“From ‘Amaterasu’ to ‘Mystery’: Part 2″ by journalist Sachiko Tamashige
From “Amaterasu” to “Mystery”: Part 2
Article by journalist Sachiko Tamashige
Behind the Scenes of “Mystery”
Jamai — the “Serpent Dance” — is derived from Orochi, known as “the Great Serpent Dance” from Iwami Kagura (Iwami: a region, the west part of Shimane Prefecture/ Kagura: dance and music for the kami, or deities).The Kodo cast members of Jamai absorbed the skill and spirit of this traditional folk dance by learning from local performers while in Shimane as artists in residence. Iwami is the name of this area in the western part of Shimane Prefecture. Iwami is famous for its historical site, Iwami Ginzan, the largest silver mine in Japan, a world heritage site. Kagura was originally performed to summon kami (deities) during traditional rituals of worship in shrines and other sacred places. Japanese traditional music, dance and festival culture has its roots in these ancient rituals. Taiko, or the Japanese traditional drum, was once regarded as a sacred instrument because of its magical power to conjure up the deities for tasks such as bringing rain to a region in need.
Orochi of Iwami Kagura is derived from “Yamata no Orochi,” one of the mythological stories of the Kojiki, or “Record of Ancient Matters,” the oldest extant manuscript in Japan. The tale of Yamata no Orochi (the Eight-Headed, Eight-Tailed Serpent) is a widely known legend in which Susano’o, the rowdy younger brother of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, defeats a monster serpent living near the source of the Hiigawa, or the Hii River in Izumo. The Hiigawa was known as a raging river, which when flooded would threaten the lives of villagers. Therefore, defeating the serpent was often seen as a metaphor for controlling the river. Although the interpretation of this myth varies and the image of Susano’o remains an enigma, Susano’o is a key figure among the gods of the Japanese myths and has been very popular as a kind of prankster. Susano’o is depicted as a hero in Yamata no Orochi, however he acts like a naughty boy in another story. He upsets Amaterasu by vandalizing the rice fields, and once threw a flayed horse at her loom. In the legend of “Ama no Iwayato,” another famous story from the Kojiki, he even brutally killed one of her maidens in her heavenly world. In this story, Amaterasu was angered and grieved by Susano’o’s destructive behavior and hides herself behind the heavenly Rock Cave. This threw the entire world into darkness, which might be associated with an eclipse of the sun in ancient times. The deities team up to bring back Amaterasu, the source of light, to the world. They do this by playing instruments, singing and dancing outside of the Rock Cave. The goddess Ameno-uzume no Mikoto overturned a tub near the cave entrance and started dancing on it, exposing her body. It looked so funny that the deities laughed loudly, which led Amaterasu to peep through the gap of the rock to see what was going on. This is regarded as the very first Kagura, the origin of the performing arts in Japan and Ameno-uzume no Mikoto has been worshiped for it.
Susano’o does not appear in Jamai, as Kodo decided to focus on the dancing elements of Orochi. Instead, the audience could see Susano’o dance and beat the taiko as fiercely as thunder in “Amaterasu,” a previous Kodo production also directed by Tamasaburo Bando and inspired by the legend of “Ama no Iwayato” of the Kojiki. Tamasaburo appeared in this collaboration with Kodo as the luminous main character: Amaterasu herself.
“Amaterasu” premiered in 2006 and was staged again in the autumn of 2013, just before the opening of “Kodo One Earth Tour 2013: Mystery.” Both Mystery and Amaterasu are productions inspired by ancient Japanese myths that form the foundation of Japanese identity and culture. The year 2013 is a particularly special year, as Sengu, the grand relocation of the Ise Grand Shrine and the renewal of Izumo Oyashiro, or Izumo -taisha (Izumo Grand Shrine), took place within the same year.
Ise Jingu, or The Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture, is the most venerated of all shrines in Japan, and is dedicated to Amaterasu, or Amaterasu-Omikami: the Sun Goddess. According to myth, Amaterasu is the original ancestor of the imperial family of Japan. Based in the Yamato region of Nara Prefecture, the regime of Yamato became the ruler of the entire nation. Izumo Oyashiro in Shimane Prefecture is dedicated to Okuninushi no Mikoto and was believed to be in charge of the spiritual world in ancient times. As for Ise Jingu, more than 1,500 ceremonies and rituals are held there annually. The largest and most important ceremony held at Ise Jingu is called Shikinen-Sengu. The system of Shikinen-Sengu began 1,300 years ago, and is held once every 20 years. Each shrine is meticulously rebuilt its building and disassembled its treasures and artifacts refurbished, and the clothing for the deities are crafted and prepared anew. By doing this, Japanese people renew their mind and faith in the deities and ensure the continuity of rejuvenation for the divine spirits. Traditional Japanese culture and skills are also passed on to the next generation. This belief that deities (kami) are rejuvenated through the renewal of buildings and furnishings, demonstrates the key concept of Shinto known as tokowaka: everlasting youth.
In 2013, more than 14 million people visited Ise Jingu, and over 8 million visited Izumo Oyashiro. Could it be that Tamasaburo intended to present “Amaterasu” and “Mystery” in the same year in order to celebrate the renewals of these two major Japanese shrines? When I asked Tamasaburo, he said that it was just coincidence. “I came up with the idea of a mythical theme when I decided to collaborate with Kodo. I believe that the taiko is an instrument with a primitive sound that originated from tapping objects around you during ancient times. I thought that the ancient myths, the stories of Amaterasu and Susano’o, would be appropriate for a taiko group, echoing the ancient sound.”
Also read From “Amaterasu” to “Mystery”: Part 1 – Guided by the mysterious power of the Serpent