Aoi-matsuri - Part Two

Posted: 10/05/2021
Category: Japanese Festivals

Amongst the rituals that precede the great procession, of paramount importance is Mikage-matsuri on May 12th, during which the Kami is invited to descend to Mikage-jinja.

Over one hundred Shinto priests, clad in epoch garments, come from Shimogamo-jinja in order to meet the sacred spirit. Their procession is considered the oldest of its kind in Japan. The moving up the hill to the shrine looks like a fascinating picture in the midst of the miraculous nature that blesses Japan at every step.

The priests and the musicians are welcomed at Mikage-jinja by two guardians whose duty is to watch over the deity temporarily laid beyond the gate of the inner shrine. The priests chant prayers whilst the musicians make the whole place vibrate with their gentle sounds typical of old observances.

The onlookers are not allowed to watch the ritual of offerings through the curtains hanging at the gate but, when it is over, they are treated to sacred sake whilst looking closely at the food offerings on the table inside the inner sanctuary. It was another exquisite experience I will dearly keep in my heart all my life.

At midnight, the most impressive ritual is carried on at Kamigamo-jinja. It is called Miare-shinji (“the Honourable Birth”) and it stands for the temporary manifestation of the deity reborn every year. It is only the
priests that are allowed to take part in it.

After the rebirth of the Kami, the participants are temporarily imbued with sacredness and can thus share the common exultation of the festive spirit of Aoi-matsuri. Then the Kami is transferred to Shimogamo-jinja, but before reaching it, he stops over at Akanomiya subsidiary shrine in order to be presented with other offerings of food, music, and masked dances.

The divine spirit embodied by the evergreen sakaki sacred branch is carried by car up to the heart of Tadasu forest, where it is transferred onto the back of a white horse, believed to be the deity’s messenger. This ritual resembles very much the rituals described in the ancient chronicles at the beginning of the 8th century.

Photo: Horse with the divine spirit on its back

The horse is made to enter a temporary abode draped in five colours, from where it is supposed to watch Azuma-asobi, the oldest dance in Japan dating back to the 8th century. The six dancers in ceremonial Court attire fascinate the spectators with their orderly slow and ample movements regulated by tradition. The horse with the sacred spirit on its back seemed attracted too, as it stood still throughout the dance.

I was definitely impressed by that exceptionally charming atmosphere imbued with a thirteen century-old mysterious flavour, which became still more resonant thanks to the old trees and to the brooks in the precincts. The clear water of the brooks seems to reflect the very Japanese soul.

To be continued in part three...

Photos: ©Angela Hondru

Angela Hondru Letter to Japan
Bucharest 2020 p.16 - 23

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