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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » State Rites
Niiname sai
Literally, "Celebrations of the First Taste," niiname sai refers to the set of harvest festivals in November carried out at the imperial palace and shrines throughout the country. Complements the Kinen sai, a rite involving prayers for a healthy crop and held in on the fourth day of the second month. In ancient times also called nihinahe and nihanahi. Motoori Norinaga suggests that, since it appears in the "feting anew" section of the Transmission of the Kojiki (Kojiki den), that it was a festival in which new rice was offered to the deities. As in the ancient Chinese celebration "Name no matsuri," a rice festival held in the autumn, this was a typical festival expressing gratitude to the gods for exercising their powers on earth and bringing about a successful harvest. The origins probably date back to the Yayoi period when rice cultivation began. The niiname sai is mentioned in both the "Era of the Gods" section of the Nihon shoki ("when Ama-terasu ôkami honorably performed Niiname") and in the entry for year forty of its "Nintoku" section ("In the month of Niiname, since it was a day of banqueting, sake was given to the palace ladies"). For a long time it was held on the latter "Day of the Rabbit" in the eleventh lunar month (or the middle "Day of the Rabbit" if there were three such days in the month), but with the conversion to the new calendar in 1873, it was changed to the November 23. In the Ninth Article of the 1908 "Prescriptions of the Imperial House Rituals," this celebration is named as one of the Major Rites (tai sai), and listed as occurring between November 23 and 24. For the rite two dais, one for the deities (kamiza) and one for the emperor (goza), were constructed inside the Shinka Hall, then the emperor makes food offerings to Ama-terasu and the many divinities twice, once at dusk on the twentythird and again at dawn on the twentyfourth. The emperor arranges an offering of sake, rice porridge, and steamed rice (made from the newly harvested rice) served in special vessels crafted from woven beech leaves (kashiwa) and presented to the kami on a special reed mat (kegomo). Following this evening meal (yūmike), the emperor purifies himself in seclusion (kessai) for the night and, after changing robes (koromogae), prepares the morning offering of food for the kami. Also listed in Article Two of the "Regulations for Shrine Rituals" of the Association of Shrines (Jinja honcho kitei) as a Major Rite, it is performed at shrines throughout the country to accompany the rites at the palace. Besides the yearly Niiname sai, the one which is the first performed after a new emperors ascendance (sokui) is called the Daijō sai.

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