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The Deer Dance : While the folk dance from the first portfolio was defined by its excess, Shishi Odori (She-She O-Door-E) is decidedly elegant.

But our concern is less with the elegance of the dance as with its preparations. The end result is a delicate mixture of chanting of Buddhist sutras, coordinated drumming and the anthropomorphized dancing of deer. To reach that result there is first the methodical tying of knots, donning of headgear and stretching of limbs. The process brings about a transformation from man to deer. But then, once the last piece has been attired, the final knots tied and drum properly attached, there is the inevitable waiting for the performance to begin.

Hanamaki is very proud of the Shishi Odori tradition. It is a dance that has been performed for over two hundred years in Iwate prefecture, and has taken on special relevance post World War II to the point where it is now considered a prefectural cultural asset. Attributed as a performance to pray for peace and drive away evil spirits, its adoration can be glimpsed in the near life size wooden statues that stand guard on both platforms of the Hanamaki train station to the countless mosaics and murals painted on the side of buildings throughout the city. And that is not to mention the artistic designs that can be found on guardrails, sewer lids and local snacks. Yes, Iwate is proud of the deer dance.

And there is a lot to be proud of. Like all great traditions, Shishi Odori has endured through the severity of life. It is just one of countless such traditions in Japan, but their number does not in any way diminish both their magnificence or achievement. And Shishi Odori truly is a magnificent sight. To watch is to be amazed. And to watch the slow preparation; to watch the care and the detail. Well, that is something even more.

- Colin Ptak

© Colin Ptak, 2004-2010