According to one theory, kagura can be traced back to the Legend of Ama no Iwato, a book of Japanese myths compiled at the order of Emperor Tenmu in the 7th century. This legend inspired a ritual for the repose of souls. Held during the time of year when the sun is at its weakest, kagura is said to summon the might of the gods to bring back the sun and bring new life, and to serve as a prayer for a stronger life force in us all.
The mannerisms and words of the characters
The style of dancing
The transformations of characters that change their form, like the princess who turns into a demon
The degree and speed of the synchronizations when multiple dancers move in time with each other
The reverberation, carrying and rhythm of the fue flutes, gongs and large and small taiko drums
The harmony between the music and other elements such as the dancing and words
The overall balance (are the musicians in sync with each other?)
Costumes and masks
The connection that the colors, patterns and shapes have with the story
Kagura stories are quite closely based on real events in history, so if you learn about those events before watching the performance, you’ll find the story even more interesting and easier to follow.
With that said, it’s also fine to just sit back and enjoy the show. When you do that, you look back and realize that that was enjoyable in itself. So don’t worry too much about what you “should” be noticing – just have fun!
There are 22 kagura troupes in Akitakata City, each affiliated with a different shrine in a different region. Each troupe leads kagura dancing at their shrine’s annual festivals, with members of the shrine’s sect dancing together.