Matsuri: Festival and Rite in Japanese Life
[Table of Contents]

Divine Symbols in Japanese Festivals: The Ôgi Festival in KurokawaI

NAKAMAKI Hirochika

1. Mise en Scene

Composed broadly of the two aspects "ritual worship" (saigi) and "celebration" (shukusai)1, Japanese festivals[Glossary: matsuri] involve a wide variety of symbolic contents, and are supported by unique organizations, based on the principles of "harmony" and "opposition."2 In this paper I want to interpret the relationship between such symbols and organizations through the medium of a theory of cognition.

Human perception is composed of three types of cognition: concrete sensory cognition (kankakuteki ninshiki), abstract conceptual cognition (gainenteki ninshiki), and what might be called an intermediate kind of cognition, namely, representational cognition (hyôshôteki ninshiki), a form which is involved with everyday perception while still retaining some of the unique features of sensory cognition. The existence of symbols assumes the presence of representational cognition and conceptual cognition, while pure sensory cognition is excluded from the activity of symbol formation.

Symbol formation can occur through either of two processes: in one, symbols are produced from association with the representation of a given thing, while in the other, symbols are evoked as the expression of representations or concepts. In this essay, representations and concepts will be treated as cognition, while symbols will be considered the expression of that cognition.3

2. Kurokawa's Ôgi Festival

The subject of this paper is the Ôgi Festival, held each year in the major village section Kurokawa, Kushibiki-machi, Higashitagawa-gun, Yamagata Prefecture, on the first and second days of February. Kurokawa is a rice paddy region located on the east bank of the river Akagawa, about thirty minutes by bus south along the old highway Rokujû-ri Kaidô (present-day National Highway 134) which runs from Tsuruoka City to Yamagata City. To the east one can see the Dewa mountain range, with a clear view of the mountains Gassan, Yudonosan, and Chôkaisan. People in the area find their livelihood in hydraulic rice agriculture, supplemented by field agriculture and forestry-related occupations. Families in the area each possess an average 1.8 hectares of paddy land. The population of two-thousand live in a total of fifteen community settlements (buraku) including four new communities formed since World War II. Administratively the area is divided into Upper, Middle, and Lower divisions (ku).

As though protectively overlooking the various communities, the local tutelary Kasuga[Glossary: kasuga] Shrine (Kasuga Jinja) is located against Mount Kasuga in the central eastern side of the village. The shrine currently referred to as Kasuga was formerly called Shinzan Eirakuji Shisho Myôjin Following the Kyôho period (1716-1735), the common name was changed from Shinzan Myôjin to Shisho Myôjin,4 while the official name Kasuga Shrine is far more recent, dating only from the Meiji period (1867-1912).

As suggested by the name, the enshrined deities are the same as those of the original Kasuga Shrine in Nara, namely Takemikazuchi no Mikoto, Iwainushi no Mikoto, Amenokoyane no Mikoto, and Himegami. The annual major festival[Glossary: taisai] of the Kasuga Shrine is a spring festival held in May, but what is in fact Kurokawa's largest festival observance is not the major festival to the shrine's four official deities, but rather the celebration to Ôgi-sama held in February.

The Ôgi Festival was formerly held during the first three days of the lunar New Year, but now it is observed during the first two days of February. Preparations for the festival actually begin on January 3 with the festival "promotion" called the kôgyô, held at the houses of the leading Nô actors (nôdayû) of the upper and lower shrine guilds (kamiza or jôza, and shimoza or geza).

This gathering provides an opportunity to recognize new entries to the guild membership,5 and serves as a signal for the beginning of Nô rehearsals in preparation for the coming festival. At the shrine rite called miya nobori (lit., "going up into the shrine") held on January 17, the Kasuga Shrine confers the honorific title of Kunitsukasa ("provincial magistrate") on the two annual lay priests (tônin[Glossary: tonin]) of the upper and lower guilds, and these two men are honored at a banquet together with the shrine priests[Glossary: shinshoku] and the nôdayû. The shrine priest enters a period of abstinence and purification from this day on.

The Ôgi Festival is also known locally as the "Bean Curd Festival" (Tôfu Matsuri[Glossary: matsuri]); around the time of the miyanobori, the roasting of bean curd is begun at the two tôya, the homes of the tônin. Over a period of three to four days, about 30,000 pieces of bean curd will be roasted by the lower guild, and about 14,000 pieces by the upper guild (these figures for 1975).

