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|Sunday, 03 February 2008 14:18|
Shinto is not a religion which controls behaviours of believers according to a doctrine or commandments, but a faith that lets people have direct contact with Kami (the deity or the deities). Accordingly, worshipping and ritual ceremonies are regarded to be especially important.If you are planning on visiting a shrine and want to know how to go about doing an individual rite see the last section of this article. You can skip to the bottom.
There are various kinds of rites of Shinto, and they are divided into four categories:
The Grand Festivals include the annual festival to revere the enshrined deity, Spring Festival to pray for good harvest, Shinto Thanksgiving to appreciate the harvest and to share the first harvest with Kami.
The medium scale festivals include a ceremony to celebrate the Japan's Foundation Day and New Year's Day.
The small scale festivals include all the rest of festivals. The miscellaneous festivals include Jichinsai (a rite before constructing a building to worship the deities of a locality and the land), Jotosai (a rite performed during construction of a building), Shinsosai (a funeral ceremony) and Shichi-Go-San which is mentioned in the section of the Folk Shinto.
The scale of these festivals differ from each other according to the nature of each festival.
In the case of an eminent festival, the Emperor sends his special messenger in order to present his offerings to the enshrined Kami. A priest who is serving the shrine observes abstinence of a certain period of time before a rite in order to purify oneself. Representatives of adherents who should attend a rite are also required to observe abstinence at least one night before the rite. Then, on the day of the rite, purification with water is to be done before the commencement of the rite. He will rinse his hands, the mouth and again the hands, which symbolizes purification of the whole body. It is a simplified form which was originally done in the sea or a river. It was believed that the sea is broad and deep so that it swallows all sorts of impurity which contaminated human beings and transforms them again into original pure existences. For example, salt is throwin before a Sumo match in order to remove any impurity and evil that is within the Sumo ground. Another example is also seen at a Japanese restaurant. In front of its entrance, a small mount of salt is placed. This is to show cleanliness of the restaurant. Purification done in a river is based on a belief that a river also washes away all the impurity.
At a shrine, Shubatsu, a rite of purification, is performed in front of a shrine building. This is originated in the shinto myth that lzanagi-no Mikoto, Kami who gave birth to Japan, performed Misogi (a rite of purification), after visiting the land of dead, in order to remove negative elements of the dead against life. This is performed inviting all the deities of Harae appear in the myth. This is performed to let a person stand in front of the enshrined Kami with a clean and pure body and pure mind after driving out all the sins and impurity which might have been committed by them unconsciously. According to Shinto, people believe that there exists Kami who brings disasters, and works upon people to let them fall into evil ways, or people themselves commit sins by mistake. So,it was always very important for people to observe rites based on a faith believed since the mythological time that Kami graces people and wipes off all the sins committed by people. Only going through this rite of purification, people have been allowed to stand in front of a shrine, a divine sanctuary.
A rite in a shrine usually starts with beating a drum which announces its commencement. The chief priest bows in front of the altar together with other assistant ritualists, musicians, representatives of their Worshippers' Association as well as ordinary worshippers. Then the chief priest opens the door of the inner sanctuary. While this rite, the other attendants keep bowing listening to Keihitsu (voicing a long sound of 'Oh' by a ritualist) in order to make themselves feel tense in front of Kami. After all the attendants sit, the ritualists present food offerings including rice cake and sake. During this presentation, music is played with ancient instruments such as Fue (a Japanese flute), Hichiriki (a flageolet-like flute) and Sho (a panpipe-like instrument). Food offerings consist of rice (and rice cake), sake and other seasonal products of seas, mountains and fields which are basically in the same style of a Japanese traditional banquet offered to important guests. Then Norito (prayers) is recited by the chief priest. In the case of the grand festival, ancient prayers compiled in the 7th century are recited, but in the case of a contemporary rite, prayers are recited in the style which is close to the modern Japanese. After that, Kagura (a sacred dance and music by women performers) originated in those which performed for Amaterasu Ohmikami in the Japanese myth follows. Then, following the chief priest, attendants make Tamagushi Reihai (symbolic offerings using little branches of the evergreen sacred tree). With this Tamagushi Reihai, the rite is over. The door of the inner sanctuary is closed again by the chief priest, food offerings are withdrew and all the participants make a bow following the chief priest. After that, a feast called Naorai follows in the case of a formal festival.This is a communion of Kami and people to share the same food and the same sake offered to Kami. In the case of a festival of a smaller scale, people have a communion with Kami by drinking the sake which has been offered to the deity, as a simplified way.
In the case of an individual worship at a shrine, purification at the ablution basin rinsing the hands and the mouth is substituted for Misogi and Harae (ceremonies of purification). After this one proceeds towards the altar in order to sound the bell hung in front of it. This is an action to let Kami know the presence of a worshipper. Then presenting offerings or throwing coins into an offering box placed in front of the altar, one bows twice deeply, then claps the hands twice. To make a sound is considered in shinto tradition one way of communication with Kami. After that, one more bow should be followed, and a ritual of showing reverence to Kami is over. Repetition of bowing and clapping is an expression of deep reverence and sincere mind of the worshipper. At lzumo Taisha, clapping is repeated four times, and at grand ceremonies of the Grand Shrine of Ise clapping and bowing are repeated eight times.