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Matsuri in China

The latest Jinja Shinpō has an interesting article about the performance of a matsuri in China. The matsuri was to mark the beginning of construction work on a ship, asking the kami for safety. It is probably no surprise to hear that the project was a joint venture between a Chinese company and a Japanese one, and that the initiative came from the Japanese partner.

The priests were invited from a jinja in Shikoku, presumably due to a personal connection with the head of the Japanese company, and the article talks about some of the problems. For example, many of the items used in the matsuri had to be manufactured in China, because they could not practically take them with them. In Japan, red and white are traditional celebratory colours, and are very often used on the canvas marking the edge of a ritual space. However, in China white is strongly associated with funerals, so they had to use a different colour scheme. In addition, they could not get sakaki, the evergreen tree used in a lot of Shinto ceremonies, so they used a similar plant that was found locally.

The matsuri appears to have been performed without trouble, and the Chinese staff in attendance are said, in the report, to have been fascinated. While the reporter is unlikely to say anything negative, I am inclined to believe this, as I doubt the Chinese had ever had the chance to see a Shinto ritual before. The article says that the company plans to hold the corresponding ritual when the ship is completed.

While I am, obviously, always interested in seeing Shinto activities that happen outside Japan, this one is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, the matsuri was being performed as a matsuri, not as something for people to watch and experience Japanese culture. It is not that uncommon for kagura or mikoshi processions to be organised overseas as part of “Japan Festivals”, but sincere performance of matsuri is much less common. Second, the historical relationship between China and Shinto is complicated, to say the least, thanks to the close association between Shinto and Imperial Japan. Thus, the fact that there does not seem to have been any opposition to the performance of the matsuri, in either country, is both interesting and heartening. I hope that these will not be the last such matsuri.

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