On January 29 the shrine priests alone perform the "rites for hanging the sacred border rope" (shimekake-sai), which mark the descent of the deity. This ceremony is held just below the shrine, in the garden of the Sakaki[Glossary: sakaki] mansion (the family of the senior priest Endô Jûzaemon). Also at the Sakaki Mansion, about eighteen liters of rice are cooked and pounded, then kneaded into large round ceremonial rice cakes called kagami mochi, or "mirror rice cakes[Glossary: kagamimochi]" to be used later in the festival.

On January 30 another miyanobori is held at the shrine, and practice is held for the performances called tana agari jinjô (see below). The homes serving as tôya are busied as furniture is cleared away and stored in earthen storehouses, the doors of the house are removed, shelves are prepared for use as altars, dedicatory papersII pasted up, and meal preparations made. On January 31 a minor festival is held in the shrine, followed by the hanging up of the large mirror rice cakes inside the shrine's hall of worship (haiden[Glossary: haiden]), and the shoveling away of snow inside the shrine grounds.

Final preparations are also underway at the respective tôya, with messengers being sent out to guild members and to the family serving as leader of the opposite guild, delivering ritual invitations to the celebrations on the following day.

At about 3:00 A.M. early on the morning of the festival's first day, the young men serving as their respective guild's "keepers of the ôgi" (ôgimori) and "lantern bearers" (chôchin mochi) assemble at the shrine. While divine services are being held within the shrine, rice cakes are being roasted at the respective tôya for use in the traditional New Year's soup called zôni.

Around 6:00 A.M., the divine services and ceremonial repast[Glossary: naorai] end, and the Ôgi-sama of the respective upper and lower guilds are taken out of the hall of worship via the small windows in the side of the hall. Young men in snowshoes use farm hoes to clear a path through the snow, and the lantern bearers light the way as the keepers of the ôgi proceed along the road, bearing their respective Ôgi-sama. Behind them, a procession of thirty to forty shouting children and other people follow the Ôgi-sama. Along the way, the procession of the two guilds divides, each one taking its own path to its respective tôya.

The tônin puts on a simple robe, wraps a headdress on his head, and follows the lantern bearer to greet the Ôgi-sama at the entrance of the house. In the case of the upper guild, the Ôgi-sama is hung sideways from the house's ceiling beams, while at the lower guild, it is erected vertically against the home's central pillar. After the Ôgi-sama is enshrined in its appropriate place and venerated by the tônin, the children are treated to a breakfast of zôni soup.

Shortly thereafter, the shrine priests arrive at the tôya of the lower guild. The priests affix wide bands of cloth to the Ôgi-sama and decorate it with new paper streamers (shide[Glossary: shide]; also called the Ôgi-sama's "clothes" or okoromo). At the same time, they also construct the offerings (gohei[Glossary: heisoku]) which are to be held by the children who perform the ceremony called the "stamping of the earth" (daichifumi). After completing these tasks at the lower guild, the priests travel to the upper guild's tôya, where they repeat the procedures there.

Following this ceremony, the tôya host parties called the oesake.6 At the lower guild, an assembly called the "children's guild" (kodomoza) is first convened for women and children, after which the regular assembly of male guild members is held. At the upper guild, however, this order is reversed. The members of the guild assemble solemnly, wearing the formal kimono known as kamishimo. After paying their respects to the Ôgi-sama, they greet the tônin and then take their appointed seats. The sacred Nô mask called the gosonmen7 is carried in together with Nô costumes, and finally the leading Nô actor (nôdayû) takes his seat.

First of all, the roll is called in a ceremony called zakari, in which the names of all members of the assembly are read out, beginning with the leading Nô actor. Once the zakari has been completed, the tônin for the three days of the festival is officially recognized in a ceremony called tôgoi.

Next, new additions and changes to the za membership are recognized and they greet the other members of the guild in the ceremonies of zairi and zagae. In this guild, the priests of the local shrine and of the Buddhist temple Hôkôin8 also participate, but that participation is as equal members in the guild, not as clergy having a special religious capacity.

After this set of ceremonies is completed, a festival meal is prepared featuring fried tofu, burdock, ostrich ferns, fish and ceremonial toasts of rice wine. The meal, however, does not become the kind of wild drinking party seen in some other festivals. After drinking just enough to bring on a mild intoxication, the meal is brought to a close and the participants return to their homes.

Around three o'clock, a Nô stage is prepared in the drawing room of the tôya, and preparations are made for the traditional bridge passageway used in the Nô theater. The Nô performances forming the high point of the Ôgi Festival begin around six o'clock in the evening. The Nô leader, followed by the secondary actors, pay their respects to the Ôgi-sama, trying to achieve concentration of attention in apparent disregard of the uproar going on about them.

