Japan from the inside out

To fight is human; to forecast, divine

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 14, 2012

THE earliest Japanese emperors have the equivalent of an asterisk next to their names because they are considered to be legendary. One of these was the Emperor Chuai, whose reign is nominally assigned the years of 192-200. He might have existed, not as a Tenno figure, but perhaps as a regional warlord. He is also supposed to have been the father of the Emperor Ojin, who is not legendary.

Legend has it that the legendary Emperor Chuai and his wife Jingu were leading a punitive expedition against the Kumaso, who lived in the southern part of the country. He ducked into a local Shinto shrine to pray for victory, which he was granted.

That was the Suoichi no Miya Tamano’oya shrine in what is now Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi. A divination ceremony was held to predict the outcome, and that become the origin of a ceremony of divination for victory or defeat in battle. For centuries it was held on 15 August by the lunar calendar, but after the current calendar was adopted during the Meiji period, it was moved to 24 September. Nowadays the ceremony, called the Urate Jinji, is held near that date in the evening before the shrine’s annual festival the next day.

Looks like a sumo match, doesn’t it? That’s one reason it’s also called the Urate Sumo. Here’s a page of excellent photographs of the ceremony and the site itself.

Click on the green lettering down at the bottom and it’ll take you to a second page. There is no actual fighting, though the word for the role the two men play translates literally as warrior. The divination is done based on the condition of their hands. The Japanese explanation says there isn’t a lot of written information on that part of the ceremony itself, so I suspect it’s something that only the priests and perhaps a few other people know.

In April, the same shrine holds a festival to give thanks to old eyeglasses that have been disposed after years of service. They’re burned after a 30-minute ceremony. This is the East. Even inanimate objects have a spirit.

One Response to “To fight is human; to forecast, divine”

  1. FL Mom said

    “They’re burned after a 30-minute ceremony.” What?! Spectacles are plastic. Mere mortals are required to separate their plastic trash into numerous NON-BURNABLE categories for the sake of Gaia, yet these priests can wave their kaminari over the lot and be permitted to burn them in a toxic pile. Unbelievable.

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