text by Shiki Sugawara
photo by Baihe Sun

MATSURI Issue: 修験山伏の祈祷の舞からユネスコ無形文化遺産にーー早池峰神楽/Hayachine Kagura’s Prayers —— From the stage in the mountains to UNESCO Cultural Heritage

NeoL_Matsuri|Photography : Baihe Sun

NeoL_Matsuri2|Photography : Baihe Sun

NeoL_Matsuri4|Photography : Baihe Sun

NeoL_Matsuri5|Photography : Baihe Sun

NeoL_Matsuri5| Photography : Baihe Sun

NeoL_Matsuri_| Photography : Baihe Sun




Located in the highest mountain of Kitakami Highlands which spreads to the east side of Iwate prefecture, Hayachine Mountain is known as a treasure land for rare alpine plants even in Japan. People live by Hayachine Mountain are grateful for the gifts of the nature. The joyous festival is dedicated to the Gods of the mountain.

“Gaku Kagura” in the Hayachine Shrine and “Otsugunai Kagura” in the Otsugunai Shrine are the special ritual dance dedicated to the Gods of Hayachine Mountain. The early records about the origin of Hayachine Kagura are missing, but a record on a lion head from 1595 and some of the preliminary documents from the Otsugunai Mountain all show that the tradition have been lasted for the past 500 years.

The “Gaku Kagura” is an intense dance that illustrates human bravery based on a five-beat tempo, and the “Otsugunai Kagura” is rather a delicate and gentle dance that shows the beauty and grace of women which based on a seven-beat tempo. They were designated as the Japanese Ethnic Cultural Property in May, 1972. In September of 2009, they were officially included to the UNESCO Cultural Heritage.

The performance of Kagura was originally only allowed to be inherited by the eldest son of each family, but about 40 years ago it has began to be opened for kids in elementary school or junior high and even the non-local. The power of the mysterious ritual performance is still felt even now.

On the day of the “Kagura”, people from the local village all gather to the Hayachine Shrine. They gather around the lanterns and sit by the stage on the tatami, passing each other glasses of drinks and enjoying their homemade dinner. There is almost no distance between the stage and the tatami where people sit and watch. The sacred atmosphere is felt by everyone there.

The dancers and instrumental performers change for each different play. The connection between people can be seen when they call each other’s name. The traditional performance is closely related to people’s life there.

Besides the adult performance, there was one 5-year-old boy who performed his solo debut for over fifteen minutes. The power of the dance has well shown that the belief in God is sincere and honest. The true joy of the “Kagura” and the festival lies in the Hayachine Mountain where their roots are.

As the night approaches and the sky gets darker, the sound of the drum and the echoes of the hustles can still be heard. That is the Hare’s Day for people in their natural habitat.

早池峯神社 宵宮祭・例大祭
場所:早池峯神社 岩手県遠野市附馬牛町上附馬牛19地割82
詳しくはこちら 遠野市観光協会公式ページ(

photography Baihe Sun
text Shiki Sugawara



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