When the two leave, the members of the Nô chorus (jiutai) appear. Then, while the tônin, keeper of the ôgi and the lantern bearer hold the Ôgi-sama open in fan shape, a young boy about five or six years of age stands before the spread Ôgi-sama and performs the ceremonial "stamping of the earth" (daichifumi). Following this ritual performance, the three traditional ceremonial Nô pieces (shiki sanban) are performed, followed by alternate performances of five Nô pieces and four comic interludes (kyôgen), which are divided into two sections by a single intermission.

The performances continue through the night, only ending at six o'clock the next morning. At around nine o'clock in the evening a man called the "dawn messenger" (akatsuki no shisha) leaves the lower guild's tôya and heads for the upper guild. Following the completion of the performance of a minor Nô piece at the upper guild, the messenger takes a seat on the Nô stage and pays homage to the Ôgi-sama, then delivers a ceremonial greeting on behalf of his guild's tônin and Nô leader:

We proclaim our congratulations on this fine presentation of divine rites. Let us perform the divine rites at hand without delay. On the morrow, divine rites of great importance are to be held. We humbly ask that you arrive at the holy shrine at the appointed time.9

On the morning of February 2 the Nô stage is dismantled, and after a hurried breakfast the procession heads back again to the shrine. Here, too, the road is cleared by the young men with their farming implements, followed by lantern bearers, the Ôgi-sama carried by the keepers of the ôgi, then the Nô leader, the men's assembly (otonashû), and other actors and children. During this time, the various festival implements the tôya are transferred from the current year's tôya to the man who has been selected as tônin for the next year.

Upon receiving the scroll emblazoned with the words "Kasuga Jinja" (Kasuga Shrine), the tôya for the following year hangs the scroll in the alcove of his home and hosts a breakfast for his relatives.

The members of the lower guild enshrine their Ôgi-sama in the inner drawing room of the Sakaki family estate; after taking a brief rest, the Ôgi-sama is opened and another performance of the "earth stamping" dance is held. The procession of the upper guild arrives outside the shrine somewhat later than the lower guild, and timing their arrival with the end of the "earth stamping" dance, they send a "seven and one-half times messenger"III as an polite response to the "dawn messenger" sent the previous evening from the lower guild.

The upper guild's messenger pays his respects to the lower guild's Ôgi-sama, then gives a verbal greeting as a representative of the upper guild. During this period, the upper guild's Ôgi-sama remains waiting in the fan-shaped "garden of play" (asobi no niwa) just before the torii[Glossary: torii] of the shrine.

In this way the guilds' two Ôgi-sama meet once again, and together, they now are carried up the stone steps of the shrine, followed by tônin and lantern bearer. When they reach the purification fountain, the young men bearing the two Ôgi-sama suddenly begin running, and press themselves through the two small windows on the right and left sides of the hall of worship, standing their Ôgi-sama against the "Ôgi pillar" (ôgi bashira) inside the shrine. The first to complete this act is the winner. This is the competition known as asa jinjô, and it is sometimes said that a victory by the upper guild signifies the calling forth of the "blessings of heaven" (tenpuku) while a victory by the lower guild represents the "blessings of earth" (chifuku).10

The Nô stage within the hall of worship is surrounded by the guild membership, called the "circle of men" (meguri no otonashû), and the tônin, keeper of the Ôgi, and lantern bearers sit with the Ôgi-sama at their backs. The minor Nô play presented the previous evening is now offered again, first by the upper guild, and then by the lower guild. One of the unique features of Kurokawa Nô is the fact that during these performances, the upper guild always uses the right bridge and the lower guild uses the left bridge (directions when viewed facing the stage).

Following the minor Nô piece, an "earth stamping" is performed by the children representing both guilds. The children's performances are simple and timid, yet full of energy, and the crowd looks on with united attention; the completion of the rites is greeted with thunderous applause.

The "earth stampings" are followed by another performance of the three traditional Nô ceremonial pieces. In this joint performance, members of both guilds serve as jiutai and musicians; the upper guild performs the ancient local Nô piece called Tokoro bussoku, which is followed by a performance of Sanbansô by the lower guild. When the ceremonial pieces are completed, two of the young men from each guild who have just completed ablutions offer trays of offerings. They drink libations of dedicated sake[Glossary: miki] poured by assistants called orimori, and at the signal of a flower thrown by the head of the orimori (called the oritô), they beginning racing toward the Ôgi pillar.

