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The origins of Japanese omikoshi procession

Last fall I visited my first omikoshi matsuri (matsuri with palanquin procession) in Japan but at the time I didn’t really get it. All that noise, wild shrieks and clatter just annoyed me, and my Japanese husband couldn’t explain the meaning of dressing up and dragging something resembling a small shrine around.

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However, after reading a few books on Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, it all began to make sense to me. This procession is an exciting and, moreover, meaningful part of a festival. It is the symbolic transfer of kami (deity of a certain shrine) from the inner sanctuary to an ornate divine palanquin, known as omikoshi in Japanese.

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It is an occasion for the deity to come down from the world of kami and bless the homes of the faithful. Of course there is no real deity inside. A sacred mirror or other substitute for the sacred symbol of a kami from the shrine is placed inside the mikoshi after a special ritual.FullSizeRender__9___1442217358_69359In addition to the main palanquin, there are much smaller palanquins for kids. They contain a piece of paper with the name of the kami written on it.

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The festivals are not limited to carrying sacred palanquins. The procession can also include decorated floats and sometimes even performers.

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You can imagine how heavy these omikoshi are. They are carried by strong people (usually men) who are called kasugi-te.

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Shouting «Wasshoi, wasshoi!» while lifting the portable Shinto shrine up and down is the modern way of carrying it. People believe that this will amuse the kami. In ancient times the palanquin was carried stately and some shrines follow that tradition.

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The sacred palanquin is carried to a place called otabisho for a short rest. This weekend there were a lot of temporary stations in Azabu and Shirokane area.

Article by Olga Kaneda

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