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Takachiho Yokagura

Saturated with the myths of old Japan, Takachiho is home to the settings of many famous stories, such as the cave in which the sun goddess Amaterasu hid herself away, and the great rock where the gods cast out demons that threatened the world. Takachiho is also well known for its yokagura, ancient dance rituals performed throughout the night during the winter months. History claims that this tradition began over 800 years ago, and the dances have been passed down through generations in all the villages in the area. Each village offers variations on costumes and the schedule and order of the dances, but all of them are known as “Takachiho yokagura.”

Performances usually take place in a private home or village meeting house which is chosen to be that year’s yokagura hall, and is declared a holy place where the gods will gather to spend the night. Being selected is a great honor for the owner of the house and is much sought after by the village residents. The event is preceded by local people sprinkling sake and scattering rice around the yokagura hall as an offering to the gods.

Dancing the Night Away
The yokagura begins with the dancers, known as hoshadon, performing the traditional dedication of the festival to the gods. Dressed in costumes and masks that have been passed down for hundreds of years, they call out to the heavens, asking for a good harvest and good fortune, giving thanks for their protection, and reviving the old legends of the village. Yokagura is an important religious ceremony, but it is also a spectacularly entertaining cultural experience. In the bells and tambourines of the hoshadon dancers can be heard the stories of ancient Japan, as told in “Kojiki” and “Nihon-shoki,” Japan’s two oldest written works. There are several high points in this all-night event, and one is the goshintai dance, which starts exactly at midnight and continues until about 2 a.m. The most famous scene features the god Izanagi and his goddess Izanami, the creators of Japan and the Japanese people, involving the audience to depict the love of a man and a woman. The bolder the performance, the wilder the applause and cheers! Another highlight is the performance of perhaps the most well-known story of all, the tale of “Ama-no-Iwato,” in which the sun goddess Amaterasu has hidden herself away in a cave, plunging the world into darkness. In this tale, the goddess Uzume performs a dance that captures Amaterasu’s interest and causes her to open the door to the cave. She is immediately pulled out by Uzume and the gods Tajikarao and Totori, and the world is once more bathed in light - a great relief for mankind! Uzume’s captivating dance is the origin of the yokagura tradition, and the famous cave itself is not far from Takachiho Shrine.

Although it’s possible to watch only a part of the yokagura, tradition really demands that you stay the night and enjoy the whole show. It can seem unexciting at first, and the night can get cold, so you’ll have to really bundle up to be able to last all night. But prepare properly and before you know it, you’ll find yourself caught up in the excitement with your neighbors, and when you’re engulfed by the wonderful feeling of unity that sweeps over everyone in the hall at the conclusion of the thirty-third and final dance, you’ll be overjoyed that you partook in the true yokagura experience.

Yokagura Schedule
Area (shrine name)
All dances run from 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next morning.
Nov. 18 / Oshikata (Nakahata), 22 / Kamino (Yunokino), Kamino (Kamino), Simono (Hachiman), 24 / Kamino (Kurokuchi), 25 / Oshikata (Shibahara), Iwato (Goryo), Mukoyama (Akimoto)
Dec. 1 / Oshikata (Futagami), 2 / Iwato (Toshi), Mitai (Aisome Tenjin), 9 / Oshikata (Takemiya), Iwato (Ishigami), 16 / Mitai (Iwashitagongen)
Jan. 13 / Kawachi (Kumano Narutaki), 20 / Mukoyama (Yamanaka), Shimotabaru (Kumano), 27 / Mukoyama (Sugenotaki)
Feb. 10 / Kamitabaru (Kumano)

Takachiho Shrine
For those who can’t make it to the all-night yokagura, there’s still an opportunity to get a glimpse of the experience. Dances are performed every day of the year at Takachiho Shrine between 8 and 9 p.m., and you can see excerpts from three or four of the thirty-three dances performed by members of the yokagura Preservation Society.

Takachiho Shrine, Mitai 1037, Takachiho-cho
Entrance free. Watching the dances costs 500.
15 min. walk from Takachiho Stn.