Assisted by the young men of their respective guilds, the four men climb up onto platforms (tana) hung at the sides of Ôgi pillar, and then take the Ôgi-sama of their respective guilds as they are handed up by those below, inserting the Ôgi-sama into the timber rafters of the shrine's ceiling. This completed, the young men sit down on the tana, eyeing each other from their cross-legged perches. This competition is known as the tana agari jinjô, and here too, the side which is first to store its Ôgi-sama away in the rafter beams is the winner.

Next, within the shrine's interior[Glossary: naijin] the shrine priests, tônin, keepers of the Ôgi and lantern bearers sit down to a ceremonial repast in appreciation to the tônin, and engage in an exchange of wine cups, using the ceremonial form of toast called san-san-kudo ("three-three-nine times").IV

Following this ceremony, small artificial flowers are passed out to participants in exchange for the paper ropes which were hung around their necks during the festival processions. In addition, large artificial peonies are given as presents to the house of the nôdayû. Then, the two tônin entertain the nôdayû at a backstage meal. Here, the upper guild tônin visits the lower guild's backstage area, while the lower guild's tônin visits the upper guild's, each thanking the other for its labors in the festival.

At an appropriate junction, an orimori tosses one of the small flowers up into the air, and at that signal, the four youths who have been eyeing each other from their sitting perches on the tana now jump up and lower the Ôgi-sama from their rafters, passing them to other youths waiting below. As soon as they receive the Ôgi-sama, the youths below run with them to the chief priest waiting in the area before the shrine's sacred interior.

Here, the Ôgi-sama's white cloth is removed and wrapped around the body of the coming year's tônin; blindfolded with the cloth, the tônin is supported by the youths and led before the holy of holies. As soon as they have lowered the two Ôgi-sama, the youths on the platforms cut away the ropes which have held the large mirror rice cakes to the ceiling since the beginning of the festival, and lower the cakes to the floor. In both these competitions, the side to complete the action first is considered the winner.

With the cloth removed from the Ôgi-sama, its three limbs are tied up with a rope woven from the small paper cords earlier received in exchange for the artificial flowers decorating the interior of the shrine. The two Ôgi-sama are then stored inside the shrine, each placed so that it points in a direction opposing the other (vertical versus horizontal). After the sacred offerings are removed and the shrine closed, the beating of a drum signals an end to all festival observances. Outside, it is already twilight.

The festival repast at the shrine is kept simple, and officials leave quickly. The ceremonies signaling the tônin's release from festival abstinence[Glossary: shojin_otoshi] are also kept to a minimum. After all, it must be recalled that the main participants in the festival have been virtually without sleep or rest for the last two days.

On the following, third day, there are no particular ceremonial observances, merely the cleaning of the tôya and the putting away of Nô costumes and masks. But at the house which is to be next year's tôya, the public is entertained in a continuation of the asa jinjô of the previous day. Formerly, the festival continued for three days with the result that closing ceremonies were observed at the Sakaki mansion on the fourth day, together with the release from festival abstinence at the tôya. At present, however, the only ceremonies held on the fourth day are the "lowering of the sacred rope" (shime oroshi) performed by the shrine priest at the Sakaki home, thus signaling the return of the deity to its other-worldly abode.

3. The Shrine Festival Organization and Priests

A. The Shrine Guild (Za)

While the Kasuga Shrine itself is a religious organization with officials appointed in accordance with provisions of the Religious Corporations Law, the Ôgi Festival is still observed in strict conformity with the style of the old miyaza[Glossary: miyaza] or "shrine guild" organization. Composed of "upper" (kami) and "lower" (shimo) halves, the guild takes the lead in all festival proceedings, and even the shrine's official representatives play only a secondary role.

Before World War II, the Kasuga Shrine had for its parish the entire region of the old Kurokawa Village (administratively joined to Yamazoe Village in 1954 to become Kushihiki Village). The composition of the za in 1970 included 127 homes belonging to the "upper" guild and 157 homes in the "lower," with the result that the majority of the members of the old community were parishioners, together with some degree of additional membership represented by residents of the new community which was settled by branch families following World War II.11

The guild differs from the geographical administrative unit of "ward" (ku, formerly called kumi), with guild membership being determined by the two primary principles of geographical residence and blood relationship. With the Kasuga Shrine as a divide, most families living to the south, namely toward the upstream side of the river Akagawa, belong to the "upper" guild, while those living to the north side (downstream), are mostly members of the "lower" guild. As a result, it can be hypothesized that originally, the division into upper and lower guilds was a geographical discrimination based on an east-west line which formed a border extending outward from the shrine.

