Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


A Study of Hibakojin Kagura in Modern Times: Establishing a New System, and Kagura as a Way of Making a Living


Department of Japanese History
School of Cultural and Social Studies
SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies)

Key words:

Hibakojin Kagura, modern, folk performing arts, State Shinto, cultural resources

This paper discusses the modern performance of the traditional form of entertainment, Hibakojin Kagura, during the period from the Meiji era (1868–1912) through to the end of World War Two. It will focus particularly on influences from outside the community, such as political and economic factors and social trends.

Hibakojin Kagura has been passed down through the generations by Shinto priests and villagers in Saijo-cho and Tojo-cho in Shobara-shi, Hiroshima Prefecture. Those performing kagura in a festival context are also financially rewarded, through service fees and flowers made as offerings to the gods. Therefore, it can be said that for performers, these kagura festivals are an occasion for earning money.

During the Edo era (1603–1868), only Shinto priests were permitted to perform kagura in this area of the country. This situation changed under the policy of the Meiji government. From that time on, farmers from ordinary families began to perform kagura.

Subsequent to this policy change, around the middle of the Meiji period, it came to be commonly believed that Shinto priests should not perform kagura. Furthermore, there were changes in the industrial structure of the area, which contributed to an outflow of residents to urban areas. Under these circumstances, the farmers living in mountainous areas where agricultural possibilities were limited, began travelling to perform kagura as a way of making money during the winter months.

As a result, a modern system was created in which the Shinto priests were in charge of ceremonial duties, and farmers were in charge of entertaining. This arrangement was a way of ensuring that the priests, who had held the monopoly over kagura performances until early modern times, continued to maintain the various rights related to kagura.

In modern times, the performers of Hibakojin Kagura handed the artform down through generations, while altering it to ensure it remains meaningful according to the context and values of the times. As a result, Hibaku Kagura became praised as ‘exemplary’ by priests, and legitimized as a form of Jindai Kagura, a name reserved for schools of kagura performing national myths associated with the Emperor System. Drawing upon this ‘legitimacy’, Hibakojin Kagura performers began to take frequent trips to other areas of Japan, making the most of the connections which the priests had accumulated and the authorization of the imperial mausoleums. These attempts to utilize folk performing arts as a cultural resource began even before the start of the Second World War.