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Shinto Holidays

By Yona Williams    2/27/09

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When it comes to major annual festivals celebrated by Shintoists (called matsuri), each shrine offers celebrations that include festivals that pay homage to a particular season. In this article, you will encounter the meaning behind some of the more significant occasions of the Shinto religion.

Spring Festival (Haru Matsuri or Toshigoi-no-Matsuri): During this festival, participants pray that they will receive a decent harvest.

Autumn or Harvest Festival (Aki Matsuri, or Niiname-sai)

Annual Festival (Rei-sai): Usually taking place on the day of the Annual Festival, people set up mini-shrines (called mikoshi) during the Divine Procession (Shinko-sai). The shrines are then carried on the shoulders of participant, traveling throughout the parish. This is a time to show respect for the enshrined deity Kami. Special rites are often encountered on occasions (like the Annual Festival), which could involve the following practices:

·    special water purification (misogi)
·    confinement in shrines for devotional purposes (o-komori)
·    the procession of a sacred palanquin (o-miyuki) or of boats (funa matsuri)
·    ceremonial feast (toya matsuri)
·    sumo wrestling
·    horseback riding (kurabe-uma)
·    archery (matoi)
·    a dance devoted to the lion (shishi mai)
·    rice-planting activities (o-taue matsuri)

Shinto New Year (Oshogatsu or Shogatsu): Shintoists consider this holiday one of the most popular celebrations, where many shrine visits take place.

Adults' Day (Seijin Shiki): This celebration pertains to Japanese individuals who have reached the legal age of adulthood, which is 20 in the country, during the previous year. Those who have turned 20 usually attend a shrine to give thanks.

Spring Festival (known as Rissun or Setsubun): During the spring, this festival observes the separation between the Winter and Spring seasons. Beans play a significant role in the celebration.

Festival of Dolls (Hina-matsuri): This holiday is devoted to the daughters in a family.

Equinox Day (Shubun-sai): This day is spent visiting the graves of loved ones and also has an association with Buddhism in Japan.

7-5-3 Festival (Shichigosan): This festival pays homage to children and is often celebrated on the closest Sunday to the 15th of November so that parents that work have a chance to join in with the celebration.

Labor Thanksgiving Day (Niinamesei): This national holiday takes place in Japan and was originally meant as a harvest festival, allowing people to appreciate their harvest and have a chance to share in the joy with Kami.

The majority of Shinto festivals are typically observed following a specific set of steps within rituals that are associated to grand celebrations. To learn more about these steps, check out the article titled, "An Introduction to Shinto Rituals," which touches upon activities, like purification rites, food offerings, and the role of a chief priest.

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