The fact that at present upper guild families can be found scattered within the lower guild region and vice versa is primarily a result of the formation of branch families and geographical mobility. When a branch family (bunke) is created in Kurokawa, it automatically becomes a member of the same guild as the stem family (honke) from which it has become independent, regardless of the actual geographical location of residence. Even if a person moves outside of the major division of Kurokawa, as a guild member he still does not lose his qualifications to serve eventually as tônin, and there are examples up to the early Taishô period (1912-1926) in which a person would return to his natal family from a considerable distance to serve in this role. Up to that time, in the event a man was adopted as an heir he remained a member of the za into which he had been born.

This system was modified in the Taishô period, however, so that in the event the family into which one was adopted or married was of a different za, the newly entering individual would change his za of membership. Families which newly moved into the Kurokawa area were generally admitted to the za of the residential area in which they lived, although there were also cases of za admission on the basis of in-law relationships, for example, the case in which an individual from another village took residence near his wife's natal home. In sum, the "upper za" and "lower za" were initially formed on the basis of artificial geographical discriminations; thereafter, za membership came to be determined according to a principle in which relations of descent took precedent over strict geographical locale.12

While the shrine guild (miyaza) and the Nô guild (nôza) are the same in substance, they must be discriminated formally. Here, I will define the miyaza as the parent body for the performance of divine rites, while the Nô guild will be considered a group dedicated to performance of Nô drama. The head of the miyaza is the tônin, an annual post occupied each year by a different person. In contrast, the head of the Nô guild is the nôdayû, a hereditary post passed down through a single family.

The most important role of the tônin is to greet the Ôgi-sama and provide it with a sacred dwelling (namely, the tôya) during the Ôgi Festival. The individuals selected as tônin are the oldest members of the respective guilds, and no consideration at all is given to such factors as economic power. Accordingly, any and all full-fledged members of the za have the duty and qualification to serve as tônin if called upon.

Each guild's "circle of elders" (meguri no otona-shû) allows two new annual additions to its membership; the eldest of these serves as the "three-day office" (mikka no tô), the next eldest serves as the "two-day office" (futsuha no tô), and the third eldest serves as the "one-day office" (ichinichi no tô). At present, the "three-day office" is in fact only one day long, but formerly, Nô was performed at both tôya on each of the first three days of the new year. The financial burden on the tôya is not inconsiderable, but there is cooperation from within and without the guild in the form of offerings of rice and money, and this covers most of the expenses. Within the drawing room of the tôya offertory papers cover most of the ceiling, walls, rafters and beams. Considerations are taken in order to assure that no burden falls on any particular family in the serving as tônin and that the privilege of serving is distributed among all members of the za. The post of tônin is the last and likely most weighty responsibility a man can hold, and after serving it well, he is considered retired.

While the post of tôya is distributed annually according to a principle of equality among all members, the role of main Nô actor or nôdayû is hereditary. At present the upper guild's nôdayû is Kenmotsu Izumi, and the lower guild's is Ueno Sakyô. The acting roles of Sanbasô and Senzai are also hereditary, and in the upper guild a separate hereditary line of actors carries the role of the "old man" (okina) in the play Tokoro bussoku. In the pre-war period, these were all wealthy families, the village's upper class of farmers. At present, the upper guild includes forty or so Nô actors, while the lower guild includes some fifty or so, with the result that not all members of the shrine guild are Nô actors.

When a person becomes the new nôdayû for one of the guilds, he learns the "old man dance" (okinamai) from the nôdayû of the other guild; other than this format of transmission, he also studies with the other nôdayû and Nô masters of his own guild.

The kôgyô or festival "promotion" ceremonies observed at the homes of the nôdayû on January 3 involve ritual toasts officially recognizing the addition of new members to the young men's group, but in addition, they also serve as a general meeting of all members of the respective guilds, when announcement can be made regarding activities and finances. Each guild is an independently managed body, and their main source of annual income is the uniform za membership fee (called zawari) and performance fees.

