Reflections of Buddhist Thought in Kagura Dance, Song, and Structure

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The influence of Buddhist thought, cosmologies and practices on the formation of folk kagura and other minzoku geino¯ (folk performing arts) forms in medieval Japan is widely recognized. The Buddhist worldview was often spread through the ritual performing arts of the yamabushi (Shugendo¯ practitioners) of medieval times. Today the evidence for such influences is relatively obscure, due to the impact of Shinto¯ policies since the nineteenth century. However, traces of Buddhist cosmologies, ideas and practices can still be found, to a greater or lesser degree, in most forms of kagura. Such 'traces' may range from but a preserved memory of abandoned practices in some schools, to explicit Buddhist texts in others. This paper presents examples of Buddhist 'echoes' in a number of kagura schools from around Japan. These serve to illuminate the extant to which Buddhist ideas and practices were imbedded in the ritual texts and kami uta of the various kagura schools, in their dance choreographies, and in the structures of their kagura spaces. A special characteristic common to all (otherwise extremely variegated) kagura forms is the construction of the kagura space as a symbolic universe. This paper argues for a probable Buddhist origin of the kagura stage-universe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-275
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Religion in Japan
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2013


  • Buddhism
  • Kagura
  • Shugendo¯
  • mandala
  • ritual performing arts
  • symbolic universe


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