How to do a japanese dance

Guide to Japanese Dance - Culture

Legends say that after a quarrel between Susanoo, the storm god, and his sister Amaterasu, the sun goddess, she retreated into a cave, casting darkness over the world. She was finally drawn out of the cave by the dance of Uzume, the goddess of revelry. From this mythic time until to today, dance has evolved in many different ways across the country and under various foreign influences, but one thing is for sure, dance has always been a part of Japanese culture.

Here is an overview of some of the type of dances that you can see showcased in Japan.

Sacred Dance

As the Emperor is said to be a descendant of the sun god Amaterasu, there has always been a strong link between the imperial court and the Shinto religion. As such, ritual dances to entertain the gods, kagura, were part of court customs. Originally, the dancers, wearing masks and decorated costumes representing gods and demons, told scenes from Japanese mythologies through dance. This style of dance was then introduced to the great shrines of Ise and Izumo and later spread across the country where it developed into many styles. Without realising it, you might have already seen some of these dances in action, like the lion dance (shishimai) or the shrine maiden dance (mikomai) that you might remember from the internationally acclaimed animated movie, Your Name ('Kimi No Na Wa').

During the Nara period, many elements of Chinese and Asian cultures were brought to Japan, such as gagaku music, accompanied by bugaku dance, characterized by its slow and regal movements. The dancers usually wear richly decorated costumes and can use various accessories such as a mask, hat, sword and butterflies wings. This dance style peaked during the Heian period and, as it was reserved for the aristocrats of the imperial court, it lost popularity when the political power switched from the Emperor to the Shōgun in the Kamakura period.

The best place to see these dances are shrines and temples, sometimes as the main event or as part of ceremonies. They can also be seen at venues such as Gion Corner and the National Theater of Japan.

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