Autumn has deepened and farmers have unwinded themselves after harvesting crops. Now, it is just in a full autumn festival season throughout Japan. Listening carefully, you may hear cheerful sound of flutes and drums for autumn festivals in the distance.
"祭りmatsuri", or festivalsare one of the most colorful aspects of Japanese life, and its original meaning implies “ to call a God”. Japan was originally a country of farmers. Japanese give offerings and comfort to local deities to show thanks for the good harvest of crops, especially rice and pray for an even better one for the next year.
From ancient times, Japanese have been in harmony with nature including mountains, rivers, grasses and trees, considering that not only creatures but also even natural phenomena such as rains and thunders have souls, some of which were deified to become local gods in villages and were enshrined in Shinto shrines where these gods descend from the heaven. Shinto shrines have sacred spots where gods stay temporarily are called "yorishiro", symbolized in objects of worship such as mirrors, swords or gem balls.
Gods are believed to bring out extraordinary natural phenomenon and epidemics when angry as well as blessings of nature and fortune when happy. Therefore, it is natural that everybody wants to increase fortune by making gods happy and avoid the calamities by calming down gods’ angers by entertaining. Thus, they worship blessing gods including Goddess of Sun, God of Agriculture as well as even evil gods including Gods of Epidemic. You may understand why there are a wide variety of gods, so called 8 million gods, in Japan.
A great number of gods can be simply classified into two types; Gods created to worship Nature to pay respects for nature, where souls of gods remain, including the deified sun, waters and mountains.Gods created to worship Ancestors’ soul to pay respects to their ancestors associated with people at present, including Guardian gods of ancestors' soul.
In order to celebrate these gods, various festivals have been created and fostered especially associated with agricultural tasks. Among them, spring festivals and autumn ones in Shinto Shrines are representative. In spring festivals, they pray for good harvest of crops and in autumn festivals they express their appreciation for good harvest, adding excitement by carrying portable shrines, playing musical instruments and dancing. In addition to two seasonal festivals, summer festivals are held to drive out sickness or drought caused by the dryness and heat in the season and winter ones to drive out sicknesses and damages caused by cold weather.
Sacred rituals are held at shrines. The festivals are particularly designed to welcome gods, entertain them and then see them off. In preparation for these rituals, Shinto priests and people under the protection of local deities refrain from drinking alcohol & eating meat, and purify themselves. Then, they welcome their gods, placing a wide variety of offers including fresh-harvested rice.
In addition to various ritual rites during festivals, they also dedicate "kagura" to the gods, parade the street carrying "Mikoshi", and pull around "Dashi" Now, I would like to introduce some words associated with festivals so that you may enjoy local festivals more understandably.
"Kagura" are sacred music and dances performed when Shinto festivals. The performances change from place to place and usually include mythical and legendary tales mimed by masked actors accompanied by Kagura orchestra of flutes, drums and other instruments. Kabuki and Kyogen may have come out of Kagura.
"Mikoshi" are portable shrines in which the spirit of a god reposes during festivals , carried by bearers pushing it here and there to their chorus of “ Wasshoi! Wasshoi!". But listen carefully to their chorus before you will join their chorus, because it will differ place by place. Otherwise eyes of all visitors will focus on you.
"Dashi”, floats are sort of mobile pavilions on wheels, made of wood and usually decorated with flowers, halberds, dolls and so on. Musicians on the Dashi plays traditional music instruments including flutes, drums and gongs, cheering up festive mood. Dancers plays dance celebrating Shinto gods.Some "Dashi” carry large-sized images featuring gods of “Kojiki”, Legendary Stories of Old Japan or Nihon-shoki, the Chronicles of Japan. Please remember some of well-known gods to enjoy Dashi more,otherwise such “dashi” just can look like a featureless box.
Amaterasu-Oomikami is Sun Goddess and Chief God of the Heaven and a daughter of Izanamino Mikoto, Creature of the Heaven.
Susano-no-mikoto, a son of Izanamino Mikoto, Creature of the Heaven,
Jinmu Tennou, legendary the 1st emperor enthroned in 660 BC.
Incidentally, TrippeLights Tours is planning to organize "Matsuri Festival" for 2007 tour program, introducing dozens of local festivals in the Kanto District, the area covered by the Tokyo Metropolis & six prefectures including Chiba, Ibaragi, Kanagawa, Saitama & Tochigi throughout the year. These "Matsuri Festival" seems rather small and simple, comparing them with major festivals such as “Takayama festival” or “Jidai Matsurri”.
However, you can really enjoy a homely festive atmosphere created and shared by crowds of local people. All places of festivals highlighted in these "Matsuri Festival"tours are accessible in a single day from Tokyo by public transportations & escorted with English-speaking guides. We are confident that "Matsuri Festival" allows you not only to enjoy a festival itself but also to glimpse a spirits of traditional Japanese culture.
Let’s join one of Matsuri Festival of Sunrise Tours to enjoy festive mood along with listening to music, dancing or watching divine drama.