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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Types of Rituals
Meiji Kokka Saishi: State Rites of the Meiji Period
This system of state rites followed the tradition of state rituals as practiced in the era of the ritsuryō legal code of the seventh to ninth centuries and the imperial court polity of the tenth to twelfth centuries, revived and reorganized during the Meiji Restoration and early years of the Meiji state. In legal terms, it can be noted that the state ceremonial of the Meiji period constituted a group of state rites and rituals of the imperial family that was introduced through imperial decree under the Imperial Household Law (Kōshitsutenpan). The state rites of this time can be divided into three main categories: customary rites, funeral rites, and enthronement rites.
       The annual customary rites of the imperial household were mainly performed using the Kyūchū Sanden (the Inner Sanctuary located in the imperial palace consisting of three main shrine structures), the Shinkaden Hall, the Ise shrine (Jingū), and the imperial tombs as ritual space (saijō). The Kyūchū Sanden was initially constructed as part of the reorganization of state rites during the early Meiji period. In 1869, the Department of Divinity (Jingikan) was revived through an imperial decree. In the departments shrine, the hasshin (a group of eight creative deities), the deities of heaven and earth (tenjin chigi), and the imperial ancestors were worshiped. However, starting with the transfer of the imperial ancestors in 1871, and then that of the hasshin and the deities of heaven and earth in the following year, the deities were moved to a sanctuary inside the imperial palace. Thus, a system in which the emperor worshiped the imperial ancestors and deities of heaven and earth within the imperial palace was inaugurated. The basis of this system was provided by the principle of dōshō kyōden, which stipulated that the worship of the imperial ancestral deities at the imperial palace was to form the core of rituals performed by the emperor. Construction of the current Kyūchū Sanden complex was completed in 1889 along with the imperial palace in Tokyo. The center of the complex was formed by a shrine called Kashikodokoro (Imperial Sanctuary), in which the imperial ancestral deity Amaterasu Ōkami was worshiped. Its western part housed the Kōreiden, where the spirits of the historical emperors, the empresses, the imperial parents, and the so-called tsuison tennō (those who had been posthumously elevated to the status of Tenno) were enshrined. The eastern part of the complex housed the Shinden, the hall in which the deities of heaven and earth were worshiped. The Shinkaden, in which the Niinamesai ritual was performed, was also located in the immediate vicinity, and all structures were connected with galleries.
       The customary rituals performed at the Kyūchū Sanden and Shinkaden were determined in the "Regulations Concerning Imperial Household Rites" promulgated in 1908. Based on this decree, the taisai (large-scale rites – rites in which the emperor leads the imperial family and bureaucrats in worship) consisted of the Genshisai ceremony, commemorating the beginning of the imperial line (January 3, at the Sanden), the Kigensetsu ceremony commemorating the accession of emperor Jinmu (February 11, at the Sanden), the spring Kōreisai collectively commemorating all imperial ancestors (on the day of the spring equinox, at the Kōreiden), the spring Shindensai (on the day of the spring equinox, at the Shinden), the Jinmu Tennōsai commemorating the passing away of emperor Jinmu (April 3, at the Kōreiden), the autumn Kōreisai (on the day of the autumn equinox, at the Kōreiden), the autumn Shindensai (on the day of the autumn equinox, at the Shinden), the Kannamesai (the First Fruits Festival on October 17), the Niinamesai (the Harvest Festival on November 23 and 24, at the Shinkaden), the Senteisai memorial ceremony (at the Kōreiden on the anniversary of the passing away of the previous emperor), a memorial ceremony (shikinensai) for the spirits of the three imperial ancestors preceding the last emperor (performed at the Kōreiden on the respective anniversaries of their passing away), a memorial service for the preceding empress (performed at the Kōreiden on the anniversary of her passing away), and a memorial service for the emperor's deceased mother (performed at the Kōreiden on the anniversary of her passing away). The shōsai (small-scale rites – conducted by the imperial head priest with the emperor leading the imperial family and palace bureaucrats in worship) included the Saitansai ceremony celebrating the new year (January 1), the Kinensai ceremony in which the emperor asked for a bountiful harvest (February 17, at the Shinden), the Meijisetsu ceremony in honor of the birthday of the Meiji Emperor (November 3, at the Sanden; this ceremony was introduced only in 1927), the Kagura (a performance of classical ceremonial music and dance in honor of the deities) at the Kashikodokoro called kashikodokoro mikagura (mid-December), the Tenchōsetsu ceremony on the occasion of the reigning emperor's birthday (at the Sanden), an annual memorial ceremony for the three emperors preceding the last one (performed at the Kōreiden on the anniversaries of their passing away), an annual memorial ceremony for the previous empress (performed at the Kōreiden on the anniversary of her passing away), an annual memorial ceremony for the reigning emperor's deceased mother (performed on the anniversary of her passing away), and a memorial service performed collectively for the emperors from emperor Suizei up to the emperor five generations ago.
