In October 2019, miko (female shrine attendants) from Kasuga Taisha, a major Shinto shrine in Japan’s ancient capital of Nara, gave a performance of kagura at Japan House London. The tradition of kagura at Kasuga Taisha combines sacred dance with song, shakubyoshi (wooden percussion instrument) and kagurabue (kagura flute) and dates back to the early-mid Heian period (c. 901-922 CE). In a special lecture, chief priests (gūji) from the shrines Kasuga Taisha and Niukawakami also explored the sacred roots of kagura and its relationship to the Japanese indigenous religion of Shinto.
Kagura is a performance of music and dance for kami (Shinto ‘spirits’ or ‘deities’). It has evolved over time to encompass a number of different forms, including folk traditions, but began as a sacred dance performed by miko or priestesses, dressed in ceremonial clothes, in veneration of kami.
The event was part of a season of events allowing Japan House London visitors to experience the sacred rites and rituals of the religions of Buddhism and Shinto led by representatives from the temples and shrines of Japan’s ancient capital of Nara. It coincided with the British Museum’s display of rare Buddhist and Shinto treasures in their exhibition Nara: sacred images from Early Japan. A video about the exhibition is available here.