Holidays and Regular Observances

Do Shinto practitioners celebrate sacred birthdays or honor particular figures?

Many shrines hold festivities in connection with dates important in the lives of enshrined kami who were historical figures prior to their deification. For example, the Akama Jingu enshrines the child Emperor Antoku (1178-85) who reigned for the final five years of his very brief life. From April 23 to 25, celebrants recall his untimely death and the reign of his predecessor, Emperor Gotoba. Tenjin Matsuri, from July 24 to 25, celebrates the deified scholar and court minister Sugawara Michizane (845-903). Over ten thousand branch shrines ritualize the deity who is mythically associated with oxen and cattle. According to tradition, Sugawara was born and came of age in the year of the ox and was saved from his enemy by a bull who miraculously appeared to kill his would-be assassins. Ironically, it was members of that same enemy clan, the Fujiwara, who had Sugawara enshrined some fifty years after his death. He received the name Tenjin (“celestial kami”) and has remained popular as the kami of learning. Large numbers of worshippers still go to his shrines on the twenty-fifth (both his birth and death day) of each month to reverence statues of reclining bulls, rubbing them and then rubbing the blessing onto themselves or their children. Birthdays are not as important on the whole as are death anniversaries and seasonal associations with the deified figures.


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