Holidays and Regular Observances

What are some of the other festal days Shinto practitioners celebrate?

O-Bon matsuri is one of those feasts whose timing is determined by adding a solar month to the lunar reckoning. Hence a feast formerly celebrated during the middle (i.e., full moon) of the seventh month now occurs during the middle of August, the eighth. On November 23 and 24 falls the “New Food” festival (nii-name-sai). Acting as high priest, the emperor himself leads the ceremonies. When a newly enthroned emperor presides, the feast is called “Great Food” festival (daijosai), and the ritual seals and formalizes the new ruler’s accession. This is one of some thirty regular imperial ceremonies (koshitsu saishi) that occur through the year, most conducted privately within the palace. The Autumnal Equinox still calls for quite elaborate observances in some places. The Suwa shrine in Nagasaki, for example, holds its annual Okunchi for three full rousing days and nights. Involving a full range of activities, from raucous processions to solemn predawn purifications conducted in almost total silence, the festival engages large numbers of worshippers actively. Festivities begin and end with more private rituals designed to bring the kami into the ceremony and see them back to their places of repose.

Some ceremonies occur often but on a more ad hoc basis than the regularly scheduled festivals. Nearly every new architectural venture occasions religiously inspired observances. “Earth Sanctification” (Jichin-sai) is a ritual of Daoist origin conducted by a Shinto priest to prepare the ground for new construction. Participants call on the kami of the place for protection. These ceremonies are roughly analogous to the American practice of hoisting a small evergreen to the top of a newly completed structure—perhaps religious in origin, but now purely customary. A rite called senza-sai or sengu can occur on any number of occasions. In this ritual, a kami is relocated—either permanently to a new shrine or temporarily in the case of repairs or, for a matsuri, for a time or repose—in one of several of the deity’s regular abodes. In the case of Ise shrine, for example, the ceremony happens every twenty years, when a new shrine is constructed on the grounds.


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