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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Individual Shrine Observances
Rice planting festivals. Centered upon shrines in the Kinki, Tōkai, Izumo, Kita Kyūshū, Minami Kyūshū and the Wakasa regions, ta asobi traditions are widely practiced. At present, there are approximately three hundred fifty places where the tradition is recognized. Largely referred to as otaue matsuri, the varieties of names for these rites are numerous, with ta asobi common in the Tōkai region, and onda common to the Kinki and Izumo regions. There are many other variants as well. The ritualization of the processes of rice cultivation has continued since ancient times. Of the various particular rituals that take place at shrines, these are the most highly emphasized. The majority of otaue shinji (planting rituals) occur in early spring in anticipation of a bountiful harvest, but there are also some examples of the ritual occurring at planting (taue) and harvest times.
       On the first Sunday in February, an onda occurs at Asukaniimasu Jinja in Asuka Village, Takaichi County, Nara Prefecture. There is a ritualized rice planting that begins at two in the afternoon at the haiden after which a tengu (a long-nosed goblin) and otafuku (a somewhat homely woman) appear and embrace each other. Taking home the "good luck paper" (fuku no kami) that is used during the ritual is said to bless a house with children.
       On March 15, at Hikosan Jingū in Soeda City, Tagawa County, Fukuoka Prefecture, young women (yaotome, synonymous with saotome, planting women) don garb worn during rice planting like tekkō (wrist coverings) and kyahan (gaiters) and perform a planting dance in which they re-enact the various processes of rice planting — ground breaking, footpath cutting, the plastering of the path, plowing, and the planting of seeds. Another woman, dressed up as though she were pregnant, places a wooden bucket with lunch in it on her head, and appears following the other young women. This is called the onda matsuri. The spectators then gather the rice seeds that have been scattered during the ritual, take them home, mix them with their seeds and sow them.
       At the kodekisai, held at Mutsugata Jinja in Kawanishi Village, Shiki County, Nara Prefecture on February 14, participants re-enact the actual birth of a child. Beginning in the evening, the villagers mime fertilizing the area in front of the haiden with camellia leaves, plowing the field with a hoe, trapping snails, planting, and weeding. After this has taken place, a young man, dressed as a pregnant woman who is bringing lunch to the field workers, places a wooden bucket filled with unhulled rice on his head, goes through the gestures of delivering the food, and then circles the haiden once. After a series of questions and answers with a negi (suppliant priest), he pantomimes giving birth. The "child" is a small drum, which the negi then holds aloft, and cries, "Bon dekita. Bon dekita." ("It's a boy! It's a boy!") The negi then beats the drum and the young man sings a planting song and scatters rice. At the end, people pray for a bountiful harvest by distributing branches of camellias and planting them upright at the water source for the fields.
       A rice planting ritual said to date from the Heian period, held at the Kawazumyōjin Shrine in Shimizu Town, Arida County, Wakayama Prefecture every other year on February 11. Originally, it was held on the sixth day of the first month of the lunar calendar. In addition to the ritual, there are also the "twenty-fifth ondamai" ("twenty-fifth planting dance") and the "Nude Seedling Planting" (hadaka naeoshi) a vigorous dance performed by naked young people.
       On the morning of February 6, there is an onda matsuri held at Ōmiwa Jinja in Miwa Town, Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture. Tree trunks resembling oxen are manipulated in front of the haiden to act out everything from the initial plowing of the fields to harvesting the crop, after which the performers scatter good luck seeds (fuku no tane).
