Saga is a prefecture located in the northwestern part of Kyushu in Japan. Due to its adjacency to mainland Asia and longer trade relations with neighboring countries, there have emerged some unique dance traditions in Kyushu. One of such is the folk dance native to Saga called ‘Menburyu’.
Menburyu is a traditional dance form unique to Saga. There are different styles of Menburyu that vary from town to town in Saga. However, Kashima city stands as a home for one of the famous styles of Menburyu. It is a ritual performing art dedicated to praying for rich harvest and rainfall.
During this festival, dancers (kakeuchi) wear masks that look like a devil or a Chinese lion and Shaguma (a wig of horse hair). They step up fiercely to drumbeats, flutes and gongs, raising their arms and legs and showing their gallantry. There is a story behind this which is quite interesting to know. A king made his soldiers wear these masks during the war and they won spectacularly against their enemies. Some people believe that it is just a dance style of farmers that is meant to drive evil spirits away from the harvest. The Menburyu is famous in the Saga region just like Awa Odori is in the Tokushima region.
Furyumen are the devil masks worn by the dancers of Menburyu. There are separate masks for men and women. A male mask has large eyes and long horns while a female mask has slant eyes and short horns. These scary and terrible looking masks are made of wood from paulownia, camphor tree or Nogomi cedar. The mask carver uses a traditional chisel to carve the wood.
Moreover, the Shaguma wig that is worn on the head is made of wool or hemp. Generally, the dancers wear a small drum to their necks. These dances are performed during autumn every year.
So, plan a trip to Saga prefecture next year so you don’t miss out on seeing the spectacular traditional menburyu mask dance.
For more details on dates, check out this website.