Yesterday, one of the first rituals of the Daijōsai, the most important Shinto ceremony in the accession of a new Tennō, was performed in the Imperial Palace.
This ritual is the choice, by divination, of the two regions that will supply the rice and millet that are offered at the Daijōsai. The Yuki region is to the east of the location where the Daijōsai is held, and the Suki region to the west. Today, that means Tokyo, but for over a thousand years it meant Kyoto. Until the Meiji Revolution, these regions were chosen from among the old “kuni”, and the choice of kuni became fixed in the ninth century, so that only the smaller regions within the kuni were chosen by divination.
At the Meiji Revolution this was reformed so that the regions were chosen by divination again, and today two prefectures are chosen in this way. The specific regions and fields within those prefectures are chosen by discussion with the agricultural communities, because it is a significant responsibility and it is not fair to choose someone at random.
The divination is done by “kiboku”, which means “tortoise divination”. A small piece of tortoise shell is heated until it cracks, and the pattern of cracks is interpreted to determine the result. The ritual is performed in a tent in front of the sanctuaries within the Imperial Palace, and the fire in which the shell is heated is created by friction, as is typical for the most sacred fires in Shinto. This is a very traditional form of divination in Japan, going back at least 1300 years, and appears to have developed from a similar technique that used the shoulder blades of deer. It used to be called on whenever the government faced a crisis, but today it is only used in this ritual, and apparently on the island of Tsushima in western Japan.
This time, the Yuki prefecture is Tochigi, and the Suki prefecture is Kyoto.
There are numerous rituals concerned with growing the rice at the sacred fields, after they have been chosen, and I have no doubt that I will write about some of them, at least. Readers of this blog are likely to hear quite a bit about the Daijōsai over the next six months or so.