Kagura, literally referring to entertaining the gods, is a sacred Japanese dance and music ritual dedicated to the gods of Shinto, while since ancient times, it has been performed at regional festivals as a ceremony to pray for a good harvest and to ward off natural disasters. It began as a religious ritual, and has also been a popular form of entertainment for centuries. Iwami Kagura is remarkable since has successfully continued to evolve and remain the ritual over centuries of development. IwamI Kagura is featured with fast-paced music and dance, gorgeous costumes and simple stories.
Orochi (the giant serpent) is one of the most well-known myths in Japan is the story of Susano-no-mikoto and his defeat of the eight-headed giant serpent. Susano asks an elderly couple why they are grieving. Each year the giant serpent has eaten one of their seven daughters. This year, it is coming for their last daughter.
After hearing this, Susano gives the serpent poisonous alcohol. Once it is drunk, he defeats it. Susano is then united with the maiden he saved. The sword that emerged from the serpent’s tail once it was dead became one of the Three Sacred Treasures and is preserved in Atsuta Shrine (Aichi Prefecture).
Highlights include the impressive serpent dance and the battle with Susano. The Yamata-no-Orochi was said to have had eight heads and tails. Its eyes were bright red. Its back had pine and oak trees growing from it and eight mountains and valleys spread out across it. In today’s performances, a separate person plays each part of the body. Due to space restrictions in Kagura venues, usually only two to four serpents perform.