Human Flower Project

450 Green Years at Mikami Shrine


Our long-distance advisor in Yasu City, Japan, explains with a generous letter some of the mystery behind the town’s Zuiki Matsuri, a national treasure and an international wonder. Thank you, Jason!


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Shrines made of taro stem are constructed each October in Yasu, Japan, a tradition at least 450 years old.

Photo: Human Flower Project

Hi Julie,

How are you? I am truly sorry it’s been so long since we’ve last spoken. I have been unavailable for a while.

Now that things have begun to settle down, I was able to do some research. It took a little while. Apparently not even very many Japanese people are knowledgeable at all in regards to this festival.

Anyway, here goes.

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Glittering crests on the shrines are made with sesame seed

Photo: Bill Bishop

Overview:

The name ずいき祭り(Zuiki Matsuri): Zuiki is taro or a type of rhubarb. Matsuri is festival. A variety of purple zuiki is eaten throughout Japan.

The parade that you observed is on the second Monday of October and is the peak of a 5-day long ritual held every year at 御上神社 Mikami Jinja (Shrine). This festival is held to give thanks for a bountiful harvest.

In many festivals a portable shrine is carried about, and in like fashion in this festival, there are shrines carried about, the difference being that in this festival the shrines are constructed every year from the fruits of the harvest. If you look closely, you can observe persimmons and chestnuts adorning the shrines. The crests on the roofs of the shrines are made of sesame seeds, etc.

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A member of one of the three clans for centuries associated with the Mikami Shrine bows after presenting a branch of sacred sakaki, 10/11/10.

Photo: Bill Bishop

The people:

The stewards charged with conducting the festival are comprised of three groups from the Mikami area associated with Mikami shrine. 長之家、東座 and 西座 (Chounoya, Higashiza and Nishiza). According to tradition, each of these groups appoints two families within the group to conduct the festival and construct the shrines. However, over the years Chounoya’s numbers have decreased and now they only appoint one family, which accounts for the 5 shrines.

Usually the head of the household is called the 頭人 (tounin), who is usually part of the main ceremonies (leads the procession etc.). How these groups have been appointed is unclear.

History:

As far as what historical records show, the festival is at least 450 years old . The records that have been recovered start at 1561 and begin after a 20 year hiatus, and so in all likelihood Zuiki Matsuri is older than that.

Every household that has been appointed is on record and many people in Yasu can trace their families from these records.

There are many autumn festivals in Japan; there is even a version of Zuiki Matsuri in Kyoto, with the majority of the festivals constantly evolving. However the unique aspect of the Mikami Shrine’s Zuiki is that records have been kept for 450 years, resulting in a ceremony has been virtually unchanged for over four centuries. (Imagine having a record of every Halloween and how it took place being on record for over 400 years!)

Thus in 2005, the Japanese government designated Yasu’s Zuiki Festival as a national cultural treasure.

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The Mikami Shrine, just outside Yasu City, has been named a National Treasure of Japan

Photo: Human Flower Project

Mikami Shrine:

Mikami Shrine is also designated a national treasure. It is well over 700 years old and has many traditions associated with it, including a spring festival, that ensures a good season.

Day 5 before Zuiki:

The priests pray for safety throughout the festival

Day 3 before Zuiki:

The priests bless and purify water that is used in purifying the households that will be taking part in the festival.

Day 2 before Zuiki:

The Zuiki is harvested and the shrines constructed.

Traditionally the shrines are constructed within the households, but presently neighbors and other members within the group help with making the shrines at an appointed place with the household, directing and overseeing construction. The know-how on how to make the shrines has been passed along from generation to generation.

Day 1 before Zuiki:

The head of the appointed household officially passes on the responsibility to the next household. The next family will oversee the production and harvesting of the Zuiki as well as the construction of the shrines the following fall.

Zuiki from 11:00:

The shrines are carried to Mikami Shrine (You were able to observe).

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Shinto priests prepare to recognize leaders of the three Mikami families on the final day of the Zuiki Matsuri in Yasu City

Photo: Human Flower Project

Closing ceremonies on Zuiki 19:00:

The gods descend and take on the form of a man, who drives away evil spirits and ensures a prosperous year. Certain morsels of food items that have ritual significance are exchanged—rice cakes, fermented fish and Sake. The children of the appointed head take part in ceremonial sumo.

All of this transpires within the confines of Mikami Shrine.

I hope this reaches you in time and is a help. I realized that there is virtually no information on this topic available online, and not very much in Japanese either, so I tracked down a few people.

Kind regards,

Jason
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ジェイソンーJason

野洲市国際協会

Yasu International Friendship Association

Note: You can find our earlier post on the Zuiki Matsuri, composed before receiving Jason’s hugely informative letter.

 



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Comments

I like the “new” aspect of a communal shrine vs. one for each household.

Posted by Georgia on 11/18 at 10:05 AM
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