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Sagi-mai (White Heron Dance)
Elegant Shinto Rite With 400-Year Tradition
Japan Atlas
7/27/2004

Sagi-mai (White Heron Dance) is an ancient religious rite held at Yasaka Shrine in Tsuwano Town at the west edge of Shimane Prefecture. On July 20 and 27, two dancers dressed like a pair of white herons, male and female, perform an elegant dance at the traditionally-appointed 11 locations in town. Originally, the rite passed from Kyoto to Yamaguchi was introduced to Tsuwano in the mid 16th century. The event was temporarily discontinued because of war, but Yasaka Shrine acquired it again directly from Kyoto and resumed the tradition in the mid 17th century. Performed continuously since then, the Sagi-mai in Tsuwano is the only example of this rite that remains as it was hundreds of years ago.

Of the two herons, the male has its beaks open and the female has them closed. The head of the heron costume is made of paulownia wood and 39 feather pieces are made of Japanese cypress wood. Although the whole costume weighs as much as 15 kilograms (33 pounds), the graceful movements of the dancers mask the weight. The dance is accompanied with music of flutes and drums and large chorus. The dancers repeatedly spread and fold their feathers, and then spread them all out and draw close to each other. These romantic movements convey a taste of the flourishing Kyoto of 400 years ago.

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