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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Rituals in Daily Life
§Life-cycle Rituals and Occupational Rituals
Generally, Japanese matsuri can be divided into events that are repeated in yearly cycles, and rites of passage that are conducted when an individual encounters changes in rank, status, or space. Rituals which are conducted to accompany the individual growth process and other life-cycle rituals, starting with prime examples such as Hatsumiyamōde and Shichigosan, are included in a certain narrow sense of "rites of passage." The annual observances which are conducted by the populace are for the most part based on the cycle of agricultural production. Accordingly, agricultural rituals, which are conducted in accordance with the main cultivation process of farm products, occupy a very important position among these annual observances. It is possible to divide agricultural rituals into paddy cultivation rituals (foremost rice), and field cultivation rituals which primarily concern barley, foxtail millet, and Japanese millet. Of the two, rice cultivation is the more important one. However, it is evident that among the annual observances, there are more than a few rituals such as mochinashi shōgatsu (New Year's celebration without the traditional rice cakes), the fifteenth night of the eighth month's imo meigetsu ("potato harvest moon"), mame meigetsu ("bean harvest moon") and others that have powerful field cultivation elements in them. The rituals for the year's rice production which precede the beginning of the farmwork consist of a performance mimicking the various processes of rice production along with prayers in anticipation of abundant crop. They begin with advance celebratory rituals like the ta asobi (rice-paddy-play) which are concentrated mainly on koshōgatsu (Little New Year's celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month). Then, at the start of the farmwork, the people greet the Tanokami, the kami of the rice paddy. At the times of seed sowing and rice planting, they hold seeding rituals and rice planting rituals. After the rice planting there are the mushi okuri prayers to drive out the harmful insects, and also the amagoi (rain prayers). In the fall, the Tōkanya ritual, in which thanks is given for the harvest and the Tanokami is sent off to the mountains, is performed. Some other rituals that form part of this cycle are the I no ko, Shimotsuki matsuri, and Ae no koto. Besides these agricultural rituals, there are rituals among the annual observances which concern various other occupations, such as hunting and fishing. There are also many other fixed cycles of annual observances besides the agricultural ritual cycle. For example, there are "moon waiting" (tsukimachi) and "sun waiting" (himachi), the former being based on the cyclical waxing and waning of the moon. There are also the observances of Hatsuuma, I no ko, or Kōshinkō which are based on the eto (the twelve animal signs of the Chinese zodiac). Among the annual observances conducted by the populace, several were not born from popular calendars based on regional seasonal sensibilities. These rituals were once only observed by the Imperial Court, but were subsequently adopted by the populace. For example, there are: Jinjitsu on the seventh day of the first month, Jōshi on the third day of the third month, Tango on the fifth day of the fifth month, Tanabata on the seventh day of the seventh month. All of these were once just seasonal observances of the court but which later spread among the populace in such forms as the Doll Festival (Hinamatsuri), Boy's Day (Tango no sekku), and the Star Festival (Tanabata). In addition, of the court's two ōharae (great purifications) conducted in the sixth month and the twelfth month, only the purification of the sixth month, the Nagoshi harae, was adopted by the populace. Along with the Chi no wa kuguri (passing through a large ring made out of kaya reed) it was given the meaning of warding off disasters. Not only the rituals that were influenced by court observances, but folk observances in general display a multilayered structure. For example, April 8 is for Buddhists Shakyamuni's birthday, so they conduct a Dharma assembly which is either called Buddha's Anointment Assembly (Kanbutsu-e) or Flower Festival (Hana matsuri). However, besides this Buddhist event, there is a tradition which makes this day "Mountain Opening Day" (yamabiraki no hi). This is the festival day when the mountain kami (yamanokami) descends from the mountains and comes to the village. As is evident from this case, one holiday can contain various elements complexly intertwined. With the advance of modernization and urbanization, there has also been a general tendency for popular observances to diminish in importance. However, life-cycle rituals such as Shichigosan, on the contrary, have tended to become more elaborate and elegant. Still, overall, because the power of regional communities has weakened as they have progressed through the modern period, observances that serve to confirm membership in the community have also weakened. As a final note, there exist various theories concerning the relationship between the particular folk observances transmitted in the Ryūkyūs and the ancient forms of Japanese ritual.

— Iwai Hiroshi
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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