       On the fourteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar, an onda matsuri is held at Niutsuhime Jinja in Katsuragi Town, Ito County, Wakayama Prefecture. In the festival, field workers wearing okina masks, shouldering hoes, and carrying "good luck canes" (fuku tsue), along with ox herders wearing formal court robes (suō) and hats (hokake eboshi) and carrying chests of sacred rice on their shoulders, enter and begin the ritual by removing bunches of nusa from the chests and then scattering rice. This is called jihajime no gi. The field laborers work on the footpaths while the ox herders follow the oxen and till the soil. The saotome (field planting women) then appear and the ox drivers ridicule their looks while the field laborers flatter them. After this, people scatter good luck seeds (fuku no tane) and a bird chase occurs. At this point, a food server appears (hirumamochi) wearing a tazume (young woman) mask and serves a mouthful of rice to each person. After this, the saotome, one after another, face the shrine and go through the motions of planting in individual onda. At the end, they hold steamed rice cakes (mochi) and bundles of straw, pantomime cutting the rice, and offer rice plants while delivering an oral offering as well.
       On January 7 at Mishima Taisha in Mishima City, Shizuoka Prefecture, a tamatsuri occurs. Two men, one dressed as "Honaga" in a white (old man, but relatively younger than an okina) mask, katagoromo with wide mouthed formal trousers, the other dressed as "Fukutarō" in similar clothing but with a black mask face each other in the dancing pavilion (maiden) of the shrine and exchange a series of questions and answers while miming the plowing of a field, opening the water gates, inspecting the rice seedlings, chasing birds, and weathering squalls. Although called "otauchi," the ritualized gestures of rice cultivation used in this festival are substantially the same as those in other otaue matsuri. In the past, this ritual was famous for the various ways worshipers would don disguises related to rice.
       Aside from the names otaue matsuri, onda, and ta asobi, there are some festivals with unusual names such as the gaungaun matsuri of the Kyūshū region, which is an otaue matsuri enacted by "Tarō" and "Jirō" at Fukada Jinja in Kushigino City, Kagoshima Prefecture on the second day of the second month of the lunar calendar. Another such festival is the tarōtarō matsuri, which takes place in the same city on the fourth day of the second month of the lunar calendar at Hashimazaki Jinja Shrine. This otaue matsuri is for a rich harvest and plentiful catch from the sea.
       In the tarōtarō matsuri, a master and his servant, both named Tarō appear pulling an "ox" (a masked individual) to till the fields. The ox, however, acts up and, because the tilling cannot properly take place, this is also known as the "Putting the Ox Out" event. Five-year-old boys from local farmhouses then appear holding shoots and enact a rice planting. A festival for the kami of the field (Tanokamisama), young boys from fishing houses also perform the sacred procession (shinkō) by carrying wooden models of boats. This ritual is to celebrate their fifth year and is also considered a "sailing forth" ritual. A ritual praying for a bountiful catch also occurs.
       There are relatively few otaue matsuri in the Kantō region. There are two otaue matsuri held in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture. The first is held at Chichibu Jinja on April 4. The second otaue matsuri is held at Muku Jinja on March 3. There is another otaue matsuri, which includes a ritual rice planting and children's parade, held on the second Sunday of February, at Kōzaki Jinja in Kōzaki Town, Katori County, Chiba Prefecture.
        Otaue matsuri, onda, and ta asobi have been interpreted as primarily being celebrations in anticipation of early spring. There are, however, examples that fall outside this definition. There is an otaue matsuri held on May 4 at Nangū Taisha in Tarui Town, Fuwa County, Gifu Prefecture. Twenty-one little girls from the ages of five through eight, all wearing formal crested kimono (montzuki) with tasuki (a cord or sash used to tuck up the sleeves), represent the saotome. Two more little girls, wearing crested kimono and hakama (formal pleated trousers), are given farming tools, a hoe and an eburi (a type of long hoe). The four hayashi musicians in crested kimono and hakama (two taiko, a tsuzumi, and a flute), perform as sacred bamboo is planted in the keidai (shrine grounds) in front of the shaden and a shimenawa is hung. During this time, a pantomime of the planting of a sacred rice field (shinden) occurs. The following day, people perform various ritual dances on the jayama stage (a three-tiered stage with a serpent on the top level) during the shinkōsai (sacred procession).
