Daikagura 太神楽 Holy dancing

身分 Status and history

Daikagura were originally a two-man shishi (lion/mythical beast) masked dancing team with a drummer and a flautist who performed at shrine festivals. They were supposed to frighten off any evil spirit blocking a holy procession. Many came from the grand Shinto shrine at Ise.

Daikagura can be written as 太神楽 or 大神楽 depending on the region of Japan – but another theory is that the “dai” is also written as “代” or substitute – that the lion dance was substituting for the Shinto gods.

By the 18th century the Edo based Ise shrine and Atsuta shrine daikagura “relied on their bakufu sanctioned, semiautonomous Edo occupational associations.”

There were around 12 houses or groups (kumi) in each. Headships in the Atsuta daikagura were rotated annually. They retained their townsperson mibun (status) and submitted family registries to city administrators. Their occupational status was handled by the magistrates of temples and shrines.

By the 19th century they were performing in tea houses, variety halls and kabuki theatres.

Daikagura – Library of Congress, Utamaro KItagawa, 1789


By the 17th century many daikagura had added juggling of drumsticks and also kagomari – juggling with balls and a basket like tube on a stick – to the lion dancing. Later additions were plate spinning and using parasols on which a variety of rings and bowls were spun.

Daikagura – Hokusai Katsushika – Minneapolis Institute of Art

Daikagura in Britain

Masukagami Isokichi, leader of the Lenton & Smith part of the Great Dragon Troupe, which included Kagami Katsugoro and Kagami Godaiou

Maruichi Brothers (Kagami Sentarō)


See pp162 – 69 in Street Performers and Society in Urban Japan 1600 – 1900 : The Beggar’s Gift – Gerald Groemer