Shrine Maidens Dance at Kameido Tenjin

Shrine maidens were the last thing I ever expected to photograph. But I did. I saw them at Kameido Tenjin, a Tokyo shrine. They performed for the 2024 Wisteria Festival. It was a great Japanese cultural experience for my camera.

Was I surprised to photograph them? Yes, I was. Let me explain. I’ve been in Japan for more than thirty years. My interest in it started in the early 1970s with a TV show, The Samurai. The ninjas and swords were fascinating to a young boy.

By the way, that show was more popular than The Mickey Mouse Club for a time in Australia. Its star, Koichi Ose got a bigger crowd to greet him than the Beatles!

Then there was university. I studied contemporary Japanese history. Learning about Japan after the Meiji Restoration was a huge eye-opener.

When I came to Japan, temples and shrines grabbed me. I enjoyed them for their history and architecture. But not the religion. Even in Australia, it never interested me. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. That was probably in the 1980s.

I’m not the religious type. And that led me to miss one aspect of Japanese culture since traditional dance and Shinto go hand in hand. So I am on shaky ground writing this article. Anyway, what led me to photograph shrine maidens performing at a Wisteria Festival?

When I went to Kameido Tenjin, the Wisteria Festival had just started. Few flowers had bloomed. I needed some photos. But walking around led me to see a small crowd at the Kagura-den.

I joined them. Luckily, a position was open directly in front of the stage. By the end of the afternoon, I was glad I witnessed the performance. The lighting could have been better, but for a first effort, I got photos I was proud of.

What are shrine maidens?

Shrine maidens are Shinto priestesses. They were once seen as shamans. In modern Japan, they have a different role. Now, they perform tasks ranging from cleaning to performing ritual ceremonial Kagura dances.

Who did I see perform?

The group I saw was Sango-no-Miya. They are modern shrine maidens (or Miko in Japanese). Their school is near Tokyo Skytree. They can teach you the dances even in English. Check out their website.

How was the Kameido Tenjin performance?

Earlier, I mentioned Kagura-den. Do you know what that is? It’s the building that shrine maidens perform at. This one had a backdrop of cherry blossoms and the moon. That was a good start.

Then the shrine maidens appeared. They varied in age greatly. One of them might have been in her early teens. Don’t trust me on that, though. It was just a guess.

Narration accompanied the performance. It was in Japanese and English. That was good because I didn’t know much about shrine maiden dances. This day was a learning experience for me too.

There were several performances. One of them involved the goddess Amaterasu. Another was about the tale of Princess Miyazu and Takeru Yamato. It was hard to keep up with the commentary while taking photos.

Shinto dance performances won’t get your pulse running. Shrine maidens, in long formal robes, don’t use quick or complicated movements. Everything is slow and deliberate. They tell a story.

What is Kameido Tenjin?

Kameido Tenjin is a shrine on Tokyo’s east side. It’s known for its flower festivals, the most famous being the wisteria. There are others throughout the year. Read more about it in my full article.

Conclusion

I’d had a great time with the Sango-no-Miya shrine maidens. They gave me a great Japanese cultural experience. Their gowns and accessories were beautiful. They were easy to photograph due to their slow and deliberate movements (for the most part). I can’t believe I have never photographed them.

Have you seen them? It would be great to hear other peoples’ experiences. And if you have photographed them let me know where I can see your pictures. I’d like to see more. Shrine maidens are pretty special!

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