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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on April 29, 2014
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 20] April 29, 2014

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 20]
April 29, 2014
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Festival:
Handed down by means of relay ? : Okuwa Matsuri
(Hoe Festival)

:: 1. Seasonal Festival

Handed down by means of relay ? : Okuwa Matsuri (Hoe Festival)

Since ancient times, Japanese people believe cherry blossoms herald
the start of rice-planting. Now the season of cherry blossoms was
over and rice-planting season has begun in paddies. We also have a
mysterious farming festival, "Okuwa Matsuri (Hoe Festival)" in
this season.

This festival is held in the farming villages of Mie, Aichi, Toyama
and Nagano prefectures, located in the central part of Japan. The
dates of the festival differ according to each local area, ranging
from early March to late May.

Festival manners or styles vary as well in each venue, one of which
is the way of carrying "Okuwa-sama" (hoe-shaped object of worship)
on Mikoshi (portable shrine).
Notes: The object of worship (Go-shintai) is usually housed in a
Shinto shrine, and believed to contain the spirit of a deity. At the
time of festival, Go-shintai is carried on a portable shrine to look
around the village and pray for the farmers.

The festival was allegedly started in order to popularize the faith
in Goddess Toyo-uke-bime, who is enshrined in Toyo-uke Shrine, the
outer shrine of Ise grand shrine.
Toyo-uke-bime was originally a goddess whose role was to offer Mike
(sacred food) to Amaterasu Omikami(Goddess of the sun), enshrined
deity of Ise grand Shrine. Later Toyo-uke-bime became a goddess of
the harvest.

The origin of this festival is not clear. However, according to the
legends, the branches of Sakaki trees in Ise shrine that grew to be
a shape of hoe once in 60 years (tree branch of Sakaki is used in
Shinto rituals). The hoe-shaped branches were given to every village
by the Shinto priests in Ise shrine who usually give amulets. All
the villages that were given the hoe-shaped branch held a cheerful
festival for thanksgiving.

Here is another interesting story written by a Shinto priest of
Kasuga shrine in Kaminakaseki in Nagano prefecture in Edo period.
According to it, Okuwa-sama(a hoe-shaped object of worship)was handed
from Ise to Kaminakaseki via Mikawa (old name of the eastern part
of Aich prefecture). After reaching the village in Kaminakaseki, it
was relayed from village to village. Being enshrined overnight,
Okuwa-sama was handed to the next village. People in each village
made new hoes, wrote prayers for good harvest and peaceful life on
the flags and decorate Mikoshi (portable shrine) to carry Okuwa-sama.

People carrying the Mikoshi on their shoulders walked cheerfully in a
parade along the street toward the next village. Nobody in the parade
knew where to hand over Okuwa-sama, but the people in the next
village joined the parade to receive it. The hustle and bustle of
the parade became larger and larger with another decorations and
flags and was continued until the security guards at Sekisho (the
checking station between the provinces) stopped them to disperse.

Nobody commanded to hand down, but the festival was relayed from
village to village. Don't you think the way of transmission reflects
the faithfulness to the god and the solidarity among communities ?

Now the frequency of the festival varies according to each venue.
Some villages hold it once in 60 years. Some hold it once in several
years. And others hold it every year. Despite the long interval of
sixty years that is longer than human life in ancient Japan, it is
surprising that people do not forget to prepare for Mikoshi(portable
shrine) to receive Sakaki branch.
Even at the present time when we have enough wisdom to solve many
problems without relying on gods, we should not forget to appreciate
for food and peaceful lives we are given.

Translation: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Naoko Yamashita

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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