Shinto Holidays and Festivals

Each Shinto shrine has several major festivals (matsuri) each year, including the Spring Festival (Haru Matsuri or Toshigoi-no-Matsuri), Autumn or Harvest Festival (Aki Matsuri, or Niiname-sai), an Annual Festival (Rei-sai), and the Divine Procession (Shinko-sai). The Divine Procession usually takes place on the day of the Annual Festival, and miniature shrines (mikoshi) carried on the shoulders are transported through the parish.

The order of rituals at a grand festival is usually as follows:

    - Purification rites (harae), commonly held at a corner of the shrine precincts before participants come into the shrine but sometimes held within the shrine before beginning a ceremony. - Adoration. The chief priest and all the congregation bow to the altar. - Opening of the door of the inner sanctuary (by the chief priest). - Presentation of food offerings. Rice, sake wine, rice cakes, fish, seaweed, vegetables, salt, water, etc., are offered but animal meat is not, because of the taboo on shedding blood in the sacred area. In the past cooked food was usually offered to kami, but nowadays uncooked food is more often used. In accordance with this change, the idea of entertaining kami changed to that of thanksgiving. - Prayer. The chief priest recites prayers (norito) modeled on ancient Shinto prayers. These prayers were compiled in the early 10th century and were based on the old belief that spoken words had spiritual potency. - Sacred music and dance. - General offering. Participants in the festival make symbolic offerings using little branches of the evergreen sacred tree to which strips of white paper are tied. - Taking offerings away. - Shutting the door of the inner sanctuary. - Final adoration. - Feast (naorai). Since World War II it has become popular to have a brief sermon or speech before the feast.
Most Shinto festivals are observed generally in accordance with the above order. On such occasions as the Annual Festival, various special rites may be held—for example, special water purification (misogi) and confinement in shrines for devotional purposes (o-komori), the procession of a sacred palanquin (o-miyuki) or of boats (funa matsuri), a ceremonial feast (toya matsuri), sumo wrestling, horseback riding (kurabe-uma), archery (matoi), a lion dance (shishi mai), and a rice-planting festival (o-taue matsuri).