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Saturday, January 27

The Story of Nagauta Musume Doujyogi

Last Saturday (yes, I am totally behind in just about everything these days) found Kimono Hubby and myself at the January Kamakura Chapter Ikebana International event. This time it wasn’t about flowers as I will definitely never brooch the subject of him joining me for an Ikebana demonstration again. This time… it was all about dance! A much more manly activity. Er. Well. He liked it anyway. Totally beside the point! The event was the “Musume Doujyoji” Performance and one of our Chapter members, Junko Katano who is usually the daily interpreter (seriously multi-talented, this one) had been bestowed the honor of performing the dance. And I do mean honor. It was described to us that if you were a dancer and there was one dance in all of your life that you wanted to perform, this would be that dance. The interpretation of how she asked her sensei to perform… “oh, please, please, please, pleeeease!” Begging works because there she was when we arrived, in full white face laying in wait for the finishing touches.

As the crowd settled into the room, the costume Junko would wear hung grandly on a rack for all to gasp over. This was no ordinary kimono costume. When all pieces of the kimono were adorned, including a head piece made of real hair and a hat on top of that, the outfit is said to weigh over fifty pounds. Remember this is a dance and therefore she will have to move in this get-up. Once she is dressed, Junko is sat down and the crowd is shown how her face is painted. Different colors lining the eyes are meant to represent the age of the character. Junko donned a deep red telling us that she was going to be playing the part of a teenager. The results of the intense red and black makeup was truly profound and dramatic. From the entire time we had seen her, not once had any expression crossed Junko’s face. She was a picture of serenity and she was ready to perform for the crowd before her. That is, if she could stand up.

The legend behind the dance goes something like this:

The story of Nagauta Musume Doujyoji is about love, murder, action and rescue. As legend goes, Princess Kiyohime transformed herself into a snake in order to kill her lover, Anchin, who has decided he no longer wants or loves her. Anchin thinks he has escaped the Princess by hiding in the bell of Doujyoji. She finds him and encircles the bell, aiming to crush the bell and Anchin hiding inside. Noh and Kabuki theaters have taken this legend and written the dance of Musume Doujyogi around it. We saw an abbreviated version because in a theater, the dance is typically 80 minutes long. After the performance, I am eager to get myself to Tokyo for a kabuki theater performance.

During the dance, a man would quietly come onto the stage and provide the Princess with her various props including a Japanese fan, towel, small drum and hand drums. He would also have the responsibility of changing her costume without her leaving the stage for a second and he did so with much gusto when the bright red, outer layer of her kimono was stripped from her back displaying another gorgeous, pale yellow layer underneath. Not a single fake hair on her head was disturbed in the magical process.

What strikes me most about this type of performance is how very calm it seems. Even in the height of the action, moves are made quite methodically. Music plays in the background emphasizing the story but no words are spoken. It is strictly the movement of the performed that tells the viewer about the story. The effect is mesmerizing. The performance was another reminder of how the Japanese in their everyday life seem to always move with such vigilance and grace.

While I can’t see Hollywood ever grasping on to this art form and turning it on to the mainstream, it possesses beautiful merit. If nothing else, I’m hooked!


Mike S said...

Sumo, Noh, Kabuki, Nicola's Italian Restaurant, the dining room at the Camp Zama club. Ah, but those are the things I miss the most:)

Anonymous said...

There is a DVD you can buy on this dance, explained in english. I bought mine from

Heather Meadows said...

Wow, that sounds awesome! (Or, as the Word Verification says right now, "ohhsom"!)