       The annual rites of the imperial household mentioned above permeated the lives of the people through a system of holidays and festivals based on the days of imperial household rites (shukusaijitsu seido). The holidays of modern Japan originated in a proclamation made by the Council of State (Daijōkan) in 1873, fixing the number of annual holidays at eight. This was part of the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. In particular, the New Year, Kigensetsu, and Tenchōsetsu were turned into the three main annual festivities. In 1927, the Meijisetsu was added to these and the number of main annual festivities increased to four. All schools throughout the country and a wide variety of groups conducted ceremonies and events on the occasion of these holidays. Within the shrine system, it was planned to create a link between the rites of the imperial household and the popular festivities and worship at Shinto shrines, and the practice of making Shinto offerings of shinsen (food offerings) and heihaku (offerings of ritual paper or cloth strips attached to a stick). In particular the festivities on New Year and the Niinamesai were to provide such a link.
       The imperial funeral rites were regulated by the "Rescript on Imperial Funeral Ceremonial" of 1926 and its addendums. It was stipulated that the remains of the emperor were to be interred in the imperial mausoleum after they had been laid to rest in the imperial coffin, moved to the temporary imperial mortuary and following the proclamation of the posthumous title and the performance of the Shinto funeral ceremony (Rensō no Gi) at the temporary funeral hall. Further regulations held that the spirit of the deceased emperor was to be worshipped at a temporary shrine building called gonden, located on the grounds of the imperial palace until the first anniversary of his passing away, and that after the end of the mourning period the spirit of the emperor was to be transferred to the Kōreiden, where it would be enshrined alongside the other imperial spirits.
       The enthronement rituals accompanying the succession of an emperor were determined by the "Regulations Governing Accession to the Throne" (tōkyokurei) of 1909 and its addendums. During the process of accession, the new emperor inherited the sword and jewel regalia – two of the three emblems of imperial status – in a ceremony referred to as Kenji Togyo no Gi. He then proceeded to proclaim this at the Kyūchū Sanden, changed the era name, and designated the sacred rice paddy (saiden) in which the rice plants for the Daijōsai ceremony (the first Niinamesai performed by the new emperor and a crucial part of the process of accession) are grown. In the following year, he proclaimed his accession at the central audience hall of the imperial palace in a ceremony called sokuishiki, conducted the Daijōsai accession ceremony at a temporarily erected ritual structure referred to as Daijōkyū, and staged a celebratory banquet. Finally, he visited the Ise shrine and the tombs of Emperor Jinmu and the preceding four emperors. Both, the imperial funeral rites and rites of enthronement were conducted under wide-ranging popular participation, and possessed a great significance for renewing social unity in modern Japan. Further ceremonies of the imperial household were regulated by numerous other edicts including the Regulations Concerning Imperial Ceremonial (kōshitsugiseirei), the Regulations Governing Inclusion in the Imperial Lineage and Imperial Weddings (kōshitsushinzokurei), the Rescript on the Imperial Coming of Age Ceremony (kōshitsuseinenshikirei), and the Rescript on the Investiture Ceremony of the Crown Prince (ritchorei).
       In 1947, the complete body of imperial decrees that had introduced the Meiji state ceremonial was nullified and the pre-war holidays were either reformed or abolished under the "Law Concerning National Holidays". However, the current imperial ceremonial basically follows in the footsteps of the pre-war tradition, and the current holidays – although having undergone a change of name (e.g. the Niinamesai became Labor Thanksgiving Day; the Meijisetsu became Culture Day) – continue the tradition of the pre-war holidays. While adjustment to the constitutional principle of separation of religion and state was necessary in relation to the imperial ceremonial during the post-war period, the funeral rites for the Showa Emperor and the enthronement rites of the current emperor during the transition from the Showa to the Heisei period were largely conducted following the old regulations laid out in the Regulations Governing Accession to the Throne and the Rescript on Imperial Funeral Ceremonial.

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