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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Individual Shrine Observances
§ Tokushu shinji
Rites that have a unique history at a shrine among the festivals celebrated at that shrine. Also referred to as time-honored, or traditional, festivals. They are performed according to unique festival liturgies, protocols, and rituals that are different from modern standardized shrine rites.
       The widespread use of the expression tokushu shinji ("distinctive rites") is due in large part to a national survey of such rites collected in the Kankokuheisha tokushu shinjichō (Investigation of Distinctive Shinto Rites at National Shrines, five volumes, 1941) published by the Jingiin. Kurabayashi Shōji states that though the survey itself began during the Taishō era, the investigation of distinctive rites flourished in every prefecture after its publication.
       In January, 1925, Miyaji Naokazu gave a lecture at a Ministry of Home Affairs' seminar for Shinto priests, entitled Tokushu shinji ni tsuite ("Concerning Distinctive Rites"). The written record of the lecture was published in two parts in sections six and seven of volume fourteen of the Ōyashima. In that lecture he said, "I think that the issue of "distinctive rites" is not 'what are they, who originally named them such or in what era they began'but that they are rites that have been handed down through traditional customs." However, the designation tokushu shinji is in polar opposition to the concept of generalized, ordinary Shinto rites. As Miyaji has indicated, "distinctive" does not fall into the category of ordinary festival rites. What he calls ordinary refer to the rites that were systematized following the Meiji Restoration. These were formulated by the Office of Ritual (Shikiburyō) in 1875, promulgated by the Meiji government and continued until 1914. The decree concerning shrine worship was promulgated to all shrines at or below the level of government-supported national shrines, minutely establishing kinds of worship, regulations about introducing new forms of worship, liturgies of worship and purification and of mourning. As a result, unified liturgies came to be used in shrines throughout Japan. In addition to these prescribed liturgies for shrine worship, however, there are rituals unique to each shrine. Tokushu shinji refers to these unique rites and to the worship that does not come from the worship code and liturgical regulations that are practiced in common at all shrines.
       Miyaji Naokazu identified the following distinguishing characteristics of tokushu shinji: 1) they are not generally practiced throughout the country, 2) they have a distinct affinity to a specific shrine and continues to be transmitted, 3) they may have been generally practiced but to which changes have been made and have thus become unique to a specific shrine, 4) in many examples, tokushu shinji constitute only one part of the overall ritual activity of a particular festival, and there are also numerous examples that had originally been private rites.
       He further indicated the significance of these observations in the following manner: 1) one is able to learn the nature and character of each shrine from its distinctive rites, 2) they can become concrete resources for determining the saijin (kami worshipped at the shrine) and its (their) lineage, 3) they indicate the reasons for the existence of a shrine and assist in understanding ujigami (ancestral/tutelary kami) beliefs, 4) the recognition of their distinctiveness becomes a source of pride for the shrines' worshippers.
       Miyaji's characterization shows the quality of these distinctive rites comprehensively. Classifying the content of tokushu shinji, they have their origins in the distant past, such as hunting and agricultural rites including rites for rice planting, called onda, onden, otaue, or taasobi; for the harvesting of ears of grain; for kayuura (rice gruel divination) and other distinctive rites whose purpose is to divine the year's harvest as abundant or poor; and others. In addition to these are many distinctive rites that have become shrine rites by incorporation from annual and extraordinary community observances, such as gosekku (a festival held five times a year), yabusame (horseback archery contests), kurabeuma (horse racing); and rites with Buddhist characteristics such as the goōin rite to ward off evil which came from the shujōe New Year's ritual assembly to pray for the protection of the emperor and the state, and the tsuina observance to drive out demons. A unique sub-group of rites such as shin'yo (sacred palanquins carried in procession), shinkōsai (festivals when kami travel from their shrines), otabisho (their temporary enshrinement locations) and the utterance of divine will are included among tokushu shinji. Because of their background in the general populace, many of these above rites have folk beliefs at their center. It is often the tokushu shinji part of festivals that draw the public's interest. Parenthetically, there are no rules concerning these distinctive rites in the festival ritual regulations of the Jinja honchō (National Association of Shrines).

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