       The ōmitasai is a thirteen day long festival held once every twelve years during year of the Monkey, on the first day of the Monkey in the fourth month of the lunar calendar at Niiyama Jinja in Kanzaki Town, Kanzaki County, Saga Prefecture. Every day of the festival, there is a performance of the ondamai (rice field dance). On the twelfth day of the festival, the shinkō to the lower shrine (shimomiya) is comprised of the onda actors and the taueme who are all young boys from the ages of ten through fifteen dressed in female garb. After arriving at the lower shrine, there is another performance of the ondamai on the stage in front of the shrine. The first part of the dance consists of an okina wearing high clogs and holding a fan circling the stage. The ritual gradually shifts to the rice-planting ritual in which the various aspects of rice-planting — tilling, spreading seeds, shirofumi (sodstepping, stamping in the paddies to aerate them and spread fertilizer), and planting — are enacted, and ultimately becomes an onimai (oni dance). Dancers rampage about pounding large ax handles on the floor of the stage. It is said that if the floor should splinter, the following year's harvest will be rich. Spectators take home chips of the floorboard and hang them from the doorway with the belief that these act as a spell against small pox.
       The omitasai of Sarutahiko Jinja in Ujiurata Town, Ise City, Mie Prefecture, is held on May first.
       The onda matsuri for Aso Jinja in Ichinomiya Town, Aso County, Kumamoto Prefecture, occurs on July 28 and 29. As the otaue matsuri and the shinkō have been merged, the correct name for this festival is otaue shinkō shiki. On the day of the festival, a procession of nearly one hundred attendants, beginning with a person wearing a mask of the kami, Sarutahiko, followed by saotome, fourteen unari (young women) carrying rice chests, lion dancers (shishi), dengaku, field laborers, oxen, and four sacred palanquins (shin'yo), proceeds to the first temporary shrine (ichi no angū ) and ceremonially present offerings of food (kensen) and norito. Then a ritual rice planting occurs and the procession moves to the second temporary shrine (ni no angū). In the evening, the procession returns to the main shrine (kangyo) where all of the shrines are ceremonially visited (miya mawari shiki), and another ritualized rice-planting is held in the shrine grounds (keidai).
       On February 12, Hirose Jinja in Kawai Town, Kitakatsuragi County, Nara Prefecture, holds an otaue matsuri. After a ta asobi held in the morning at the haiden, the same ritual is held in the afternoon at a ritual space (saijō) made of a large mound of sand on the temple grounds. During the intermission, there is a rough sand fight, and thus the festival is also commonly known as the sunakake matsuri (Sand Fight Festival).
       The otaue matsuri held on July 12 at Isasumi Jinja in Aizutakada Town, Ōnuma County, Fukushima Prefecture, is known as one of the three taue of Japan along with Ise Jingū's asataue (Morning Rice Planting) and Atsuta Jingū's yūtaue (Evening Rice Planting). At approximately ten o'clock in the morning, a shinkōsai begins with the first taiko. After a ritual shishioi (Lion Chasing) by the children, the second taiko signals the shinkō progression to the massha (branch shrine) Mita Jinja and an otaue matsuri takes place. The shishioi is composed of the following eight types of shishi masks: adult shishi, white shishi, dappled grey ponies, deer, lead oxen and following oxen, white horses, and red horses, along with a few hundred boys wearing headbands dressed in under-kimono with tasuki (cords for tying up sleeves). After this group, the sacred palanquin (shin'yo) procession (togyo), with several hundred attendants wearing kamishimo (the formal dress of the samurai), sings a saibara (a kind of kagura performance) until arriving at Mita Jinja. After they have arrived at the shrine, a taue matsuri occurs in front of the shin'yo. This is an immense round trip journey between the main shrine and Mita Jinja. It is also the custom to pass through the private houses along the road as the procession goes back and forth between the two shrines.
       An extant ritual scroll from the middle ages depicts the otaue matsuri held on August 2 and 3 at Kibitsuhiko Jinja in Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture as being quite large. On the second there is a mitoshiro (a ritual held at a special field for rice seedlings) and an otaue. On the third, the mihata ken'nō sai (flag offering ceremony) takes place.
