A terrible tsunami struck the Sanriku region during the Ansei era (1855–1860) , followed further by crop failure, causing enormous damage. Yamabushi (mountain priests) who lived on Mt. Haguro in Yamagata Prefecture arrived in the region to offer prayers, bringing a shishigashira (wild animal headpiece) – a symbol of the fierce spirit of the gods – as a host for the gods, carrying it to the region on their back inside a sacred box.
Locals of the time, who had suffered from the tsunami and poor harvest, brought the shishigashira out and danced in a spontaneous fashion. However, it remains unknown when the current dance style began.
The present-day shishimai is a valorous dance like no other, with bold vertical motions, side-to-side leaps and a biting action using the headpiece’s mouth.