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Instructions for Matsuri

A few weeks ago, Jinja Honchō sent me an interesting leaflet. This leaflet is entitled “Omatsuri no Tebiki”, which means, roughly, “Instructions for Matsuri”. It is directed at sōdai. “Sōdai” means, literally, something like “general representatives”, and it refers to the people who support a jinja, in theory on behalf of all the ujiko, the people who live in the area around the jinja. They tend to be older, and that is how they are drawn in the leaflet. This particular leaflet is particularly for people who are sōdai at jinja that have no resident priest, and is practical guidance on how to prepare the jinja for matsuri. This makes it very interesting, as it contains the distilled essence of what Jinja Honchō thinks is important in preparing for a matsuri. (Technically, it was issued by the National Association of Sōdai, but in practice it is from Jinja Honchō.)

It starts by emphasising the importance of keeping the jinja precincts clean and tidy at all times, and of cleaning the inside of the jinja buildings and the items used in the matsuri immediately beforehand. Then it mentions that you should change out of your cleaning clothes and into smart clothes before the matsuri. (The illustration shows a western-style suit.) This page also says that shimënawa ropes should be replaced before a matsuri, and has little pictures showing how the shidë, the lightning-bolt shaped folded pieces of white paper that hang from shimënawa, should be fixed to the rope.

The next page is about the offerings, and it emphasises that they are essential to the matsuri. It says that they should be fresh products from the area, but tells the sōdai to check the details with the priest. When preparing the offerings, they are told to wash their hands, and avoid breathing on the offerings. The instructions cover the way round that the sanbō stands should be placed, and the order in which the different offerings should be placed on the an (the offering table).

There is a full “order of service” for a standard taisai, or major matsuri. This runs across the top of a couple of pages, with more detail underneath. The description of the ōnusa, or purification wand, is interesting, because it says that “This is used in oharai, and is said to be a tool that purifies tsumi and kegarë”. The interesting thing here is that the grammar used is typical when Japanese people want to avoid committing themselves to the truth of a statement, but rather report it as something that is believed by a lot of people.

There are details of the stands and vessels used for the offerings, and instructions on how to participate if you are helping to place the offerings. You should hold the stand in both hands at high level, and carry it respectfully, taking care not to breathe on the offerings.

Next, the leaflet explains how to prepare a tamagushi, which, physically, is a small branch of sakaki with a single shidë attached. The instructions give a couple of suggestions for how to attach the shidë (tie it on with a hemp cord, or make a cut in the end of the shidë and twist it round the branch), but also make it clear that there are others. Offering the tamagushi is described as an important rite in which you offer thanks to the kami and receive further benefits from them. Detailed instructions for the rite are also provided.

There is half a page on the basics of setting up a kamidana, and then half a page on setting up Japanese flags at the jinja on matsuri days, to remind people that they are Japanese. Finally, there is a list of the major matsuri at a jinja. This starts with the Reisai, the Grand Festival of a particular jinja, and Tsukinamisai, which are monthly matsuri held at quite a few jinja. It then gives a full list of the Jinja Honchō mandated matsuri.

It would be interesting to know how far priests share Jinja Honchō’s opinion of what is important.

2 thoughts on “Instructions for Matsuri”

  1. As I understand your blog text, the instructions are universal for all matsuri, or a certain type of matsuri that are obviously similar nationwide. However, as shinto has no written “bible”, isn’t there a very wide variety of regional matsuri that follow their own rules? Can they all be covered by one leaflet?

    1. That’s a very good question. I think I should write another blog post to answer it, because it’s a bit too complex for a reply to a comment.

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