       At Fujiyama Hongū Sengen Taisha in Fujinomiya City, Shizuoka Prefecture, an otaue matsuri takes place after a procession (togyo) to the Haraidanomori field to the southeast of the shrine on July 7 (also the day of tanabata). During the ritual, people sing planting refrains such as: "Asama no Taroji wa yoi Taroji, ueda no naka demo yoi Taroji," "Taroji" referring to the owner of the fields (tanushi). After returning to the shrine (kangyo), the priests (shinshoku), the head of the fields, and the saotome all throw rice seedlings from the haiden for the crowd to pick up. This ritual originally occurred on June 28. In the past, it appears that rice planting in this area only began after the ritual took place.
       The otaue matsuri held on May 25 at Mikami Jinja in Yasu Town, Yasu County, Shiga Prefecture, was begun as a memorial commemorating the divinatory designation of the area to be the sacred field (yukiden, a type of saijō) during the daijōsai of 1929. The otaue matsuri of Himesakanachiana Jinja in Toyonagakōma, Niimi City, Okayama Prefecture was named as the tōban (tōya "watch") of the yukiden and the sukiden, the two fields that presented rice during the daijōsai. The distinctive feature of this festival, which takes place on the eleventh day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar, is the use of the shrine as a boundary for the selection of the two watches. The watch of the yukiden, the shūtō, is in the east, and the watch of the sukiden, the shuntō, is in the west. These two people are central to conducting the series of otaue rituals.
       At the otaue matsuri held on the first Sunday of June at Taga Taisha in Taga Town, Inukami County, Shiga Prefecture, there is a taihai ritual at the haiden for everybody from the gūji (chief priest) to the planting women (sanaeme). Two female dancers receive seedlings from the sanaeme after a performance of the sakaki dance (sakaki no mai), then turn and face the onda (sacred field), where the taueme perform a rice planting. A notable event is the female dancers' performance of an oyu (hot water) ceremony.
       On May 5, an otaue matsuri is held at Fuse Jinja in Tomi Village, Tomata County, Okayama Prefecture. This is a kyōgen (Nō farce, parody) performance known as the tonosama gyōji (Ritual of the Feudal Lord). Two tōya, one dressed as a feudal lord (tonosama), the other dressed as his servant, Fukutarō, mime the actions of repairing the paths between the rice paddies, tilling the soil, and planting rice shoots in the area before the shrine. Finally, freshly harvested grains are offered to the feudal lord.
       An ancient form of the otaue matsuri is held at Sumiyoshi Jinja in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture on the third Sunday of May.
       At the otaue matsuri held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar at the Ōyamamizu Jinja Shrine in Ōmishima Town, Ochi County, Ehime Prefecture, there is an offering of a solo performance of a sumō sanban. It is said that this is a wrestling match with the spirit of the rice plants.
       On the Sunday before the onset of the rainy season in June, an otaue matsuri is held at Nitta Jinja in Sendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture. After holding a rice planting ceremony in the sacred rice field (shinden), nearly sixty people wearing headbands and happi jackets, male and female, carrying long poles affixed with various ornaments, perform a yakko odori to the accompaniment of a song. Around forty people move through the town performing a bō odori (Pole Dance).
       During the akagome shinji (Red Rice Ritual), for which Hōman Jinja in Minamitane Town, Kumage County, Kagoshima Prefecture is famous, red rice seedlings are planted on or around April 5 in a sacred field (shinden) which is shaped like a boat.

— Mogi Sakae
A performance of the Ondasai rite at Niutsuhime Jinja

Wakayama Prefecture, 2006

©Fujii Hiroaki

A harrow drawn by an imitation cow in a scene enacting the work of harrowing a field in order to break up clumps of earth.(Hikosan Jingū)

Fukuoka Prefecture, 2008

©Ichida Masataka

The ondasai held at Niutsuhime Jinja in the middle of January; it features the call and response between Tahito and Ushikai.

Wakayama prefecture, 2007

©Fujii Hiroaki

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