Video of a Shrine Ritual

I wanted to share this because usually every year during Golden Week I share a video with my Patreon backers of the “shrine battle” at one of the major local shrines. This year because of the pandemic, the festival was cancelled, but the shrine ceremony went on as it always does and has for over 1000 years. This year, the priests posted a video of the ceremony, which is really really cool.

This is Otaki jinja, a shrine to the goddess Kawakami Gozen. It’s a big shrine located in the far corner of a rural town in a rural prefecture. It’s essentially the last building before you enter the mountains. Legend has it hundreds and hundreds of years ago, she came down from this mountain and taught the locals how to make paper. Since then, Echizen has been an important center of traditional Japanese paper (washi). Incidentally, it has special meaning to me because it is the shrine where my wife and I got married.

In this above video, you can watch as the priests leave early in the morning from the shrine at the base of the mountain. They wear a little backpack like structure, which is a house for a god. Normally instead of a mini backpack, there is a massive and majestic golden palanquin carried by many people. But for social distancing, this year it’s just a priest with a backpack.

They travel to the top of the mountain, and take the goddess and her family out of the shrines where they live during the year. They then take her down, and re-enshrine here in the village for the day.

She visits each of the local shrines at that time, and the local villagers all pay their respects. (This is where the shrine battles take place, because each village doesn’t want the goddess to leave. They want her to stay with them for the year.) Obviously that is not part of this video, but it’s my favorite festival during other years.

Finally, at the end of the day, there is another long ceremony, and she is placed back into the palanquin (or backpack) and carried back up the mountain to her home at the top. Normally, this is done in the pitch black (lit only by hand held paper lanterns), up a dangerous mountain trail, by drunk villagers carrying a heavy golden palanquin. Even when I was not drunk or carrying a shrine, I was afraid of falling and breaking my neck, so I can’t imagine how they do this every year.

Anyway, it’s really cool to get a unique perspective of this ritual, even though it’s unfortunate that the festivals had to be canceled.

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