Japan Folklore: Hōnen Matsuri

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Hōnen Matsuri

Photo Credits: google.it

Il 15 marzo di ogni anno si celebra lo Honen Matsuri in tutto il Giappone. Il più famoso ha luogo presso il Tagata Jinja nella piccola città di Komaki, fuori Nagoya, con foto e filmati disponibili su Internet. Ma in altre parti del Giappone, come l’Honen Matsuri di Okinawa, questo festival è ancora considerato un rito sacro e segreto e nessuna foto o registrazione sono permessi. Anche parlare o scrivere di ciò che si è visto è tecnicamente proibito.

Hōnen Matsuri (豊年祭),  letteralmente “Festival del raccolto”, ha una storia di quasi 1500 anni: il suo scopo è garantire la fertilità delle piantagioni per l’anno successivo. Un rituale ricco di benedizioni per il raccolto, ma anche per ogni tipo di prosperità e fertilità in generale. Agli occhi degli occidentali, questa celebrazione potrebbe assumere dei connotati osceni poiché il suo simbolo è un fallo di legno di cipresso di 280 kg, per una lunghezza di 2,5 metri. Ma non è assolutamente così.

I riti fallici hanno infatti origine nella preistoria. Si pensa che questi riti local indigeni, e le corrispondenti pratiche e credenze della fertilità vaginale, furono facilmente adattati al nuovo sistema di credenze taoiste che stavano prendendo piede in Giappone. Sistema di credenze che avrebbe poi formato la Via dello Yin e dello Yang, la tradizionale cosmologia esoterica. I culti della fertilità locale coesistettero e sembrano essere stati incoraggiati, istituzionalizzati e presieduti dalle élite reali di Nara. Élite che si stabilirono come signori feudali su estese aree locali.

La celebrazione della fertilità

Un elemento importante delle feste shintoiste giapponesi sono le processioni, in cui il kami (divinità shintoista) del santuario locale viene trasportato attraverso la città in un mikoshi 神輿 o 御輿 (palanchini, piccolo santuario trasportabile). È l’unico periodo dell’anno in cui il kami lascia il santuario per essere portato in giro per la città. Si dice che questo rito del  trasporto della divinità si basi sulla leggenda del kami che qui dimora, Takeinazumi-no-mikoto. Egli aveva un pene enorme e prese in moglie una donna locale, Aratahime-no-mikoto.

Alle 9:00 del mattino i preparativi sono in corso: gli stand gastronomici fanno capolino con le loro banane al cioccolato scolpite a forma di pene decorate alla base con marshmallow. Spuntano bancarelle di souvenir, statuette e altri oggetti che vengono offerte per augurare una grande fertilità ai propri cari. Queste statue permettono alle coppie di pregare per un bambino, i non sposati pregano per un marito o una moglie, mentre gli agricoltori sperano in abbondanti raccolti. Il tutto è allietato da l’immancabile distribuzione di sake all-you can-drink contenuto in grandi botti di legno.

Photo credits: thingstodoinnagoyawhenyouredeaddrunk.wordpress.com

La cerimonia inizia verso le 10:00. I sacerdoti cospargono di sale la strada per purificare la via che verrà intrapresa dai portatori. Recitano anche preghiere e impartiscono benedizioni ai partecipanti e ai mikoshi, così come al grande fallo di legno che deve essere trasportato lungo il percorso della parata. Il punto di partenza è il santuario chiamato Shinmei Sha (negli anni pari), situato su una grande collina, o il santuario di Kumano-sha (negli anni dispari), per arrivare poi al santuario di Tagata Jinja. Giunti qui,  c’è il tradizionale rito del mochi nage: i partecipanti si battono per afferrare una delle piccole torte di riso lanciate dai funzionari dalle piattaforme rialzate. Questi dolcetti porteranno fortuna nell’anno avvenire.[:en]

Hōnen Matsuri

Photo Credits: google.it

The Honen Matsuri is celebrated every year on March 15 throughout Japan. The most famous one takes place at the Tagata Jinja, in the small town of Komaki, outside Nagoya, with photos and videos available on the Internet. But in other parts of Japan, such as the Honen Matsuri of Okinawa, this festival is still considered a sacred and secret rite and no photo or recording is allowed. Even speaking or writing about what has been seen is technically prohibited.

Hōnen Matsuri (豊年祭),  literally “Harvest Festival”, has a 1500-year-long history: its purpose is to guarantee the fertility of the harvest for the following year. A ritual full of blessings for the harvest, but also for all sorts of prosperity and fertility in general. This celebration could take on obscene features, at least in western eyes,  because its symbol is a 280 kg cypress pine phallus, with a length of 2.5 meters. But it is absolutely not like that.

