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Tsurugaoka Hachimangu: The Sacred Music of Mikagura in Portland

From the Archives: This post was originally featured in the September 2014 edition of The Garden Path magazine.

Photo by Jonathan Ley

For the first time ever in the continental United States, the ancient ritual of Mikagura was performed in Portland on July 19. International Advisory Board member Takashi Uyeno worked for several years to make this possible, and with his help the Garden was honored to host Chief Priest Shigeho Yoshida of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, along with 24 musicians and dancers. In collaboration with the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, and the First Congregational Church of Christ in downtown Portland, the Garden had the rare opportunity to introduce Mr. Yoshida and the extraordinary experience of the Mikagura ritual to over 600 people who attended this beautiful event. The performance of Mikagura included a presentation on the history and basis of the Shinto religion by Reverend Yoshida, followed by the music and dancing of Mikagura.

Mikagura is a form of Japanese ceremonial music and dance which originated in ancient ritual performances conducted by Shinto shrine priest of the Imperial Court in Japan. The transcendent nature of the ceremony is evoked by dancers and musicians playing on rare traditional musical instruments.

During their visit, the members of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine also honored the Garden with a ritual tree planting. During a ceremony of purification, chanting, and music, the Garden was presented with a planting from the 1000-year-old gingko tree which sat outside the shrine until the day before Japan’s major earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The tree stump was left to sprout saplings, and one was transported to Portland. Through this majestic and moving ceremony this small tree has now become a welcome part of our Garden and its continuing history. It will serve as yet another symbol of our friendship between the Portland Japanese Garden and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, as well as between the United States and Japan.

“Mikagura responds to the stars in the night sky and transcends time. It realizes in the present an ancient time which was in harmony with the heavenly bodies.” –Reverend Shigeho Yoshida, Chief Priest Tsurugaoka, Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura, Japan

Originally, the plan was to place the musical instruments and musicians near the Antique Gate, allowing those present to easily hear the music. However, Reverend Yoshida and the musicians had something else in mind. They asked that the music be played on the path instead, indicating that the music was actually for the trees!

The performance of Mikagura was held at First Congregational Church of Christ in downtown Portland, and was attended by over 600 people.

The Sacred Music of Mikagura: A Brief Look at an Ancient Ritual

This performance by the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (鶴岡八幡宮) from Kamakura Japan involves rare traditional musical instruments and a mesmerizing dance that has not changed much from the time of ancient Shinto rituals.

Watch the Performance