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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Introduction: Rites and Festivals
Introduction: Rites and Festivals
This chapter deals with terminology relating to Shinto matsuri (ritual ceremonies and festivals). Interpretations of the etymology of the word matsuri state that it derives from the verb matsurau, which means to yield to, serve, or give submission to the might of a kami. Namely, through the visible rituals of matsuri, the kami increase their spirit-force, and humans enjoy the kami's power. One of the important constituents of rituals of worship is the presentation of food offerings or shinsen. The central rite of the imperial Daijōsai (The first Festival of Firstfruits-Tasting following enthronement) is the ritual communal meal shared by human and kami, and the ritual of "great food offerings" (ōmike) is likewise the central ceremonial observance at the Grand Shrines of Ise (Ise Jingū). The crucial role played in Shinto by this kind of ritual meal shared between humans and kami, or ritual meals of communion (naorai) is underlined by the diligent way in which they are carried out within the rites of the imperial household and the Ise Jingū.
       The Japanese people's love of festive matsuri is well known. The sense of the four seasons is well expressed by the festivals enjoyed in each of the four, beginning from the new year's festival or saitansai on January 1 to the rites of annual "passing over" (toshikoshi) observed on December 31, the annual cycle is marked by a prodigious number of ritual customs. Since ancient times, the Japanese people have participated in exciting festivals of the city and rites of harvest thanksgiving in the village, all transmitted since long ago, in this way receiving divine favor and reaffirming the communal spirit. Matsuri have also served in the role of social norms. Matsuri are an important ritual element in the understanding of Shinto and shrine worship. Sections include Ritual Typology, State Rites, Ise Jingū Rites, Shrine Rites, Unique Local Rites (tokushu shinji), Divine Amusements, Rites in Everyday Life, and Rites of the Southern Islands.
       The characteristics of ancient matsuri are gradually being uncovered through ongoing archaeological research. In particular, investigation of the Munakata shrines and the island Oki no Shima has produced highly important results for understanding the evolution of ritual observance from the fifth to the ninth centuries. As a result of an increasing number of excavations in recent years, it has become possible to infer the content of rituals from archaeological finds, leading to great hopes for future investigations. Comparative research on ritual in other parts of the world also continues to produce results in understanding the nature of Japanese matsuri.
       While founded upon agricultural society, Shinto ritual worship underwent systematic organization with the formation and evolution of the ancient state, and the ritual system of the ritsuryō nation (a system of government based on Chinese models of penal [ritsu] and civil [ryō] codes) came to completion .in the reigns of emperors Tenmu and Jitō (ca. late 7th century). While this system of ritsuryō ritual, including some additions made in the subsequent Heian period (794-1192), underwent decline through the medieval and early modern period, it was restored in the Meiji period and is transmitted in modern Shinto ritual. What was sought for in this restoration was the ancient ritsuryō ritual of the Heian-period as described in extant ritual treatises. This kind of state ritual is described for pre-modern times in articles dealing with court ritual, and for modern times in articles dealing with Meiji state ritual. In addition, national ritual is described here in separate sections dealing with ancient ritsuryō ritual and Meiji-period imperial household ritual. Since ancient times, rituals of the Ise Jingū have likewise possessed a deep connection with the imperial household and maintained a deeply official character. Other articles here describe the Jingu's observances of the twenty-year Regular Shrine Removal (Shikinen sengū), together with the annual rituals of Kannamesai and Tsukinamisai, and the unique daily rituals of morning and evening food offerings (higoto asayū ōmikesai).
       The section on Shrine Rites presents terminology of current shrine practice, while the articles in the section on Unique Local Rites (tokushu shinji) present a broad overview of observances from around the nation transmitted on the basis of each locality's unique traditions and legends. Such unique local rites demonstrate strong characteristics of each regional community, and some depict ritualizations of the founding events in the shrines' histories. Performing arts and food offerings at shrines also represent condensations of traditional culture and have become of greater importance in recent years; in conjunction with the issue of who will continue to bear the matsuri tradition, it seems certain that debate will increase over the way to preserve matsuri.
       The section on Rites in Daily Life presents articles dealing with Shinto celebrations closely linked to everyday Japanese life, introducing a broad range of information extending to the very margins of Shinto, including rites of passage from the first shrine visit of a newborn (hatsumiya mōde) to Shinto funerals (shinsōsai), from the first pilgrimage of the new year (hatsumōde) to a wide variety of vocational rites. The final section is on Rites of the Southern Islands. While not directly located within the category of Shinto matsuri, this is an area of study recognized from an early period by folklorists such as Yanigita Kunio and Orikuchi Shinobu, and it presents information valuable for understanding the primal forms and essence of Shinto cult and worship.

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