From the Heian period to the Muromachi period, an important kind of courtesans who called "shira-byoshi, or, shira-byousi " played an active part in Japanese culture.

They dressed like young men (white thin jacket "suikan" with red or white long slacks "hakama " ; we can see these slacks dressed by the shrine-maiden at present, please see my photographs-page "Mystic Beautiful Shrine-Maiden "), and danced( mai ) and sang( utai ). People enjoyed their elegant figures. Some of them became the mistresses of the Emperors or the high class men.

Afterward, the arts ( sacred entertainment, dancing and singing) of "shira-byoushi-girls" made one important source flowing to "Noh-performances". OTOZULU-Gozen, one important female instructor of KAN-AMI ( ZEAMI's father), was formerly a "shira-byoshi shrine-maiden" belonged to the big shrine KASUGA-Taisha (located in Nara-City, we can see this shrine at present). She was one of masters of the arts of "shira-byoshi ".

The great genius KAN-AMI introduced interesting elements of these arts (mainly rythm and melody) into his performances. Then his team ( include a pretty boy ZEAMI ) became popular among the people. The top man, shogun, YOSHIMITSU was pleased with the arts of his team, soon became their big sponsor in Muromachi court.

( remaked at 25.Dec.2001 at Tokyo Japan )

Mystic Beautiful Shrine-Maiden


Jomon civilization (Ancient Japan 5500 years ago )




Written by SHIGEZAWA

Notes :

The costume of this picture is one of the styles that "shira-byosi"took off a set of "suikan".

She wear "chihaya"on her head. "Chihaya"is one of the clothes for dance, that was transformed from "suikan".

"Chihaya" is mainly worn by shrine-maiden.

Mystic Beautiful Shrine-Maiden

The sacred dancing girls "shira-byoshi" sang mainly the tales of ancient myths or Buddhism myths and the histories of the temples or shrines. These tales were made to be easy to understand for the people (not for the priests or the scholars), and sometimes sang the songs of love and nature. The girls sang these songs with pretty voices, and a flute (hue) and a little hand drum (tsuzumi) accompanied.

They were the successors that had been flowed from the current of ancient shrine maiden, appeared as the images of pretty goddess Amenouzume ( means the spiral phenomena of galaxy )in myth Koziki, or Vajra-nrtya ( a goddess as a dancing courtesan, a mistress of Amogha-siddhi ), or Vajra-gita (a goddess as singing courtesan, a mistress of Amitabha ) in Vajra-dhatu-mandara in Tantra-Buddhism or Vajra-yana.

The most famous beautiful shira-byoshi-girl was "SHIZUKA-Gozen " who was a sweetheart of the famous hero "Minamotono-YOSHITSUNE", and he loved her very well. Her name "SHIZUKA" means "silence" that is one of important words in our Japanese mind, created in"plant- feeling". Her dance was very mystique and elegant like a flower stiring in a soft breeze, and she sang like a pretty bird in the myths. So "Heaven" was pleased with her dance and voice, then blessed a rain at the long spell of dry weather. ... She was the top of sacred dancing girls in our Japanese history.

The legends of this couple,SHIZUKA and YOSHITSUNE, provided a lot of literatures with nice materials later ( of course, now too, in the comics, novels, or movies...etc. ). Japanese people, especialy women, like her pretty image.


All Photographs and Contexts (C) Masato SHIGEZAWA 1996-2021