The Takachiho Yokagura is a traditional dance that has been performed by local men from a long time ago. Takachiho is a town that is located on a mountain in the northern part of Miyazaki Prefecture. Takachiho is known as a mythological place. Two ancient history books were published in the 8th century, the Kojiki and Nihonshoki by the order of the Emperor. These books started to describe the story from the foundation of Japan. It was the time of the gods or ‘kami’.
Deities Izanagi and Izanami created Japan in ancient times. They had three children, Amaterasu was the goddess of the sun, Tsukuyomi was the goddess of the moon or night, and Susanoo, the youngest son, was the god of the sea. Susanoo was childish and cried all the time because he wanted to see his mother. He didn’t govern the country. Amaterasu tried to make him a good adult but he became very violent. So she got angry and gave up raising him. She then hid in the cave. The sun disappeared and the world has become dark by losing the light.
It is said this cave is in Takachiho. A Shinto shrine was constructed at this site. It is called Amano Iwato Shrine. Ama means heaven and Iwato means stone cave.
The Yokagura is a traditional dance performed by local men, and its secrets have been passed down from generation to generation. Its 33 dances act out various episodes from Japanese myths. Out of these dances, the most famous one is when the sun goddess Amaterasu hides in a cave as explained above.
The season of the dancing starts in November and goes on until February. The dances are performed in local houses and community centers and everyone is welcomed. An offering of money or shochu is expected (there is a reception desk), especially if you stay to watch the whole set of dances. So the Yokagura dance season provides the visitor with a unique opportunity to be welcomed into a local Japanese community and to savor the hospitality of the locals. While the men dance, the women provide a constant stream of home-made noodles and vegetable dishes. And of course, there is also a lot of shochu to drink.
Takachiho Yokagura at Takachiho Shrine
The Yokagura lasts all night long. If you are a tourist it may be difficult to stay and watch the whole 33 acts. So I recommend Takachiho Kagura which consists of 4 acts out of 33 and is played every night at the Takachiho Shrine. It starts at 20:00 and lasts for about one hour. The brief stories of these 4 acts are as follows.
Dance of Tajikarao
Tajikarao was a god known for his great strength. When the sun goddess Amaterasu hid in a cave，Tajikarao went searching for her. Tajikarao suspected that Amaterasu hid in Amano Iwato cave. This dance depicts Tajikarao listening for any sounds that would prove that Amaterasu was actually in the cave.
Dance of Ameno-Uzume
When the gods were sure that Amaterasu was hiding in the Amano Iwato Cave, they gathered in front of the cave. Ameno－uzume then performed a very unusual dance, which made the other gods laugh and make much noise. The laughter made Amaterasu curious, so she peeked out from the cave.
When Amaterasu peeked out from the cave, Tajikarao removed the stone door of the cave. This dance depicts Tajikarao gathering his strength and removing the stone door.
This dance depicts Izanagi and Izanami, the god and goddess who created Japan, as they make and drink sake．These two gods are known for their long and loving marriage. This dance is also known as ‘The creation of Japan’ dance.
This last dance is like a comedy. It is a love story, so at the end of the dance, the actors may come down to the audience and try to hug the spectators!
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Access: There are direct express buses to Takachiho Bus Center from the major train stations in Kyushu. From Hakata, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Nobeoka. Then it takes 15 minutes to walk to the Takachiho Shrine from the bus center.
Entrance: 1,000 yen
Hours: 8 pm – 9 pm