Living With Kami: All About Konkokyo and Shinto

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Autumn in Japan: A season of the moon, ancestors, and gods

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

It is now Autumn in Japan, one of the most important seasons of the year.

There are four big events, starting with Shubun no Hi (Autumn Equinox), Tsukimi (Autumn Full Moon viewing), Kannazuki or Kanarizuki (Month Without or Month with Kami), and then Shuuki Taisai or Shuuki Reitaisai, (Autumn Grand Ceremony).

It is no surprise Autumn is an important time in Shinto and Japanese culture. As with many cultures and spiritualities around the world that are in tune with nature, Autumn is the all-important harvest season. A season to reap the bounties and give gratitude toward nature and the ancestors, deities, and other spirits to survive the cold upcoming Winter. In addition, it is a time of celebration, family, gathering, introspection, and reflection.

Living in a shrine now and as a Shinto priestess, these events are all the more clearly important to celebrate and honor, and be aware of their importance.

The leaves change color and fall to the ground, a chill enters the air. Smell of smoke and fires rise, and of soups and stews, of root vegetable cooking, and jackets huddled around shoulders. 

The season begins with celebrating the Autumn Equinox. In Japan, the Equinoxes were and are the traditional time to honor the ancestors, to honor those who have gone before us and it is called as “O Higan”. While the tradition of Obon in Summer to honor the ancestors is important as well, honoring the ancestors on the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes is also an important tradition. People visit their relatives gravesites, and pray for the prosperity of the family.

At our shrine, we have an altar for the ancestor spirits or mitama-no-kami, so we hold a grand ceremony on the Equinox day. It is the “Autumn Grand Mitama Ceremony” and one of the few times of the year we open the doors of the Mitama shrine. It is a larger ceremony than the usual monthly ceremonies, but a smaller ceremony than Shuuki Reitaisai, or the Autumn Grand Ceremony for Kami-sama.

This year, the preparations went smoothly and we were able to hold the ceremony successfully.
During the ceremony, people prayed, and offered tamagushi, a symbolic representation of their hearts and spirits. We enjoyed the naorai, or food from the altar, afterwards and had a pleasant chat with all the shrine visitors! 

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Snapshots of the ceremony

 

The day after the ceremony was Tsukimi, or the moon viewing festival. This festival is to honor the Harvest Moon of the season, which began with the first Autumn Full Moon on September 23rd to the 24th . Many people still celebrate throughout the Fall season and also do Tsukimi on the October Full Moon too.

On the night of the full moon, everyone gathers to watch the moon from a good spot, and decorate with susuki grass.

No one knows why exactly susuki grass is offered or decorated, but there are a few theories: some say it's because it is a substitute for rice which cannot be harvested yet, and some say that “susuki” sounds similar to “tsuki”, the word for “moon” in Japanese.

Another theory, and my favorite, is that the moon god, Tsukuyomi no Mikoto-sama, uses the susuki grass as a yorishiro, or vessel that calls to his spirit to dwell with the people for a limited period. In such, it is said his spirit would stay in the stem of the susuki during Tsukimi.

In addition, white dango are served as they look like small moons. Taro, chestnuts, and other seasonal foods, plus sake are also given as offerings to the moon in hopes of an abundant harvest. These dishes are called as Tsukimi dishes (月見料理 tsukimi ryōri).

 

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A week or so after tsukimi night, and October 1st comes, officially marking “Kannazuki” or “month without gods”. In Izumo region, the month is “Kanarizuki” or “Month with gods”.

There are many theories as to where or how Kannazuki came about, but it is truly a mystery no one knows the true origin of. The common belief across Japan however centers around the Izumo traditional belief, where it is believed the kami all gather at Izumo Taisha to discuss worldly and spiritual affairs.