A Miracle of Nature: Takachiho Gorge
Takachiho Gorge was formed approximately 100,000 years ago by a double volcanic eruption that sent lava surging along the course of the Gokase River. Rapid cooling left fantastic rock shapes, which have been further sculpted during the gradual erosion of the gorge over thousands of years. Known also as the Gokase Valley, it is a scene of breathtaking beauty – immense cliffs break through thickly-forested slopes, and at this time of year the trees seem to burst into flame as they take on their fall colors. People come from all over Japan to experience the striking contrast of the blue water and the brilliant red leaves. The area is a place of great beauty as well as a natural treasure – it has been designated as Mount Sobo National Park.

The only way to get close to the amazing sculpted cliffs in the gorge is to take a boat upriver to the magnificent Manai Waterfall, a thrilling experience. The river’s current is not strong, so even first-time boaters will find it easy enough to make the trip. A nature trail runs around the gorge area and there are a number of other sights to see, such as fish ponds and freshwater aquariums.

No trip to Takachiho is complete without a boat ride through the gorge. Go now, in Autumn, and enjoy the brilliantly colored leaves

Takachiho Gorge
Takachiho-cho, Mitai, Oshioi
Pleasure Boating:
0982-73-1213 (Takachiho Tourist Information)
08:30 ~ 16:20 every day
1 boat (holds 3) - 1500 yen for 30 min.
5 min. by car from Takachiho Stn.


Kagura Senbei

350 yen (pack of four)
These tasty rice cakes have images from the yokagura dances baked into them. There are two sorts, Uzume and Tajikarao, and their large size and the pictures on their faces make them quite different from other senbei. Their slightly sweet flavour, satisfying crunch and unique patterns are popular not only with tourists but also with the locals.
Mitai 106, Takachiho-cho
08:00 ~ 20:00
Closed: 1st and 3rd Sun. every month
Access: 10 min. walk from Takachiho Stn.

Takachiho Beef Curry

525 yen
Takachiho may not be known for its beef, but if you’ve come all this way you should definitely try it out, preferably in the form of Takachiho Beef Curry, which is full of chunky meat and veg - good solid stuff like carrots and potatoes. Since its debut onto the market in the spring of this year, the new taste of Takachiho curry has really caught on.
Shinto Kanko
Mitai 1444-1, Takachiho-cho
09:00 ~ 17:00
Closed: Sun.
Access: Sold at Young Echo (Shinto Kanko 2F) in front of Takachiho Stn., and Michinoeki Takachiho.

Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture: Ancient Myths and Natural Wonders
From all-night dances to miracles of nature, this quiet town, home to one of Japan’s most famous myths, is definitely worth a visit
November 18 ~ February 10

3 hours, 3,050 yen
Dazaifu-shi Interchange - Kyushu Jidosha-do (90 min. / 3,050 yen) - Matsubase - National Route 218 (120 min.) - Takachiho

4 hours, 6,410
JR Hakata Stn. - JR Kagoshima Main Line (90 min. / 3,940 yen) - Kumamoto Stn. - JR Hohi Main Line (50 min. / 720 yen) - Tateno Stn. - Minami-aso Railway (30 min. / 470 yen) OR by open air train* (55 min. / 670 yen) - Takamori Stn.
Takamori Town Center - Kyushu Sanko Bus, heading for Nobeoka (70 min. / 1,280 yen, three per day) – Takachiho
* The open air trains run only on Sat., Sun., and Hol. between April 1 and November 18.

Total travel time/cost: 3 hours 11 minutes, 3,910 yen
Miyazaki Transport “Express Gokase Bus” – Board at Nishitetsu Tenjin Bus Stn. and get off at Takachiho.

More Information (Japanese Only)
Takachiho Commerce and Tourism Department
Takachiho Tourism Association
08:30 ~ 17:30
Takachiho Tourist Information Center (inside Takachiho Station)
09:30 ~ 17:00

Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn95 Nov. 2006)


Published: Nov 1, 2006 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017

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