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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Types of Rituals
Kōrei saishi
A group of rites of ancestor worship directed at the spirits of former emperors and members of the imperial family. The rites that form part of the kōrei saishi are performed by the imperial family at imperial mausoleums and the Kōreiden (Hall of Imperial Ancestral Spirits), one of the Three Sacred Halls (kyūchū sanden) located at the imperial palace.Its basis is formed by the observances performed at the imperial tombs (sanryō saishi; see the entry for ryōbo) and the Imperial Mausoleum Code of ancient Japan, but the term kōrei saishi ("veneration of the imperial spirits") generally indicates the modern form of ancestor veneration of the imperial family performed at the Hall of Imperial Ancestral Spirits in the Imperial Palace. The following explains the modern form of observances related to imperial spirits rituals.
       Following the decline of the imperial court polity in the late twelfth century, the Imperial Mausoleums were abolished and fell into disrepair. Furthermore, the funeral procedures and ancestor worship of the imperial family came to be conducted more and more according to Buddhist ritual, as can be seen in the imperial funeral rites performed at the temple Sennyūji and the veneration of the imperial spirits performed in the Okurodo, a private Buddhist chapel of the imperial family located on the grounds of the Imperial Palace. However, following the development of research in classic works such as the Kojiki, Nihongi and the Engi Shiki and the flourishing of revivalist ideologies during the early modern period, there was increased interest in the recovery of imperial mausoleums and the formation of a corresponding set of rites to be performed at the imperial ancestral tombs. Thus, in 1862, in the last days of the Tokugawa shogunate, under the increasing influence of imperial authority, a project to restore the imperial tombs was begun as a joint undertaking of the shogunal and imperial institutions. The premier project was the repair of the imperial tomb of emperor Jinmu (see under Kamuyamatoiwarebiko), who is thought of as the first emperor of Japan. With the construction and operation of the mausoleum of the prior Emperor Kōmei in 1867, the project was complete. Although the location of a number of imperial tombs remained undetermined, at the eve of the Meiji Restoration, the tombs of the successive emperors from ancient to recent times had been restored.
       With the coming of the Restoration, and in concordance with the restoration of the imperial tombs during the late Tokugawa period, "Abodes of the Imperial Spirits" (mi-tamaya) for the spirits of the past emperors were established in the imperial palace. Specifically, together with the designation in 1869 of Tokyo as the capital, the "imperial spirits," the spirits of past emperors, were enshrined in the revived Department of Divinities (Jingikan). In September of 1871, the "imperial spirits" were relocated to the Kōreiden of the Kashikodokoro (Imperial Sanctuary) on the grounds of the imperial palace. At that time, too, the Shiji saiten teisoku (Annual Rites Regulations), which determined the rituals and ceremonies carried out at the Kōreiden and the Kashikodokoro were enacted. Thus began the system under which the emperor himself performed the rituals honoring the imperial ancestral deity (Niiname sai, Kanname sai) and the Rituals of Imperial Spirits (Jinmu tennō sai, Sentei sai, Rekidai tennōshikinen sai, and others) at the imperial palace. In addition, as an ulterior aspect of this process, the separation of Shinto deities and buddhas (shinbutsu bunri) was carried out as exemplified by the relocation of the Okurodo to a location outside the imperial grounds, and Buddhist elements were eradicated throughout the imperial palace. Thus, the foundation for the modern rites of worship for imperial spirits and imperial ancestors came into being alongside the reorganization of state rites in 1871.
       With the adoption of the solar calendar in 1873, the Ritual of the Beginning of Imperial Reign (Kigensetsu matsuri) (February 11) was added to the kōrei saishi, and in 1877 the spirits of the successive generations of empresses and her relatives were also enshrined with the other imperial spirits. The following year (1878), the Spring and Autumn Imperial Rituals (Shunki kōreisai and Shūki kōreisai) honoring the combined imperial spirits were set on the Vernal Equinox Day and the Autumnal Equinox Day respectively. In 1889, the Imperial Spirits were relocated to the newly completed Three Halls (kyūchū sanden), together with the celestial and country spirits (tenjin chigi) of the Kashikodokoro.
       The kōrei saishi were legislated under the Imperial House Law (kōshitsu tenpan) as the "Prescriptions of the Imperial House Rituals" (article one of the imperial house laws (kōshitsurei)) of 1908. Among the "Major Rites" (tai sai) (rites in which the emperor himself takes the place of the officiant priest and leads the imperial family and bureaucrats in worship) are the Spring and Autumn services for the Imperial Spirits (the Kōreisai on the Vernal Equinox Day and Autumnal Equinox Day), the Emperor Jinmu memorial service (Jinmutennō sai), the Festival of Prior Emperors (Sentei sai), the periodic celebrations for the three generations of deceased emperors preceding the last deceased emperor (the ritual years in which the service is performed are on the third, fifth, tenth, twentieth, thirtieth, fortieth, fiftieth, on-hundredth year, and afterwards every one hundred years), and the periodic memorial service for the prior empress and other late empresses. Among the "Minor Rites" (shōsai - administered by the Head of Staff of the Department of Rituals, and attended by the emperor accompanied by the extended imperial family and government figures) were the periodic memorial service for the three generations of deceased emperors preceding the last deceased emperor, the periodic memorial service for the prior empress and other late empresses, and the periodic memorial service for the emperors since Suizei Emperor until the fourth generation before the prior emperor.
       The above rites performed on the palace grounds formed part of the body of imperial ancestral rites (kōrei saishi), and were carried out in close connection to the imperial tombs. That is to say, on the same day as the annual Emperor Jinmu memorial service, the service for the preceding emperor, the periodic celebrations for the three generations of deceased emperors preceding the last deceased emperor, the memorial service for the prior empress, and the service for the deceased empresses, an imperial messenger (chokushi) went to the corresponding imperial tomb and made offerings. Further, on the occasion of particularly important instances of the Emperor Jinmu memorial service (as in the case of periodic services for other emperors certain ritual years were considered to be of particular importance; also see above) and periodic services for the prior emperor, the emperor himself traveled to the corresponding imperial tomb and made offerings. In case of the passing away of an emperor or member of the imperial family, the spirit is transferred to the Kōreiden and enshrined there in a ceremony called Rite of Relocating the Spirit Vessel (mitamashiro hōsen no gi) after the first anniversary of the passing away.
       The Ordinance of Imperial House Rites (kōshitsu saishi rei) was abolished in 1947. However, the Imperial House Rituals are performed even now following the old prescriptions and the many rituals for the imperial spirits forming the kōrei saishi, too, as ancestor worship of the imperial household, are performed in the old manner.

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