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[Soul of Japan] Matsuri, the Sacred Rituals of Prayers and Festivities




Many of Japan’s traditions and ideas are unfamiliar to those outside of Japan. Therefore, JAPAN Forward and Jinja Honcho have collaborated to bring readers an explanation of the key concepts of kami, matsuri, shrines, myths, and many other traditions and beliefs which form the core of Japanese culture. 

The “Soul of Japan” series provides an introduction to Shinto and Ise Jingu.


Since ancient times, Japanese have gathered at sacred places — a great boulder or ancient tree — to commune with the kami. There, they made offerings and prayed for the safety and prosperity of their communities. This is the origin of the festivals, ceremonies, and rituals collectively known as matsuri.


Many matsuri are tied to the yearly calendrical cycle of events and are held in spring to offer prayers for a bountiful harvest, and in autumn to give thanks for providing the season’s crops.


Matsuri are symbolic of ancient Japanese traditions and customs, sacred rituals that come in two aspects: one is “matsuri as religious service,” and the other is “matsuri as entertainment for the kami.”


The former refers to the solemn rituals conducted in front of the kami by Shinto priests as representatives of local communities, while the latter are lively, festive events sometimes involving mikoshi, or portable shrines, where an often-raucous procession ritually transfers the kami to a new resting place. 


Many traditional performing arts, such as sumo and Noh, are also dedicated to the kami — another example of matsuri as entertainment. Although these two aspects of matsuri may seem quite different, the blessings received from the kami remain the same.


Through matsuri, the Japanese celebrate and pray for the kami, and together both kami and participants are rejuvenated. Matsuri are rituals to both strengthen the bonds and solidarity within a community and connect that community to the kami.



Source: Jinja Honcho 


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