The 21st February issue of Jinja Shinpō contained an article in the series about sacred forests. However, it did not have much to do with sacred forests, at least not directly — it was about the place of mountains in traditional Shinto belief. (It is true that most of those mountains have forests on them.) The article took a particular matsuri, a “mountain praising” matsuri, as its starting point.
This matsuri is held at Shikaumi Jinja, or “Shika Sea Jinja”, which is on Shika-no-Shima, an island just off the coast of northern Kyushu, which is now connected to the mainland by a bridge. The island is generally famous as the place where a gold seal presented to the King of “Na” by a Chinese Emperor in 57 CE was discovered in 1784. Shikaumi Jinja itself is said to be the first jinja enshrining the Watatsumi kami, who were born when Izanaki purified himself on his return from Yomi-no-Kuni. These three kami are kami of the sea — indeed, “Wata-tsu-mi” means “spirit of the sea”. (“Mi” is spirit, “tsu” is “of”, and “wata” is “the sea”.) So, why is there a matsuri praising mountains? Well, as I mentioned in the blog post on artificial hills, mountains are very important to seafarers, in part as landmarks, and the three mountains praised in the matsuri seem to have served such functions for sailors around Shika-no-Shima.
The matsuri has legendary associations with Okinagatarashihimë (about whom I have recently written essays, which are now available on Amazon through this affiliate link). It is said that the matsuri was performed for her when she stopped at the island on her way to Korea, and she was so impressed that she ordered them to carry it out “until the waves that wash Shika-no-Shima cease”.
The matsuri is performed in the open space in front of the sanctuaries at the jinja. A himorogi is prepared using a branch of a shii tree about twice the height of a person. This tree is used because it is associated with Okinagatarashihimë. (The English name is apparently castanopsis or chinquapin, if that helps anyone.) The celebrants take their seats in front of the himorogi, and the matsuri begins.
First, one breaks a branch from the himorogi, and uses that to purify the three mountains. Next, carrying an open fan in one hand and accompanied by another celebrant keeping a rhythm on a wooden striker, he pays reverence to the mountains by clapping on the fan (if I have interpreted the Japanese correctly). Another celebrant then praises the three mountains three times, saying “Aaah, good mountains, connected mountains”. Next, a final two celebrants conduct a ritual dialogue, before firing three arrows into the mound of sand supporting the himorogi, in a symbolic deer hunt. The matsuri is performed twice per year, in spring and autumn, and the autumn performance also includes a symbolic fishing element.
Breaking a branch off the himorogi is, as far as I know, very, very unusual. The himorogi is the vessel for the kami, and so breaking a bit of it off, even for use in purification, would normally be extremely disrespectful. However, because this is an ancient matsuri, it is allowed to break the normal rules — and the himorogi.