Kagura (神楽) is a form of Japanese folk performing art, usually masked dance, but in general meaning any kind of performance taking place at a Shinto festival. In a technical sense, kagura is an invocation of the gods followed by a performance of a song, dance, or both. Central ideas of kagura are that of summoning and dispatching gods and drawing revitalization from participation in the performance.
Kagura is documented from around the 9th century but it most likely was practiced even earlier as evocations of the gods, but without the aspect of performance. In the Kojiki, the dance used to draw Amaterasu, the sun goddess, out of her cave is believed to be a ritual similar to kagura. Performances of mikagura were once done by both courtiers and court musicians, but now this responsibility falls to the official musicians of the imperial household.
There are two main categories of kagura:
mikagura - kagura performed at the imperial court or shrines related to it
sato kagura - kagura performed outside of the court
Today the most important mikagura are:
Daijoe, held in November in the year when a new emperor takes the throne
Naishidokoro, an annual mikagura which takes place in December
Important sato kagura include:
miko kagura - dances of Shinto priestesses
Ise kagura - kagura in which boiling water is offered to the gods
Izumo kagura - kagura in which objects are held while dancing
shishi kagura - kagura involving a lion dance
Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd., 1993.