Esplanade Presents


Sword Dance of Iwate

Iwasaki Onikenbai (Japan)

12 Apr 2024, Fri, 8.15pm & 9.45pm

13 Apr 2024, Sat, 7.15pm

Fri: 30mins
Sat: 45mins

(Intermission: None)

Esplanade Courtyard (12 Apr) and DBS Foundation Outdoor Theatre at Esplanade (13 Apr)

This event is over.


In the snowy northern prefecture of Iwate, the art of Oni Ken Bai brings graceful movements and flashing swords, to the sounds of Japanese drums and flutes.


Legend has it that it evolved from a prayer dance of En no Gyōja, who is the founder of Shugendo, a body of ascetic practices that fuses Japan’s indigenous mountain worship, Shintoism, and esoteric Buddhism. At first created to dispel evil spirits, this prayer dance later persisted in Iwate as a tradition that appeases the ancestral spirits of the once powerful clans in the region.


The word “oni” roughly translates to ogre, referring to the fierce-looking masks of the dancers. However, far from being malevolent beings, the masks are meant to depict Buddhist guardian deities known as myo-o or Wisdom Kings. Depending on the troupe, a ceremony can consist of up to 18 segments, each with its own flavour.


Some segments involve a strong element of prayer, while others exude a strong martial aspect, with a frenzy of drawn swords. While dancing, Buddhist chants are intoned and the practitioners move in a set of ritual dance steps, which is a vestige of the onmyōdō tradition of magic and metaphysics. With each trampling movement, negativity in the land is quelled, alongside prayers for peace, happiness and abundance.


To this end, the dancers must perform continuously and in a state of deep concentration, undistracted by stray thoughts and ego. They enter a heightened spiritual state, much like that witnessed in so many devotional dance forms around the world, a state sometimes described as being at one with the gods.


Today, the tradition of Oni Ken Bai endures in the city of Kitakami, and is practiced with pride by the townsfolk. It is performed at official ceremonies and festivals, and children are taught it in elementary and junior high school ensuring that the torch is carried on by the next generation.


Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the DBS Foundation Outdoor Theatre at Esplanade.

Language: Japanese
Things to Note:
Accessibility Advisory: We provide a range of access services and relaxed performances for patrons with access needs. For wheelchair-accessible seats, please call Esplanade Customer Experience at 6828 8377 for assistance. Concessions for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) and up to one accompanying companion are available. | View our accessibility guide
Date & Time

12 Apr 2024, Fri


Esplanade Courtyard


Esplanade Courtyard

13 Apr 2024, Sat


DBS Foundation Outdoor Theatre at Esplanade

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