Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (27): Give us this day our daily rice

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 24, 2007

WHEN WRITING POSTS ABOUT MANY OF THE FESTIVALS here, I often emphasize their unusual elements, such as unique competitions, sake, simulated sex, mikoshi smashing, fire rituals, water, dancing, and of course, more sake.

Perhaps it’s not fair to accentuate the novelties (for foreigners, anyway) when the most basic of all Japanese festivals are simple, subdued, and conducted unobtrusively, albeit with splendid costumes, particularly for the women who participate. Those are the rice planting festivals that are held by the hundreds throughout Japan in May and June. Not only are they the most basic type of festival, but since Japan’s very existence is defined by wet paddy cultivation, they are the most important.

In my part of Japan, the most well known is the rice-planting festival held last week by the Yutoku Inari Shrine in Kashima, Saga, in supplication for a bountiful harvest. It has been held in this same form for more than 300 years.

Eight shrine maidens, or miko (corresponding very roughly to altar boys in a Catholic church) wade into the new rice paddy to plant rice seedlings to the accompaniment of special songs, as three other miko play wooden clappers and flutes. The rice is planted in a specially consecrated shrine paddy and harvested during another festival held in the fall. That rice is used for offerings at the shrine over the next year.

But there are many more of the same sort of event throughout the country, and their variations on a theme offer interesting contrasts. Such as the ones here, here, and here.

Or here, here, and here. (You’ll be glad you clicked the links…)

And there are countless more…

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