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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Performing Arts
Saru-gaku, Den-gaku
Sarugaku was the term used for the performing art of until the Edo period (1600-1867). It is also used to refer to the older sarugaku before its development into the classic . The origin of sarugaku can be traced back to the sangaku imported from China during the Nara period (710-784). From the mid-Heian period (784-1192) the pronunciation of sangaku was corrupted to sarugaku, and gradually the characters came to be used. Training in sangaku was provided by designated households known as sangakko until these were abolished in 782. During the Heian period sarugaku was performed by members of the imperial guard or court musicians as entertainment at sumō or kagura events, or by itinerant sangaku performers at shrine or temple festivals. As well as acrobatics introduced from China, sangaku developed to include humorous mimicry. The mid-eleventh century Shin- Sarugaku- kKi (Record of New Sarugaku) by Fujiwara no Akihira records the various new arts of the sarugaku that were as performed at local festivals and had becoame popular with the common people. Beginning in the Kamakura period (1192-1333) and continuing through the period of the North-South Courts (1333-1392), sarugaku underwent significant developments. On the one hand, tThere was an emphasis on the ritual performance of the old man figure Okina, which came to symbolize the essence of sarugaku. At the same time, the pre-existing element of improvisational mimicry took on more dramatic form and . Mmusical and dance elements were also added. Many sarugaku troupes appeared, especially in the Kinki region of central Japan. Among these was the Kanzei troupe of the Yamato (Nara) area, led by the father and son team of Kan'ami and Zeami, who are well known as the creator's of the classic sarugaku nō.
        Dengaku can be broadly divided into two types: the dengaku that developed as a musical accompaniment to rice planting observances; and the dengaku odori (dengaku dance) which, developing in conjunction with sangaku, gave birth to a new art form that came to be performed by dengaku hōshimasters (houshi). The distinctive instrument of dengaku is the sasara (a wooden percussive instrumentclapper), but the form of thisis differs according to the type of dengaku. The rice-planting dengaku uses the surizasara (two serrated sticks rubbed together), while dengaku odori performers employ the binzasara (Numerous wood chips strung together that clatter against each other when shaken). In the Eiga Monogatari there is a detailed description of rice-planting dengaku observed by the author, Fukjiwara no ShōkoShōshi, in the fifth month of 1023. This colorful and lively dengaku performed for aristocrats flourished until the end of the Heian period. Traces of itthis can be seen in the rice-planting dengaku which is still performed in Hiroshima and Shimane prefectures under the names hanadaue and hayashida. By the mid-Heian period there were already professional dengaku performers, but in 1129 they were joined by performers known as dengaku hōshi for the rice planting hayashi of 1129. The appearance of the dengaku hōshi, who, in addition to dengaku odori, performed sangaku acrobatic stunts brought about the subsequent development of dengaku. derived from sangaku, eventually were They formed two troupes, organized into a main troupe (honza) connected to festivals, and a new troupe (shinza). Performing at shrine and temple festivals, they played a critical role in the subsequent development of and dengaku, which went on to become one of the chief performing arts of the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. In the process, a new variety of dengaku known as dengaku no nō was added to the performers' repertoire. Incidentally, in the summer 1096, the clash of a large number of dengaku groups parading through the streets of Kyoto led to great disturbance. The dengaku of that time is known as eichō ōdengaku (great dengaku of the Eichō era), but in general such dengaku, which is an imitation of rice-planting dengaku and also includes dengaku odori, is referred to as furyū furyū dengaku. Although it at one time exceededsurpassed even even sarugaku in popularity, in the mid-Muromachi period dengaku was eclipsed by the development of sarugaku and went into decline. Today it barely survives as a folk performing art.

— Takayama Shigeru
Dengaku dance (Ōji Jinja)

Tokyo, 2005

©Ōsawa Kōji

Ōji Jinja Dengaku Matsuri.

Tokyo, 2007

©Ōsawa Kōji

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