Customs and Rituals

What does the term matsuri mean?

Matsuri is the inclusive word for virtually all Shinto-inspired communal celebrations. The term derives from a root that can mean “to deify or enshrine.” These festivities generally celebrate manifestations of the kami who have a special relationship to a region or town, though some celebrate kami of more widespread significance as well. They acknowledge the inseparable link among the kami, the land, and the community of people living there. Since it emphasizes the seamless interrelationships among these three elements, Shinto tradition makes no distinction between sacred and profane time. All of creation, time and space, is sacred. Matsuri mark those times and places that are more than ordinarily sacred. Just when divine energy appears on the wane, a matsuri occurs and renews that spiritual potency. Festivities periodically restore the ancient cosmic order of nature.

Japanese often celebrate matsuri with an enormous vigor, an almost uncontrolled energy. Bands of young men undertake strenuous feats of lifting and hauling enormous loads, competing with other groups to deliver their sacred burdens to the shrine or another ritual destination. That feeling of wild unpredictability offers an important insight into the Shinto sense of the divine as both benevolent and dangerous. Some matsuri are explicitly identified as non-religious civic events, but even today the majority are of religious origin and reflect classical Shinto or folk beliefs, or both. Most also retain their ancient associations with seasonal and agricultural concerns. Matsuri typically include both processions and activities within a shrine compound. Special offerings and prayers, plays and dancing and other entertainments, and communal meals are features of all the great festivities.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Religion Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App