It should also be noted that while I have here used the general term miyaza, neither this term nor nôza are actually used by Kurokawa residents to refer to these organizations; instead, the overall title of Kasuga Jinja no za ("Kasuga Shrine Guild") is used, and that overall organization is divided into upper and lower halves. At the time of new admission to the za, however, the individual traditionally makes the oral statement, "It is my desire to be allowed membership in the omote za and the jinza based on my presentation of the standard fees."13

The term omote za [also pronounced omoku za] here refers to the ceremonial kôgyô assembly held at the home of the nôdayû, while the term jinza refers to the assembly at the tôya house. The use of this kind of terminology can thus be considered an expression of the conscious discrimination of nôza from miyaza. Further, on the occasion of the zakari [see above], the nôdayû's family name and personal name are called out twice, and this, too, can be thought an expression of the consciousness that he plays a role both as head of the nôza as well as ordinary member of the miyaza.

To sum up the above, the Kasuga Shrine Guild is divided into relatively independent upper and lower halves, each of which is at one and the same time a miyaza as well as nôza. It can be said that while the latter two are not normally distinguished, there are formal occasions on which this differentiation is made explicit.

B. Shrine Priesthood

The hereditary shrine priest (shashô) at the Kasuga Shrine is Kenmotsu Daizen; the first generation Kageyu moved to Kurokawa in 1487, and from the second generation Kenmotsu Minbu Fujiwara Munetaka, the family served the shrine deity Kasuga Shisho no kami.14 The Endô Jûzaemon family of senior priests (negi[Glossary: negi]) is another old lineage which has served the shrine in a hereditary office. The "house matrons" (called ietoji) of the Endô family of shrine priests have traditionally served as priestess mediums (miko[Glossary: miko]) for the shrine under the name of Sakaki, and up to the modern period they received in turn an annual allotment of one koku and three shô [a total of about 234 liters] of rice from the shrine estates.15

This explains the origin of the name of the "Sakaki Mansion." A document dating from 1668 notes the presence of a shrine priest (kannushi) called Daizen dayû, together with a shrine caretaker called Jûzaemon.16 At present, the shrine priestesses come from seven families of Endô descendants, but it is not clear when this practice began. The families of Nanba Jinkurô and Narita Daizô currently serve as "minor priests" (miya shusshi) for the shrine, the former from the Edo and the latter since the Meiji period.

Other than these individuals, three families each are selected from the upper and lower shrines to serve as the food attendants called orimori. The three houses chosen from the upper guild are in a relation of main and branch families, while two from the lower guild are branch families of the shrine's senior priest. In this way, the shrine priests[Glossary: shinshoku], priestesses, and orimori are hereditary roles, but some, like Narita Daizô, have been added only since the Meiji period.

In terms of their relationship to the shrine guild, the gûji is a member of the upper guild while the negi is in the lower guild; the priestesses are in the lower guild while one each of the "minor priests" are in the upper and lower guilds, and likewise the orimori also come three each from both upper and lower guilds. Both the Daizen and Jûzaemon houses have been wealthy families since long ago, and until the post-war land redistribution policy was put into effect, both families represented powerful interests in the very top economic echelons of their respective communities. The present gûji has served as a member on the village and town councils, as vice-chairman of the town council, and as president of the local agricultural union.

The main function of the shrine priests on the occasion of the Ôgi Festival is to perform the various official rites at the Kasuga Shrine, including the miya nobori, shimekake matsuri, and shime oroshi, as well as adding the paper and cloth streamers (shide) to the Ôgi-sama when they arrive at the two tôya. On the occasion of such rituals, the shrine priests take a disinterested position transcending their individual identities as members of the upper and lower guilds, thus performing the roles of gûji, negi, and miya shusshi equally with respect to both guilds.

In terms of their relationship to the guild within the Ôgi Festival, the priests of course pay reverence to the tôya, but they also attend the celebrations at the tôya and participate as normal guild members in the roll call. They may also have the opportunity of serving as tônin.

4. Divine Symbols

A. The Ôgi-sama

The two Ôgi-sama are each formed from three cedar staves, each of which is about 7 centimeters in diameter and 2.4 meters long. At their top, a large bundle of paper streamers called shide is attached, and the three poles are joined together by five bands of white flax cloth and intermittent cords. As a result, when the top ends are spread apart, the appearance is that of a large fan-shaped object, thus indicating the association of "fan" (ôgi) with its name. Each guild possesses its own Ôgi-sama, and at all times other than during the festival, they are stored within the shrine's sanctuary, one pointing vertically and the other horizontally.

