Dances. Our single word "dance" is represented by two in Japanese,—mai and odori, the former being a general name for the more ancient and, so to say, classical dances, the latter for. such as are newer and more popular. But the line between the two classes is hard to draw, and both agree in consisting mainly of posturing. Europeans dance with their feet,—not to say their legs,—Japanese mainly with their arms. The dress, or rather undress, of a European corps de ballet would take away the breath of the least prudish Oriental.
One of the oldest Japanese dances is the Kagura, which may still be seen in a degenerate form at the yearly festival of almost any parish temple. It is of the nature of primitive theatricals,—half dance, half antic and buffoonery,—got up by the young men of the place, who appear in masks and great bundles of tawdry clothes, and twirl about and pursue each other to the incessant tomtoming of a drum and piping of a flute. Sometimes a rough platform is erected as a stage, sometimes the temple itself does duty for such. The original of the Kagura is said to have been the dance by means of which, soon after the beginning of the world, the Sun-Goddess was lured from a cavern into which she had retired, thus plunging all creation in darkness. The sacred dances at Nara and Ise belong to this category; but the Ise Ondo, sometimes mentioned by travellers, is a later profane invention,—apparently an adaptation of the Genroku Odori, a dance that may still occasionally be witnessed on the stage.
The Bon Odori, a popular dance which takes place on certain days in summer all over provincial Japan, is believed to have a Buddhist origin, though its meaning is far from clear. The details vary from village to village; but the general feature of this dance is a large circle or wheel of posturing peasants, who revolve to the notes of the song sung and the flute and drum played by a few of their number in the middle. Kyōto and Tōkyō, being too civilised for such rustic exercises in which all share, do their dancing by proxy. There, and in the other large towns, the dancing-girls (geisha) form a class apart. While one or more of the girls dance, others play the shamisen and sing the story; for Japanese dances almost always represent some story, they are not mere arabesques. Herein the intimate connection that has always subsisted between dancing and the drama finds its explanation, as will be better understood by reference to the Article on the Theatre. The Kappore and the Shishi-mai, or Lion Dance, are among those most often executed in the streets by strolling performers.
The very newest of all forms of dancing in Japan is of course that borrowed from Europe a few years ago. Its want of dignity, together with certain disagreeable rumours to which the unwonted meeting of the two sexes has given rise from time to time, have caused the innovation to be looked at askance by many who are otherwise favourable to European manners and customs. A plainspoken writer in an excellent illustrated periodical entitled Fūzoku Gwahō says that, whereas his imagination had painted a civilised ball-room as a vision of fairy-land, its reality reminded him of nothing so much as lampreys wriggling up to the surface of the water, and (passez-lui le mot) fleas hopping out of a bed.