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Graceful Flight: Unveiling the Shirasagi-no-Mai Dance at Sensoji Temple



2023.10.19 (Thu)

By Dan Lewis, inbound tourism adviser and consultant, long-term Japan resident & outdoor activity enthusiast.

Every year, Sensoji Temple hosts a remarkable event known as "Shirasagi-no-Mai," a reenactment of a historic festival procession depicted in the Keian Engi Emaki, a treasured picture scroll dating back to 1652. This scroll chronicles the rich history and legends of Sensoji Temple, offering a glimpse into a bygone era.

The “Shirasagi-no-Mai," or "Mai Egret Heron" dance is a mesmerizing performance characterized by its gracefully tall bird-like costumes adorning the dancers. This dance seamlessly blends elements of ceremony and festival, as monks energetically move about, their bells and chimes resonating through the air.

As the dance unfolds, the performers extend their wings, and suddenly, the herons seem to spring to life. With one leg elegantly raised and arm-wings outstretched, the dancers create a scene so convincing, it transports the audience to a world where these avian creatures take flight.

The longer one gazes, the more captivated they become by the intricate bird heads, diverting attention from the dancers' own visages. This dance, while somewhat atypical of traditional Japanese performances, exudes a distinctive sense of Japanese uniformity and beauty harmoniously intertwined with the natural world.

The Keian Engi Emaki itself, a masterpiece created during the Edo period, remains a closely guarded treasure, hidden from public view. It vividly illustrates the tales of Sensoji Temple's past. The Shirasagi-no-Mai dance, steeped in tradition, finds its origins in the ancient ritualistic dances dedicated to the Gion Festival of Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto.

During the event, dancers don the attire of elegant egrets, parading and twirling to the melodic tunes of flutes and drums. The musicians, dressed in Heian-period costumes, transport spectators to an era of splendor and tradition. This dance is a captivating fusion of history and artistic expression, a sight to behold.

Mark your calendars for November 3rd, the day when Sensoji Temple comes alive with the mesmerizing Shirasagi-no-Mai dance. To reach this splendid event, head to Asakusa Station, accessible via various lines including Tokyo Metro Ginza Line and Toei Asakusa Line. For a cost-effective journey, consider using the Tokyo Subway Ticket. Don't let this chance to witness a living piece of Japanese history and culture fly by without you!

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