 

This story comes from the Kojiki as well as other record books. It has many variations, but in essence it is the tale of how Takamagahara (The realm of the Amatsukami, or Heavenly kami) came to be united with Izumo (A kingdom of Kunitsukami). It is said Amaterasu Omikami-sama, the head Amatsukami, took grave offense to seeing Ookuninushi Okami, the head of the Kunitsukami in Izumo, becoming a King of the earthly realms and the land itself. Since she saw Ookununishi Okami-sama's actions as inconsiderate toward the right to rule given to her by her Father, Izanagi Okami-sama, she ordered various messengers and negotiators to Ookununushi Okami-sama to cease and desist his activities.

However, there were many failed attempts, which resulted in a betrayal and even death of the kami Ame no Wakahiko no Mikoto. As a last attempt before a war started, Amaterasu Omikami-sama sent two trusted kami to negotiate a final time. After this attempt, Ookuninushi Okami-sama finally accepted to give over the rule of the land to Amaterasu Omikami-sama's grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto-sama.

As gratitude toward Ookuninushi Okami-sama (or some say it was on a condition requested by him) she had Izumo Taisha built for him, and he was to have responsibility and jurisdiction over spiritual affairs, whereas Amaterasu Omikami-sama and her lineage would have responsibility and jurisdiction over physical affairs and government. Per this agreement, all of the kami, Amatsukami and Kunitsukami, would gather at Izumo Taisha every October to talk about affairs of the physical and spiritual. So the story goes!

And indeed, even in practice, Izumo Taisha holds many special ceremonies and rituals during this time, and there are special shrines on the grounds reserved for the kami who do visit during this time of year as well.

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Artwork Depicting a scene typical of the gathering of the gods at Izumo Taisha

Source

The next most important event for the Autumn season, which can happen anytime usually between early October to early November, is the Shuuki Taisai/Reitaisai or Autumn Grand Ceremony all shrines hold. It is one of the two most largest festivals for any shrine, the other one being Shuunki Taisai or the Spring Grand Ceremony. During this time of the year, it is one of the very few times the shrine doors of the inner altar are opened, when one can feel the power and energy of Kamisama very strongly.

Special food offerings, music, and kagura dance are shown toward Kamisama, in gratitude and awe, and to pray for and give thanks for a bountiful harvest, and for mercy during the Winter season until Spring, the next Grand Ceremony.

The Grand Ceremonies are my favorite time of the year! This year, our shrine will hold both it's Shuki Reitaisai and 120th Anniversary ceremony on November 3rd at 1:30pm. I will write more about the Grand Ceremony time and the event itself after that day, so please look forward to it!
Let's enjoy the Autumn festivities!

Last modified on
Hello! I am Olivia. Nice to meet you. I am an ordained Konkokyo priestess since October 22nd, 2015. My hometown is Toronto, Ontario, Canada, but I'm currently working as an associate minister/priestess and miko at the Konkokyo Yokosuka Kyoukai in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan. During my training, I went to various shrines and temples, and regions all around Japan, and I want to share all the spiritual knowledge I was able to learn with many others all around the world. I hope to help others as much as I can!

Comments

  • Courtney
    Courtney Thursday, 18 October 2018

    This was lovely and informative. Thank you.

  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis Monday, 22 October 2018

    I always love you providing these details. Autumn seems to be a special time of the year in many places (I know the Mid-Autumn Festival in China is a pretty big deal and obviously in the West we love Halloween/Samhain). For me personally it's both one of my favorite times of the year and, paradoxically, one of those at which I feel most stressed. Don't ask me how that works!

    Interesting that the same festival, Kannazuki / Kanarizuki, has different names with opposite meanings. Though with the story I suppose it makes sense: the gods are concentrated in Izumo and absent from other regions of the country.

    Are you planning to make a note of Halloween during your next post in November? I realize it is not even remotely a Shinto festival but I've heard it's gotten extraordinarily popular in Japan over the last few decades and have wondered if there's a spiritual aspect to that or if (as I suspect) it's largely just for fun (as it is truly here in the West for most people).

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