Having received an order from the Emperor, an Imperial Envoy and his Retainers are on a pilgrimage to the Grand Shrine of Ise (present-day Mie Prefecture). As they reach the shrine, they meet a Priest and a Priestess. After praising the shrine and its deities, the Priest and Priestess explain the importance of honesty and sincerity. Then, in response to the Envoy’s request, the Priest and Priestess perform a purification ritual called “norito”, praying for the peace and prosperity of the land. Furthermore, after praising the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, worshipped at Ise Shrine, they extol the virtues of loyalty and respect between lord and subject, parent and child, and between friends.
Moved by these words, the Envoy asks the Priestess to perform the sacred Kagura dance. After the dance, the Priest reappears with a different attire and dances the magnificent Shishimai lion dance, followed by another short dance by the Priestess. As dawn breaks, the sun rises in the Eastern sky. Irradiated by the bright morning light, the Ise Grand Shrine is a symbol of a prosperous and peaceful year.
The highlights of this play are the “norito” prayer in the first act, and the three dances (Kagura, Shishimai, and Ha no mai) in the second act. The action takes place at the Ise Grand Shrine, where the Sun Goddess Amaterasu is worshipped in the “inner shrine” and the Goddess of Agriculture Toyouke in the “outer shrine”. The combination of the characters for inner (“uchi”) and outer (“to”) give the name to the play.
At the core of the play are the dances performed by the Priest and by the Priestess. Kagura is inspired by the kind of sacred dance performed during shintō rituals. During the Kagura, the Priestess holds a wand with white paper strips and stamps her feet to the rhythm. The Shishimai, or “lion dance”, represents the frolicking of lions, companions to the Bodhisattva Manjusri. The Shishimai begins with a slow introductory music, but it soon turns into a fast-pace and dynamic dance.
This play was written in the Edo period by the leader of the Kongō school, Kongō Matabee Katsunaga (also known as Nagayori). Katsunaga was famous for being particularly agile, a characteristic that earned him the nickname “fast-footed Matabee”. The Kongō school is known for its unique dance style, and Katsunaga seems have well represented the school’s reputation by creating a play so rich in dances. The play was previously known with the title “Sangū”: it was renamed “Uchito mōde” in the Meiji period. This play is only found in repertory of the Kongō school.