American musician takes part in kagura performance at autumn festival in Shimane Prefecture

by Teru Matsumoto, Staff Writer

An American drummer and composer performed kagura, the Shinto theatrical dance performance, at Kensuizan-Hachimangu shrine in Gotsu, Shimane Prefecture, on October 18. Billy Fox, 49, from New York took an interest in Japan in 2003 when he read a diary written by his late granduncle, who took part in the battle of Okinawa during the war. Through music, Mr. Fox is determined to serve as a bridge between Japan and the United States.

Mr. Fox began his music career in New York in 1999 and met many Japanese musicians. He said they became friends and played music together.

His granduncle Jack Hubert, who took part in the battle of Okinawa as a navy serviceman, died at the age of 76 in 2002. After his death, Mr. Fox read his diary, which was full of violent criticism toward the Japanese, who he regarded as the enemy. Mr. Fox was shocked that impressions of the same nation can be so different in different times.

He felt he should learn more about Japan and visited the country for the first time in April 2003. During that two-week stay, he became more familiar with Japanese history. After returning to the U.S., he formed a music group “The Kitsune Ensemble” (“The Fox Ensemble”), which is comprised of American and Japanese musicians. Mr. Fox said that his respect rose for the Japanese.

Mr. Fox came across kagura theatrical dance for the first time in 2008 through a blog written by his friend Jake Davis, 60, an English teacher living in the Tanijugo area of Gotsu. Mr. Fox was deeply impressed by the beautiful costumes and dance. Through Mr. Davis, he became acquainted with Tetsuya Migita, 39, the leader of the kagura group based in the area. Mr. Fox performed a kagura dance for the first time at the autumn festival in 2012. Since then he has been taking part in the local festival every year.

This year, he performed “Shio-harai” (“Purification with salt”) and received enthusiastic applause. He now plans to compose a piece with a kagura melody and also hopes to play his music in Okinawa one day.

(Originally published on October 20, 2014)