Phallic rites have in fact prehistoric origins. It is believed that this local indigenous rites, and the corresponding vaginal fertility practices and beliefs, were easily accommodated by the new system of Taoist beliefs that were taking root in Japan. System of beliefs that would later form the Way of Yin and Yang, the traditional esoteric cosmology. The local fertility cults co-existed and appear to have been encouraged, institutionalized and presided over by the royal elites from Nara.  Élites who established themselves as feudal lords over expanded local areas.

The celebration of fertility

An important element of Japanese Shinto festivals are processions, in which the kami (Shinto divinity) of the local shrine is transported across the city in a mikoshi 神輿 or 御輿 (palanquin, small portable shrine). It is the only time of the year in which the kami leaves its shrine to be carried around the city. It is said that this transporting of the deity rite is based on a legend about the enshrined kami, Takeinazumi-no-mikoto. He had an enormous penis and took a local woman, Aratahime-no-mikoto, as his wife.

At 9:00 am preparations are underway: food stands peep out with their chocolate bananas carved in the shape of a penis and decorated at the base with marshmallows. Here and there, stalls of souvenirs, statuettes and other objects to be offered to the loved ones wishing for great fertility. These statues allow couples to pray for a child, the unmarried pray for a husband or wife, while farmers hope for abundant harvest. Everything enlivened by the unfailing distribution of all-you-can-drink sake contained in big wooden barrels.

Photo credits: thingstodoinnagoyawhenyouredeaddrunk.wordpress.com

The ceremony begins around 10:00 pm. Priests sprinkle the road with salt to purify the way ahead of the carriers. They also say prayers and impart blessings on participants and  mikoshi, as well as on the large wooden phallus that has to be carried along the parade route. The starting point is a shrine called Shinmei Sha (on even-numbered years), located on a large hill, or the Kumano-sha  shrine (on odd-numbered years), to arrive at the Tagata Jinja shrine. Once here, there is the traditional mochi nage rite: participants fight to grab one of the small rice cakes thrown by the officials from their raised platforms. These sweets will bring good luck for the next year.[:ja]

Hōnen Matsuri

Photo Credits: google.it

The Honen Matsuri is celebrated every year on March 15 throughout Japan. The most famous one takes place at the Tagata Jinja, in the small town of Komaki, outside Nagoya, with photos and videos available on the Internet. But in other parts of Japan, such as the Honen Matsuri of Okinawa, this festival is still considered a sacred and secret rite and no photo or recording is allowed. Even speaking or writing about what has been seen is technically prohibited.

Hōnen Matsuri (豊年祭),  literally “Harvest Festival”, has a 1500-year-long history: its purpose is to guarantee the fertility of the harvest for the following year. A ritual full of blessings for the harvest, but also for all sorts of prosperity and fertility in general. This celebration could take on obscene features, at least in western eyes,  because its symbol is a 280 kg cypress pine phallus, with a length of 2.5 meters. But it is absolutely not like that.

Phallic rites have in fact prehistoric origins. It is believed that this local indigenous rites, and the corresponding vaginal fertility practices and beliefs, were easily accommodated by the new system of Taoist beliefs that were taking root in Japan. System of beliefs that would later form the Way of Yin and Yang, the traditional esoteric cosmology. The local fertility cults co-existed and appear to have been encouraged, institutionalized and presided over by the royal elites from Nara.  Élites who established themselves as feudal lords over expanded local areas.

The celebration of fertility

An important element of Japanese Shinto festivals are processions, in which the kami (Shinto divinity) of the local shrine is transported across the city in a mikoshi 神輿 or 御輿 (palanquin, small portable shrine). It is the only time of the year in which the kami leaves its shrine to be carried around the city. It is said that this transporting of the deity rite is based on a legend about the enshrined kami, Takeinazumi-no-mikoto. He had an enormous penis and took a local woman, Aratahime-no-mikoto, as his wife.

At 9:00 am preparations are underway: food stands peep out with their chocolate bananas carved in the shape of a penis and decorated at the base with marshmallows. Here and there, stalls of souvenirs, statuettes and other objects to be offered to the loved ones wishing for great fertility. These statues allow couples to pray for a child, the unmarried pray for a husband or wife, while farmers hope for abundant harvest. Everything enlivened by the unfailing distribution of all-you-can-drink sake contained in big wooden barrels.

Photo credits: thingstodoinnagoyawhenyouredeaddrunk.wordpress.com

The ceremony begins around 10:00 pm. Priests sprinkle the road with salt to purify the way ahead of the carriers. They also say prayers and impart blessings on participants and  mikoshi, as well as on the large wooden phallus that has to be carried along the parade route. The starting point is a shrine called Shinmei Sha (on even-numbered years), located on a large hill, or the Kumano-sha  shrine (on odd-numbered years), to arrive at the Tagata Jinja shrine. Once here, there is the traditional mochi nage rite: participants fight to grab one of the small rice cakes thrown by the officials from their raised platforms. These sweets will bring good luck for the next year.[:]