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The Izawa Rice-Planting Festival

Izawa-no-Miya is one of the Betsugū of the Naiku at Jingū. (This is explained in the chapter on Jingū in my book. Basically, the Betsugū are important subsidiary jinja, but they can be quite some distance from the main sanctuary — in this case, a bit less than twenty kilometres.)

Izawa-no-Miya is the only one of the Betsugū to have its own sacred rice fields, and the rice-planting festival, otauë-shiki, is one of the three largest and most famous in Japan. When it is held at full scale, it involves two teams of men in loincloths wrestling over two very large fans in a muddy rice field, and getting covered in mud, as well as local elementary school girls planting the rice seedlings in the field while wearing traditional costume. These days, it is a nationally-recognised Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property, and while the mud-wrestling has been cancelled due to the pandemic, the girls doing the planting did happen again this year.

The August 29th issue of Jinja Shinpō had a short article about this festival, which was mainly concerned with its history in the Meiji period, in the late nineteenth century.

When the government “reformed” the matsuri at Jingū in 1871, they stopped this one. I am not sure whether it was officially forbidden, but the government confiscated Izawa-no-Miya’s rice fields, so it was impossible in practice. Local people did not take this lying down, and in 1882 they revived the matsuri at a privately owned rice field, under the name “Mushiyokë Tamatsuri”, or “Insect-Banishing Rice Field Festival”. After that, people arranged to donate rice fields to Izawa-no-Miya or have them purchased, and in 1891 the local authorities successfully petitioned Jingū to restart the matsuri.

The article, written by an official at Jingū, compares the impact of the pandemic on the matsuri to the impact of this ban, and there certainly are similarities. The main difference is that the disruption from the pandemic is unlikely to last twenty years. (At least, I certainly hope it won’t last twenty years.)

It is unusual for someone writing as part of the Shinto establishment to compare the impact of the Meiji government on Shinto to the impact of a natural disaster, but I think it is a fair comparison, quite generally.

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