Shrine maiden performing a Kagura, traditional Shinto dance, at the Fushimi Inara Taisha in Kyoto!
Kagura is the ancient Shinto ritual dance of shamanic origin. The word “kagura” is thought to be a contracted form of kami no kura or “seat of the kami” or the “site where the kami is received.”
Music plays a very important role in the kagura performance. Everything from the setup of the instruments to the most subtle sounds and the arrangement of the music is crucial to encouraging the kami to come down and dance. The songs are used as magical devices to summon the gods and as prayers for blessings.
Miko kagura is the oldest type of kagura and is danced by women in Shinto shrines and during folk festivals. The ancient miko were shamanesses, but are now considered priestesses in the service of the Shinto Shrines. Miko kagura originally was a shamanic trance dance, but later, it became an art and was interpreted as a prayer dance. It is performed in many of the larger Shinto shrines and is characterised by slow, elegant, circular movements, by emphasis on the four directions and by the central use of torimono (objects dancers carry in their hands), especially the fan and bells.