pm. We processed around town stopping at various homes and businesses to do the lion dance.

Normally my position is that of flute player. But occasionally during practice I take a turn inside the shishi lion, and this day I gave the regulars a break and 3 times took a place inside the lion -- my first time in front of an audience!

I felt honored to be able to partake in this very historical and traditional festival.

Perhaps the people that can't see the old Japan in today's modern facade just don't know where to look!

The grand-finale: a lantern-lit lion dance

Habeshina Shrine's sumo ring...

...and the wrestlers on their way to it.

秋月際へ向かって獅子舞の練習 Practicing for the Fall Festival

2013.08.29: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance





The shrine that watches over Kamiyamada Onsen, Habeshina Jinja, will hold its 2013 Fall Festival on September 23rd, the holiday Monday. Our Kamiyamada Kagura Preservation Society has started up our weekly lion dance practices in anticipation of the event.

I myself play the flute. Or, I should say, I try to. I've been 'trying to' for going on 7 years now. I still have to watch the fingers of the guy in front of me to play. I probably should eventually memorize the songs, but am not very musically inclined. (Just ask anyone who has heard me sing karaoke!) So, this picture shows my normal view for the lion dances.

The Fall Festival involves a sumo wrestling tournament, a few vendors, a karaoke contest, some fireworks, and our lion dance troupe's procession around town. It's a very parochial event, not meant for tourists. But that is conversely what makes it so interesting, I think. Come and see for yourself!

上山田保育園夏祭り 思い出の獅子舞 Kamiyamada Preschool Summer Festival: A Memorable Lion Dance

2013.07.26: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance










Kamiyamada Preschool's annual Summer Festival was held on the 26th.

The Kamiyamada Kagura Lion Dance troupe I belong to performed for the children, as we do every year.

This year was memorable though for 3 reasons:

This is the last year for the current preschool building. It is scheduled to be demolished during summer vacation and rebuilt. I don't think many people will miss this utilitarian ferroconcrete monstrosity...

I took our daughter Misaki to the festival. As a 1st grader at Kamiyamada Elementary School she was invited back for the summer festival. This now means our entire family has 'graduated' the preschool.

For the lion dance, I started out playing the flute as I always do. But when it came time for the dance, one of the lions was one person short. So I had to fill in as the back part of the main lion. I've done so in practice before but never in front of a couple hundred people! I hope I did okay!

As our town and family change, I will continue to participate in our local events like this!

上山田神楽保存会の由来 The Story Behind Kamiyamada's Kagura Lion Dance

2013.05.17: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance

Kamiyamada's Kagura Lion Dance Troupe at Ueda's Ikushima Tarushima Shrine




Since moving to Nagano, I've been a member of the Kamiyamada Kagura Preservation Society, our local lion dance troupe. This past Golden Week holiday, we performed at Ueda City's esteemed Ikushima Tarushima Shrine and the venerable Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City. And just recently, one of the local hotels had us perform at a major banquet. We hope more people consider a lion dance performance at their banquet, too!

For this performance, I was asked to provide the background story, so here it is:

Note: 'Kagura' is sacred song ('uta') and dance ('mai') performed at Shinto shrines. It is commonly referred to as o-Kagura with the polite 'o'. 'Kagura-mai' (dance-Kagura) includes, but is not limited to, shishi-mai, the lion dance. Kagura is actually quite broad, and even encompasses Noh theater. Kamiyamada's Kagura is the lion dance form.

Kamiyamada Kagura Preservation Society of Chikuma City

The Kagura-mai of Chikuma City's Kamiyamada Kagura Preservation Society originated from the Kagura-mai of Nakahara in the formerly Koshoku area of Chikuma City. Having a history and tradition dating back several hundred years to the middle of the Edo Period, our group is one of the Chikuma City Kamiyamada District's folk entertainments.

The Kamiyamada Kagura Preservation Society's Kagura-mai consists of three separate dances: Horo-mai (ritual), Onbe-mai ('onbe' staff) and Kurui-mai (drunken). We mainly perform as an invocation for peace and a bountiful harvest during the festivals of Kamiyamada's various shrines: Shimizu Shrine in Chikaraishi, Shounai Shrine in Arayama, Yasaka Shrine in Yasaka, Habeshina Shrine in Chuo/Jouyou, and Suitengu of Kamiyamada Onsen's Summer Festival.

