Mircea Eliade "From Primitives to Zen": A SHINTO HARVEST RITUAL


The Praying for Harvest, or Toshigohi no Matsuri, was celebrated on the 4th day of the 2nd month Of each year, at the capital in the Zhingikuwan or Office for the Worship of the Shinto gods, and in the provinces by the chiefs of the local administration. At the Zhingikuwan there were assembled the ministers of state, the functionaries of that office, the priests and priestesses Of 573 temples, containing 737 shrines, which were kept up at the expense of the Mikado's treasury, while the governors of the provinces superintended in the districts under their administration the performance of rites in honour Of 2,395 other shrines.

The service began at twenty minutes to seven. The officials of the Zhingikuwan arranged the offering on the tables and below them, according to the rank of the shrines for which they were intended. The final preparations being now complete, the ministers of state, the virgin priestesses and the priests of the temples to which offerings were sent by the Mikado entered in succession, and took the places severally assigned to them. The horses which formed a part of the offerings were next brought in from the Mikado's stable, and all the congregation drew near, while the reader recited or read the norito. This reader was a member of the priestly family or tribe of Nakatomi, who traced their descent back to Amenokoyane, one of the principal advisers attached to the sungoddess' grandchild when he first descended on earth.

The earliest account of the proceedings on these occasions is contained in a Record of the year 871. The harvest ritual translated by Satow contains 13 prayers and invocations. The text reproduced below is the third in that series.

He 1 says: 'I declare in the presence of the sovran gods of the HARVEST .2 If the sovran gods will bestow in many-bundled ears and in luxuriant ears the late-ripening harvest which they will bestow, the late-ripening harvest which will be produced by the dripping of foam from the arms and by drawing the mud together between the opposing thighs,3 then I will fulfil their praises by setting-up the first fruits in a thousand ears and many hundred ears 4 raising-high the beer-jars, filling and ranging-in-rows the bellies of the beer-jars, I will present them [i.e. the first-fruits] in juice and in ear. As to things which grow in the great-field-plain-sweet herbs and bitter herbs: as to things which dwell in the blue-sea plain-things wide of fin and things narrow of fin, down to the weeds of the offing and weeds of the shore: and to CLOTHES- with bright cloth, glittering cloth, soft cloth and coarse cloth will I fulfil praises. And having furnished a white horse, a white boar and a white cock, 5 and the various kinds of things in the presence of the sovran god of the HARVEST, I fulfil his praises by setting up the great OFFERINGS of the sovran (GRANDCHILD'S 6 augustness.'


1 'He' is the reader of the ritual, and the word rendered by 'says' signifies that the speaker is supposed to be speaking the words of the Mikado.

2 Who the gods of the Harvest were is unknown. According to the Ko-ji-ki, Susa-no-o begot the Great Harvest god, Ohotoshi no Kami, who begot the Harvest god, Mi-tosbi no Kami, and several other names of deities, supposed to provide the human race with cereals, occur in various myths. The most famous of these are the goddess worshipped at the Outer Temple (Gekuu) at Watarahi in Ise, and the deity, Uka no mitama or Spirit of Food, to whom is dedicated the temple of Inari.

3 The process of preparing the half-liquid soil of the rice fields for the reception of the young plants is thus described.

4 Kahi, here rendered by ear,' is more exactly the seed of rice enclosed between the paleae.

5 The horse for the god to ride on, the cock to tell the time, and the boar (a domesticated animal, not the wild boar) for the god's food.

6 i.e. Grandchild of Amaterasu, the Sun-Goddess. The epithet 'sovran grandchild' was first applied to the founder on earth of the Mikado's dynasty, but came in time to be applied to each and all of his successors on the throne.

Translation, introduction and notes by Ernest Satow, 'Ancient Japanese Rituals: no. 1-The Praying for Harvest,' Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. VII, part I (1879) pp. 97-132; quotation from PP- 113 ff.

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