- Lion dance. Also shishi-odori, lion dance or deer dance. In Japan there are several versions of the 'Chinese lion' dance which is found throughout the far east, although sometimes in Japan the 'lion' masks have horns like deer (shika), and there is another Chinese character pronounced shishi which means beast, deer or wild boar, so shika-odori or shishi-odori both mean 'deer-dance'. Shishi-mai may also feature tigers (tora), as at the autumn festival of the Shirotori jinja, Kagawa on October 6—8, the hibuse matsuri of Osaki jinja, Miyagi on April 29th or the Uraga-no-tora-odori at the Tametomo jinja, Kanagawa, on the second Saturday in June. In some cases the animal may be the mythical kirin beast, who dances at the Kurata Hachiman-gu, Tottori, on April 15. A typical lion costume is green and white and occupied by one to three performers, the front one holding the wooden head, though the head of the shishi at the Kamuro jinja autumn festival in Kagawa is so large that it takes 5—6 men to carry it. Generally the shishi-mai is a dance to cast out or frighten away evil incursors and is therefore held especially at new year when a new start is made, and during the spring and summer to scare pests and wild animals (though not lions, since there have never been any in Japan) away from crops. In a modern derivative of this custom village men wearing lion-heads run from house to house scaring away evil spirits in return for a drink. At the natsu (summer) matsuri of the Iku-tama jinja in Osaka the shishi-mai involves 350 performers. Other noteworthy performances are on Aug 26 at the Mitsumine Jinja at the summit of Mt. Mitsumine, Saitama-ken, on April 17th during the Mai-age-sai (whirling-up festival) of the Ae-kuni jinja, Mie-ken, and at the annual festival of the Izumo Taisha on May 14th. There is a dance similar to the shishi-mai called the tatsu-gashira-mai (dragon's head dance). A dragon-dance of this kind called tatsu-ko is performed at the Nangu jinja, Gifu, at the shrine's annual festival on May 5th. In Ehime prefecture the 'shishi-odori' clearly means 'deer dance' and has a different character from lion dances. In a graceful ceremony dating from the seventeenth century a dance of eight deer (yatsushishi-odori) is performed at the Uwatsuhiko jinja, Uwajima-shi in Ehime on October 29 in which youths dressed as deer beat small drums (kodaiko) and dance as they search for female deer.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.