Matsuri are the fundamental activity in Shinto. Indeed, a book recently published as an introductory text for people training for the priesthood is called “Jinja and Matsuri”. In contemporary Shinto, most matsuri are extremely ritualised and solemn, but some involve mobs of people running around the town with a giant wooden penis. There is a standard form, but personae have a great deal of freedom in designing matsuri.

Conceptually, a matsuri welcomes a honoured visitor, the kami. The people provide food, read a carefully-written speech of welcome, and offer entertainment, before the kami leaves again. The people may also ask for assistance, or thank the kami for previous aid. These elements all appear to go back to the very earliest times of Shinto, when the kami were not believed to dwell permanently in jinja. Instead, they were welcomed to the sacred space for each matsuri, and bid farewell again when it ended. A standard matsuri still includes the arrival and departure of the kami, even though, these days, the kami is typically believed to be present in the jinja at all times.

Before the matsuri starts, all the people and things that will take part must be purified. This includes both literal cleaning, and harae, or ritual purification. Harae is another central concept in Shinto, so it will get its own post at some point, when I am deciding how, exactly, to work it into the game.

The food and drink for the kami are offered right at the beginning. The food is called “mikë” (mee-keh), and the drink, which is always sake, Japanese rice wine, is called “miki” (mee-kee). The mikë always includes rice, water, and salt, but can also include any other kind of food. Many rituals have special traditional mikë, but it can be literally anything, including a box of chocolates. It is rare to offer the meat of mammals, although this is thought to be due to the influence of Buddhism rather than an original part of Shinto, but fish is common, as are birds. Any food should be high-quality, because it is being offered to a respected guest.

The speech of welcome is called a “norito”. Norito are written in ninth-century Japanese, which is different enough from contemporary Japanese to be hard to follow, without being completely incomprehensible. There are particular phrases that are held to be especially appropriate, and the norito are supposed to follow a fixed structure. However, they are also supposed to be written specifically for each matsuri. A matsuri that has been held every year for centuries normally has a traditional norito as well, but if you ask for a matsuri, the shrine priest may write a special norito for it. That said, most priests own at least a few books full of example norito, because writing norito is not an easy job. “Norito” is often translated “prayer”, and this is not too bad. The norito is addressed to the kami, and it should be written for the situation. However, many prayers in the Christian tradition are much less formal than norito.

The standard form of entertainment is sacred dance, or “kagura”. This dance can take many forms, and is thought to have originated in shamanic possession. It is common for the dancer to wear a mask, or to carry bells, and the music is normally based on traditional Japanese court music, or “gagaku”. This music has very different conventions from Western music. Drums, various kinds of flute, and the koto, a stringed instrument, are the most common instruments, and sometimes people sing. These days, most kagura is performed by miko, female assistants at the shrine, but the most traditional kagura is performed by priests, residents of the area, or members of a particular family.

A matsuri, as you can see, has plenty of room for creation within the basic structure. The mikë, norito, and kagura can all be designed to fit the situation. Creating a matsuri will be one of the central activities in Kannagara, and possibly the most common use of the rules for creation. Those rules will be the topic of the next few posts.






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