The origin of Ondeko (Deity mask dance) is not exactly known, but one “Sado Nenju-gyoji Emaki” (Sado picture scrolls of annual events) written in the late 18th century, depicts Ondeko being performed at the Aikawa Festival. Ondeko was brought to Sado through various developments, and the dances can be roughly classified into five styles: “Mamemaki-ryu” (bean throwing style), “Issoku-ryu” (one-leg style), “Maehama-ryu,” “Hanagasa-ryu” (flower hat dance style) and “Katagami-ryu” (Maehama and Katagami are the names of specific areas). Even dances in the same style, however, have subtle differences among them, in the ways the Oni, Shinto Deities, squat, turn, shake their heads or hold their sticks, and in the way the drums are beaten. No two dances are exactly alike.
Each movement has a specific meaning, and the dancers pay close attention to their hands and feet. More important than anything else, is that the Oni, Shinto Deities, synchronize their breathing with the drums. Their ability to contrast stillness and motion in the dance, and the exquisite timing of their pauses are the result of exposure to Ondeko since childhood. Practice and teaching sessions are orchestrated by senior members of the team, and invaluable to the continuation of this tradition.
The masks of the Oni, Shinto Deities, are filled with individuality, but you may notice that most of Sado’s Oni, Shinto Deities, do not have horns. History and tradition, handed down in each community, can be observed in the colors of the faces and hair. The costumes are rich in variety, too, such as ones with traditional patterns and ones with brilliant colors. It might be interesting to take note of the variations in Ondeko masks, costumes, drumming styles and dances, whenever you see it being performed.
In April, spring festivals are held in various parts of Sado Island. On April 15th especially, to mark the official start of Sado’s sightseeing season, festivals are celebrated in forty communities, and Ondeko troupes in those communities present “kadozuke.”※.
After the first dance is dedicated to the shrine early in the morning, or during the night in some communities, the groups travel from door to door to offer purification through dancing and drumming. At the houses where kadozuke is presented, families entertain the troupe by serving local fare and sake. Many people return home for these festivals, and it is a day when the whole community is lively and gay.
How about dropping in at a shrine if you happen to see festival banners? You may have a rare chance to see a live Ondeko performance. Walking around leisurely, following the Ondeko troupe is fun, too. You can experience the warm atmosphere of communities that have been looking forward to the festival. But don’t forget that Ondeko is a divine service dedicated to the gods. You are requested to practice good manners. Do not cross in front of the troupe performing kadozuke or trespass on private property.
※ “Kadozuke”: presenting the local Ondeko performance at the entrance of each house in the district. This act is considered to bring good luck, and at the houses where kadozuke is presented, a celebratory gift (usually money) is given to the troupe.