The beautiful Bugaku and Noh play are performed at the stage on the pond in Nara Tōdai-ji temple to commemorate a deed of Emperor Shomu!

’The Emperor Shomu Festival’ is held for Emperor Shomu, for his contribution to the construction of Tōdai-ji Temple and the Great Buddha, on every May 2, the anniversary of Emperor Shomu’s death at Tōdai-ji temple in Nara Prefecture. I’ll show you Bugaku and Noh plays at the stage on the Kagami Pond in Todai-ji Temple.
Both are open to visitors at no charge!

2017-12-23   Festivals & Events, Nara,

What are Bugaku and Noh play?

About 1,300 years ago, Emperors and the Aristocrats were enjoying Bugaku (Japanese style court dance and music) and Noh play (the classical Japanese performing arts as a mixture of dance, music, and drama).Today, you can enjoy Bugaku and Noh play during the Emperor Shomu Festival at the Kagami pond stage.

In this year 2017, it started with “Enbu” performed by one dancer with a pike, followed by three Bugaku and Noh plays each.

Chigomai: Adorable Bugaku performed by children.

While the procession of around 300 monks approaches to the Great Buddha Hall, Bugaku by Kasuga Ancient Music Preserving Society starts at the stage on the Kagami pond.
The first Bugaku is ‘Enbu (振鉾)’. This performance has a strong ceremonial aspect, purifying the stage by brandishing a pike.


And a Bugaku performed by children ‘Chigomai (稚児舞)’ follows. It was believed that innocent children had a character similar to god and he would come near to them. So, they were given the leading roles in these programs performed at temples and shrines, and ‘Chigomai’ was passed down in Japan.

The ‘Chigomai’ began with ‘Karyobin (加陵頻)’ that includes paradise birds with a human face and beautiful voices fluttering and dancing, and ‘Kocho (胡蝶)’ followed. This is a dance by children playing the role of beautiful butterflies with wings and Japanese yellow roses.

‘Karyobin (加陵頻)’
‘Kocho (胡蝶)’

After Chigomai, the program of Bugaku came to an end by the dance called ‘Nasori (納曽利)’ with a Noh mask.

‘Nasori (納曽利)’

Enjoy Noh play, a Japanese traditional performing art.

The reason Noh play is performed at Todai-ji Temple is that people show respect for The Emperor Shomu and express our pleasure of living together by dedicating Noh play, as the representative Japanese traditional performing art.
The program of Noh plays in 2017 started by ‘Shimai (仕舞)’ with a chorus group ‘Ji-utai (地謡)’ of 8 to 10 players dancing the highlight of the Noh play. After that, other two Noh plays followed.

‘Shimai’ used only a fan for the exclusive use of this program.
‘Rengin (連吟)’ singing with no movement while sitting.
‘Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (楊貴妃)’

The last program ‘Princess Yang Kwei-Fei’ is inspired by a story of Yang Kwei-Fei, princess of Emperor Xuan Zong in China. This program unfolded as a shaman who served The Emperor Xuan Zong visited the land of the dead by order of The Emperor to find the soul of Yang Kwei-Fei who was murdered.

Yang Kwei-Fei is in deep lamentation because she remembered her days she spent with the Emperor.
The shaman is given her ornamental hairpin as proof of meeting her.
Yang Kwei-Fei dances while wearing the ornamental hairpin in front of the shaman.

It was an exquisite play and the gorgeous costume and dance on the pond stage looked wonderful.

The Kagami Pond is a good place to take pictures!

The Kagami Pond

The Kagami Pond is set up as the stage for the festival is a good photo spot where it reflects The Great Buddha Hall on its surface. There is a land looking like a hand mirror in this pond, so it was named as Kagami Pond (“mirror pond”), and a deity ‘Benzaiten’ enshrined on the island.

This pond is inhabited by an unheard fish ‘Wataka’, looked upon as a natural treasure of Nara Prefecture and as an endangered species.

Don’t forget to check out the Kagami pond when you visit Todai-ji Temple!

Emperor Shomu Festival, Nara Tōdai-ji Temple. Don’t miss the 300-Buddhist monks’ procession!
The Great Buddha is surprisingly big! The beautiful statues at Nara Todai-ji temple.

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Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.


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