The world of Japanese performing folk art is an obscure one. Despite having been around for hundreds of years, most Japanese have not been exposed to it. And when they do, it’s usually by chance. For photographer Yusuke Nishimura, it took 23 years of living in Japan before he stumbled upon the performing folk arts, an experience akin to discovering a secretive society.
One evening Nishimura was invited to Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo for the 100th anniversary of the Meiji Emperor. On this particular evening the shrine had been converted to a mystical wonderland with thousands of candles, drumbeats and flutes that beckoned visitors into the depths of the shrine. It was here that the photographer first discovered Shishi-mai, Tora-mai, Taue-odori, Kagura and other performing folk arts from around the country.
Enthralled by the vibrant colors of the costumes, the heritage and the mystical song and dance that seemed so removed from everyday reality, Nishimura embarked on a 3-year project to travel around Japan and photograph all 49 groups that are in existence, each who are carrying on their own historic legacy in the form of art.
Each art form is steeped in culture, and has its own historical significance. There are dances to ward off evil spirits, dances to bring healthy crops and even the Tsuburosashi phallic dance to bring fertility.
Last year he successfully raised 500K yen (about $42,000) in a crowdfunding campaign to fund the project, which has now been made into a 328-page photobook published by Little More Books. It’s available on their website for 8800 yen (about $73).