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[Soul of Japan] Shikinen Sengu, the Ritual of Rebuilding and Renewal



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, focusing in this segment on the rebuilding and renewal rituals of Jingu.


Adjacent to the main sanctuary, where the sacred palace of Amaterasu-Omikami stands, is a site of exactly the same size. A new building with the same dimensions as the current one is constructed at this alternate site every 20 years. 


The divine treasures to be placed inside the sacred palace are also remade. Once they are prepared, the sacred mirror, symbol of Amaterasu-Omikami, is moved to the new sanctuary by the Jingu priests. This ritual is called Shikinen Sengu. It is carried out at Geku and other jinja as well.


The first Shikinen Sengu was conducted 1,300 years ago. Although the Shikinen Sengu tradition was temporarily suspended at times due to warfare in the 15th and 16th centuries, it has continued to be an important part of the rituals of Jingu to the present day.


Shikinen Sengu involves 32 rituals and ceremonies. It begins with the ritual cutting of the first trees for the new buildings and continues until the transfer of the sacred mirror, eight years later.


Wood is central to Japanese civilization. The concepts of sustainability and reutilization, and the maintenance of know-how and skills, are considered more important than the actual physical existence of a structure or building. 


This is the essence of “eternity” as it is expressed at Jingu, and the reason for choosing to build and rebuild dwellings for the kami, instead of permanent structures of stone.


To this day, we are able to participate in the same matsuri that were performed by our ancestors and share a common spirituality with them through the cyclical re-enshrinement of Amaterasu-Omikami. Shikinen Sengu is a temporal and spatial return to origins that spans generations. It resonates in the souls of our ancestors, and is a gift to the future.


Shikinen Sengu plays one other very important role by enabling the transfer of our technical skill and spirit to the next generation. This transfer maintains both our architectural heritage and over 1,000 years of artistic tradition involving the making of the divine treasures — including 714 different kinds of sacred objects. 


After Shikinen Sengu, the previous sanctuary building is disassembled and most of the timber is granted to other jinja across Japan to be reused. 


The main pillars that support the roof of the main sanctuary are traditionally reused for the sacred torii gate on Ujibashi Bridge at the entrance of Naiku.



Source: Jinja Honcho