Early on the first morning of the Ôgi Festival, the Ôgi-sama are taken out of the shrine and carried to the tôya, where new shide and white flax cloth are affixed. The shide are formed from white Japanese paper cut with slashes, and each year, ten sheets more are added to those already on the Ôgi-sama. As a result, the bundle of shide on the top of the Ôgi-sama gets larger each year, but about every twenty years a festival is held called the "changing of clothes" (mikoromogue or kôisai), on which occasion the old accumulation of shide are removed. The paper first wrapped onto the pole is different in the case of the upper and lower guilds, the former being given a protruding shape and the latter an indented shape, this being said to represent the masculine and feminine principles. The combination of the poles (called "spears" or hoko) and shide are also sometimes called bonten.17 The Ôgi-sama is finally complete when the flaxen cloth is attached. The cloth used on the Ôgi-sama has been dedicated by the tônin selected for the following year.18 When wrapped in its cloth, the Ôgi-sama of the upper guild is hung up horizontally, while the lower guild's is stood up vertically.

[Ogi-sama and the earth-stamping child] In addition, offering streamers (gohei) are also constructed for use by the young boy who performs the "earth stamping" (daichifumi) ceremony, and here too, the small bamboo handles to which the streamers are attached are formed in a protrusion for the upper guild's Ôgi-sama, and indented for the lower-guild's. The only time the Ôgi-sama is opened in the shape of a fan (see illustration) is during the performance of the "earth stamping" dance. As the final episode in the festival, the Ôgi-sama has its cloth removed, thus returning it to its original form as a bonten, and completing its transformation.

Next, consider the way in which the Ôgi-sama is treated. When the Ôgi-sama are removed from the shrine's interior through the two small side windows, they are extended partway through the windows and then pulled back in, and this action is repeated three times before the Ôgi-sama are finally fully removed through the apertures.19 In contrast, when the Ôgi-sama are returned to the shrine through the small windows at the front sides of the shrine, it is as part of the ceremony called asa jinjô, with the result that the objects are given unceremonious, if not rude, treatment. The same can be said for the handling of the Ôgi-sama during the tanaagari jinjô and the Ôgi-oroshi ("lowering of the Ôgi"). As a result, the Ôgi-sama receives ceremonial treatment as an object of worship on the one hand, and rather rough handling as a part of a contest on the other. The clearing below the shrine is called the "garden of play" (asobi no niwa), and when the Ôgi-sama meet once again after their night at the respective tôya, it is this garden which forms the object of a "play" which, however, involves no lack of seriousness. In both form and treatment, this rite thus is of a kind with the play of the so-called okone20 [also see below]. In this sense, the Ôgi-sama is a "doll" image (hitogata) which was considered analogous to the human, a deity which so to speak "plays" within an expressive or symbolic world.

Is it possible to consider the Ôgi-sama as a symbol of something ideationally objectified? To begin with my conclusion, the Ôgi-sama can be called the symbol of the shrine guild. The shrine guild is divided into kami (upper) and shimo (lower) halves, which exist as groups with relative independence, while at the same time also achieving a unified identity as a single guild. In the same way, the Ôgi-sama belong separately to each half of the guild, but simultaneously express the guild as a single pair. With regard to the symbolic relationship between upper and lower guilds, they alike possess the same kind of Ôgi-sama, and as can be gathered from the ceremonial treatment of the "seven and one-half times" evening messenger, they appear to maintain a strict ceremonial equality.

Yet, while the two Ôgi-sama appear to be the same, they in fact possess features allowing them to be discriminated as the feminine and masculine principles, and the relation of kami to shimo is often said to be that between "elder sister" and "younger sister," or between "elder brother" and "younger sister," or between "man" and "woman." This kind of subtle difference can be detected as well in the verbal statements and honorifics used by the messengers of the respective groups.21

But the place where the sense of equality is decisively destroyed is on the occasion of the young men's contests held the second day of the festival. There, no ties are allowed. One side wins and one loses, and the contest is thus decided. The equilibrium so carefully preserved until that point crumbles away in a single instant. The extreme of tension maintained until then is likewise released at the moment of decision. Both sides are liberated from the tension of staring each other down. And once again, equilibrium is restored. This new equilibrium can be called one based on an unequal dichotomy.22 In relation to the Ôgi-sama, the symbolic relation of unequal dichotomy between the upper and lower guilds is thus demonstrated in the feminine and masculine shide and in the competitions known as jinjô.

