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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Types of Rituals
Saikai
The term sai refers to a state that transcends the ordinary. The term kai refers to the taboos (kinki) and regulations that have to be kept in relation to sai, as well as the state in which these taboos and regulations are adhered to. The compound saikai indicates a condition in which kai is being followed at the time of sai. Saikai is expected to be strictly observed particularly in a ritual context. In other words, sins (tsumi) and pollutions (kegare) are to be eliminated, uncleanliness should be avoided and kai be prudently followed in the context of sacred time and space, while actively attempting to engage in communication and unification with kami. This is the basic structure of rituals. This term is already seen in the Chinese classical work Raiki. The Japanese adapted this term to express the Japanese concept monoimi. Later, under the influence of Buddhism, terms such as shōjin and shōjin kessai, signifying spiritual purification, also came to be used to express the idea of saikai. In Nihon shoki, there is a passage that reads "worship various gods by practicing saikai" (in the account dealing with the period prior to Emperor Jinmu's enthronement). Later accounts (Sujinki, Ingyōki) employ the term "purification by taking a bath" (mokuyoku saikai). Thus, it is evident that saikai refers to ritual etiquette.
       The earliest form of saikai in terms of formalization and its fundamental characteristic can be seen in the regulations found in the Taihō Jingiryō of the 8th century. The importance of these regulations lies in the fact that they would form the basis for regulations of later times. In the Jingiryō regulations, saikai is divided into two categories, araimi and maimi. These categories are further divided into sub-divisions, and these sub-divisions, their length and content corresponds to the division of rituals into large-, medium-, and small-scale rites. In regard to the length of saikai, in the case of large-scale rituals (taishi) the saikai period is one month, in the case of medium-scale rituals (chūshi) it is three days, and for small-scale rituals (shōshi) it is one day. For example, for the only taishi, senso daijōsai (a festival at the time of enthronement of an emperor), araimi lasted for one month and maimi lasted for three days. In this case, maimi is included in araimi. The characteristic of this saikai is that it is actually structured in three separate stages; maeimi, maimi, and atoimi.
       The araimi type of saikai was based on the "six types of taboo" (rokujiki no kinki). These taboos were: mourning, inquiries about illness, eating animal meat, handing out the death penalty and prosecuting criminals, playing music, and engaging in impure activities. Those found in violation of these regulations were punished. Maimi is regarded as the highest form of ritual abstinence during the phase of single-minded dedication to the ritual, while atoimi signifies a stage in which ritual abstinence is slowly phased out. This saikai system is based on the ancient concept and custom of practicing abstinence (monoimi). In its organizational aspects, however, it was modeled on the rites of the Tang state. Where the Japanese system deviated from the Tang model was in that it prohibited the consumption of certain types of meat and also introduced the category of atoimi.
       In this way, the length and concrete form of abstinence is indicated for saikai, but the degree and content for saikai differs based on the specific relationship to a ritual. For example, the saiō (a member of the imperial household who carries out ritual functions in place of the emperor) at the Grand Shrines of Ise spent approximately three years of saikai life at the Shosaiin located inside the imperial palace and the Nonomiya in Kyoto, before moving on to the saigū (the residence of the saiō at Ise) where he continued to live under the saikai conditions while serving Amaterasu. Also, at Miho Jinja a system in which an on-duty Shinto priest (kannnushi) practices saikai for two years before carrying out the duties of a priest for one year during the third year has been continued until today. Among other types of priests who were required to maintain constant ritual purity were the ōmonoimi of Ise Jingū, the itsukiko of Matsuo Taisha, itsukiwarabe of Sumiyoshi Taisha, the monoimi of Kagoshima Jingū, and the shōjin gashira and imiko of Kamowakeikazuchi Jinja. At present, however, there are no such occupational requirements for supplicants and ritual purity is only observed on the day of a ritual. Today, under the Association of Shinto Shrines, there are saikai regulations for the priesthood (shinshoku). On the local level, as well, there exist a number of taboos in the form of customs regarding the clothing, sexual activity, and food of supplicants. However, these customs have undergone various transformations throughout.
       In some cases, not only those who are directly involved in the ritual practice saikai, but also the community that organizes the ritual observes saikai and monoimi as a whole. "Igomorisai" is still practiced in some areas such as Tosa Jinja in Kōchi-shi, Wakidenomiya, Hōsono Shrine in Sōraku-gun, and Hioka Shrine in Kakogawa-shi, Kyoto. Overall, however, such practices or monoimi customs or rituals are in decline.
       Depending on the time and locale, there has been variation in regard to the taboos related to saikai. Six types of taboos (rokujiki no kinki) were discussed earlier. During the ancient period, there were taboos in place regarding the presence of Buddhist monks, nuns or Buddhist related terminology and practice at important state rituals. However, in actual fact, the relationship between the buddhas and the kami was a very close one. Prohibitions regarding the consumption of meat were also not consistent. Nevertheless, less aggressive forms of practice, such as use of separate fire for cooking (bekka) and avoidance of impurity – such as death or blood – have remained to be regarded as important.

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