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Autumn 2007, vol 5 no 3

Night Kagura: A Haibunic Essay
by Tateo Fukutomi, translated by David P. Dutcher

“The Rush-Cutters’ Song”


ここの山の 刈干ゃ済んだヨー
明日は田圃で エー稲刈ろかヨー

We’re done cutting and drying the rushes on the hills
Tomorrow we’ll cut the paddy rice

秋も済んだよ 田の畦道に
あれも嫁じゃろ 灯が五つ

Autumn’s done there on the paddy berms
That one’s got her man five lamps burn

最早日暮れじゃ 迫々陰る
駒よ帰ぬるぞ 馬草負え

Already the sun’s going down
Head for home with your load of fodder!

屋根は萱葺き 萱壁なれど
昔ながらの 千木を置く

Roofs thatched with rush rush are the walls
Just as in the old days crossed boards deck ridge-pole ends

誰に見らりょと 思うて咲いた
谷間谷間の 岩つつじ

Who will see me they wondered as they bloomed
In valley after valley azaleas grow from boulders

雨もざんざ 霞もざんざ
今朝の朝草 刈り兼ねる

The teeming rains the teeming mists
Morning grass this morning I dare not cut

私ゃここの 深山の小笹
藤に巻かれて 寝とござる

Little bamboo grass in your mountain keep
bound up in wisteria vines I’ll stay here and sleep


(A farm workers’ song passed down in the mountainous Takachiho region of northwestern Miyazaki Prefecture)



 The Ama no Iwato Shrine, in Takachiho, derives its name from a myth recorded in the early chronicle Kojiki (712) in which the solar deity Amaterasu Ōmikami takes her glorious light from the world and shuts herself up in the cavern Ama no Iwato (Rock Door of the Heavens).  Ama no Iwato is the name both of the Shrine and of one of thirty-three yokagura—an all-night performance in mask of a cycle of dramas accompanied by song and dance that is put on some fifteen or twenty times each year during the winter months.

              Every year the Tourism Office of the Takachiho Chamber of Commerce posts a schedule listing the yado, or “inns,” which under shrine sponsorship take turns mounting the kagura performances.  Originally put on in the homes of villagers and at shrines, they are now staged in community social halls as well.  The beginning of the kagura season coincides with the end of the rice harvest in late November and continues until early February, one aspect of yokagura performance being to express gratitude for bountiful crops of the five food grains and supplication for bumper harvests in the new year.  The first kagura of each cycle is performed at the sponsoring shrine at two in the afternoon.  The presiding deity then passes in state to the venue where a dance of felicitation is performed in its honor.  The cycle of thirty-three performances carries on through the night until dawn.

              Of particular renown, among the thirty-three acts in the cycle mounted under the aegis of Ama no Iwako Shrine, is the rollickingly lubricious song and dance performed by the god Tajikarame no Mikoto and the goddess Ama no Uzume no Mikoto who, with the aid of a long white radish and a colander, evoke riotous laughter from the assembly of gods and goddesses so luring Amaterasu from her hiding place.

              Kagura are accompanied by the songs (seri uta) of a group of young men who urge the dancers on to a pitch of excitement.  A verse of one of their songs goes: “Koyosa yokagura nya serototekitaga sainā sera nyasokonoke washigaseru nonnokosai sai yoisassa tokoigasassa yoisassa.  (“You said you wanted us to sero your Yokagura tonight.  We said we would and here we are so, nonnokosai sai yoisassa tokoigasassa yoisassa.”)

At each of the Kagura inns the audience, the young men who sing, and the dancers form an integral dramatic whole.

              In the townships Gokase and Hinokage, which neighbor Takachiho, night kagura troupes sponsored by local shrines mount variant cycles of yokagura.

              At the Shiromi Shrine in Saito City night kagura are performed by villagers on the 14th and 15th of December.  It is the practice here for the heads of wild boar killed by village hunters that year to be offered up to the Kagura gods.  Act 32 of the local kagura, Ino-togiri, is informed by a rich vein of humor unique to this region. 

              I went to a haiku gathering there in December 1994 and saw twelve boar heads lined up on the altar.  The next day we feasted on wild-boar stew.


Dance the kagura
              twelve skulls taken from boars
                            offered on the altar

Breathing on—
              A boar’s head is carried in

All of a sudden
              the face of a troll appears,
                            grove of giant bamboo

Coins wrapped in paper
              they throw at the Udo Daemon—
                            giant-bamboo grove

              in the tatami parlor
                            your nose is too long


Tateo Fukutomi is a member of the haiku contributions jury for the Miyazaki Edition of the Mainichi Daily News. He is also a lecturer on haiku at the NHK Culture Center, a member of the Modern Haiku Association, and the Japanese Agricultural Exchange Council.Tateo Fukutomi was born in Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan in 1936.

He began to compose haiku in 1963, studying under Tohta Kaneko.

He was a farm trainee in California, USA, for one year (1965-1966). He studied American Culture under Taro Yashima (illustrator of children's books) in Los Angeles at that time.

Currently he is a lecturer on haiku at NHK Miyazaki Culture Center. He is a member of the Modern Haiku Association.

Publications include collections of original haiku: Straw Hat (1979), Kappa, River Sprite (1989), The Sound of Waves (1997), Straw Hat: English edition (2000), as well as the essays: Trial and Error in a Foreign Land (1974), and Kappa's Notebook (1985).

David P. Dutcher
Translator, editor of dictionaries. Born in 1944 in New York, USA. Received B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Hawaii. Studied for a doctoral degree in classical Japanese literature at Harvard University. He is an editor of several English-Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries, including The Kenkyusha Dictionary of English Collocations, and has done translations from both classical and modern Japanese. His English version of the CD-ROM GADGET was widely acclaimed in the U.S. He has lived some thirty years in Japan since first arriving in 1966.