In addition, we also perform to dispel evil spirits at events and dedications such as for new houses throughout the Kamiyamada area and beyond.

(Said at the beginning of the performances:) Today, we perform our Kagura-mai in prayer for the health and prosperity of everyone present. Relax and enjoy.

上山田神楽保存会@日本のおへそ Kamiyamada's Lion Dance Troupe Performance at the Center of Japan

2013.05.02: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance

Kamiyamada Kagura Lion Troupe performing at Ikushima Tarushima Shrine





Quite humbling.

Our Kamiyamada Kagura lion dance troupe was invited to perform at Ueda's Saikou-ji Temple. Afterwards, we stopped at Ikushima Tarushima Shrine for a blessing and to perform our lion dance at the Kagura Stage there.

Ikushima Tarushima Shrine is the most prestigious in all of eastern Nagano. With our Lion Dance, we are used to giving others a blessing so it was humbling to be on the receiving end, especially with this being such a grand shrine. And to be able to perform at their Kagura Stage -- really humbling.

The Kamiyamada Kagura lion dance troupe's next performance will be at the venerable Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City on May 6th at 3pm. I will be participating in the "Pulled by an Ox To Zenkoji" 30km, 300-people walk from Togura Kamiyamada Onsen so will likely be unable to play the flute this time around. But for everyone making a pilgrimage to Zenkoji on the 6th, check out our performance!

生島足る島神社 Ikushima Tarushima Shrine

智識寺の春季例大祭に獅子舞 Lion Dance at Chishiki-ji Temple's Spring Festival

2013.04.17: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance

Lion Troupe procession for Chishiki-Ji Temple's Dignified Spring Ceremony





Built in 1573 and designated as a national important cultural property, the main hall of Kamiyamada's Chishiki-ji Temple hosts an annual spring ceremony every year on April 17th. With its Muromachi-era style construction and massive thatched roof, Chishiki-ji simply oozes history. The ceremony is a reflection of that history, and is a unique opportunity to see a slice of Japan's ancient past.

As with every year, the Kamiyamada Kagura lion dance troupe (of which I am a member) was invited to perform. It is quite an honor to be invited, and I felt very humble to have the privelege of playing my flute there.

This year, the Kamiyamada Preschool kids took a field trip and visited the temple for the festival. Our lion dance group also performed for the children in the temple's park.

It was the same lion dance, but the two settings -- in front of the venerable temple for the serious ceremony, and for the bubbly, giggly preschool kids -- couldn't have been more different!

智識寺 Chishiki-ji Temple

Performing for the preschool kids

町自慢エッセイ: 上山田神楽保存会

2013.04.12: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance

Pride of Chikuma City: Kamiyamada's Global Shishi Lion Troupe




上山田温泉に引っ越ししてから、保存会の会長、栗原さんがお神楽に誘ってくれた。以前からはその獅子舞を見た事があって、その伝統の横笛と太鼓、剽軽の獅子の踊り、パワーを感じるお祓い、大好きだった。まさか自分がメンバーになるのかと… 「私は神道ではなくて、キリスト教ですが」と言ったら、「大丈夫!我々は善光寺(←事実。唯一、善光寺で獅子舞を許さられている神楽)でも舞う。宗教を超えるよ!」と会長が答えてくれた。


しかし、強い共通点がある: 皆は町に貢献をしたい。





上山田神楽保存会 新年獅子舞@御所苑 Kamiyamada Lion Dance for the New Year at Goshoen

2013.01.16: 上山田お神楽 Kamiyamada Lion Dance


Once again, this year the Kamiyamada Kagura Preservation Society lion dance troup performed for neighboring Ueda City's Goshoen retirement home. We did our lion dance in celebration of all the residents that have birthdays in January -- even one veteran lady in her late 90's.
It's important to take time out of what is my normal busy routine with work at the inn and civic improvement activities, and give something back to the community like this.