The fact that the Ôgi-sama is the symbol of the za does not stop with the relationship between kami and shimo. Namely, it can also be considered to represent the internal structural composition of the respective two guilds. In Kurokawa, although the specific terms miyaza ("shrine guild") and Nôza ("Nô guild")are not used, they do have closely related concepts, such as the omote-za ("mask guild") and shinza[Glossary: shinza] ("guild of kami")used in the upper guild, and the homophonous omote-za ("front guild")and uraza ("rear guild") used in the lower guild. In other words, what are in substance no more than the upper and lower guilds are distinguished in practice as miyaza and nôza. One might also recall the earlier noted fact that the Ôgi-sama is called a bonten when without its cloth covering, and the fact that it becomes a "true Ôgi-sama" only when it is costumed in that cloth. The bonten appears as a divine symbol throughout the northeastern region of Japan, but in Kurokawa it also functions as symbol of the shrine guild worshiping the deity.

In contrast, the fan can be called an appropriate symbol for the Nô guild, not only because fans are indispensable objects in Nô drama, but also because during the kôgyô ceremonies on January 17, a fan is in fact displayed in the small shrine above the upper guild's "revered mask."23

If so, then the Ôgi-sama, as a single object which contains within it both bonten and fan, serves as a symbolic representation of the fact that the miyaza and Nôza are in substance one, while being formally distinguished. In other words, my conclusion noted earlier -- that the Ôgi-sama is the symbol of the za -- results from the fact that it simultaneously expresses both the relationship of the upper and lower guild and the relationship of miyaza and nôza.

The sacred symbol Ôgi-sama can, of course, be interpreted in numerous other ways as well. For example, the theological interpretation of the priest of the Kasuga Shrine is as follows:

"There is no divine symbol (shintai[Glossary: goshintai]) called Ôgi-sama. Rather, the Ôgi-sama is something which the great deity Kasuga Ôkami enters and possesses, in the same way as it enters and possesses the Nô masks.
The highest deity of the Kasuga Shrine is Kasuga no Ôkami, and that is the king (ô) of deities.V And that king of deities is here in Kurokawa. Of all the deities which people believe in here, this one is the foremost."

This is probably a legitimate argument in the sense that the Ôgi-sama is said to be possessed by the deity Kasuga Myôjin[Glossary: kasuga]. On the other hand, Funabiki Takeo considers the Ôgi-sama to be a local deity which was already present before the deity Kasuga Myôjin appeared in this area: "Originally, the deity of the Kasuga Shrine was called "Kasuga-sama," while Ôgi-sama was likely an indigenous deity present before the Kasuga Shrine was introduced to this area."24

Funabiki's theory, however, does not appear to have taken into account the way in which the festival originated. Namely, the Ôgi-sama is not a single object, but a single pair, and moreover, that pairing is possible only since the guild likewise is composed of a pair, and judging from the present-day geographical distribution of the za membership, there is a strong possibility that the location of the Kasuga Shrine itself was used as a border for division into the pair composed of upper and lower guilds. If so, then the origins of the guild could not have been earlier than the establishment of the shrine, and thus the Ôgi-sama as well could not have existed prior to the existence of the guild. In other words, it would appear that the guild was formed either simultaneous with or later than the establishment of the shrine Shinzan Myôjin [see above, note 8], and the Ôgi-sama were constructed no earlier than the establishment of the guild, thus leading to the origins of the Ôgi Festival.

We can make this kind of supposition since the formation of symbols comes about as the result of cognition; they do not come into existence independently. At the same time, it can be assumed that the divine symbol Ôgi-sama was produced based on pre-existing materials, for example, from the folk religious objects called okone-sama (or okonai-sama and oshira-sama) which were long present in the northeast area of Japan.

Some commentators also interpret the Ôgi-sama as a sexual symbol. Typical in this sense is the interpretation of Yoshino Hiroko: "We can only wonder who was responsible for the ingenious incorporation of the [feminine] fan and the male organ as seen in the single object of the Kurokawa Ôgi-sama. When spread apart the Ôgi-sama becomes a fan, and when tied up it becomes an enormous shaft topped by the bulbous bonten, certainly the quintessential symbol of maleness. It is likely that such a suggestion could only have come from someone who had seen through the relationship of the upright betel palm and the fans made from it, and it would only be so typical for that kind of thinking to have been the product of a mountain ascetic (shugenja)."25

Yoshino's theory has been viewed positively by such other writers as Makabe Jin and Togawa Anshô. But there is a tendency for Yoshino to mechanically apply the interpretation of "fan" deduced from the betel-nut palm, to the Ôgi-sama found in Kurokawa. First, if the Ôgi-sama is a symbol of divine indwelling formed from a pair in which the upper guild is male and the lower guild is female, how can a single one of the objects be sufficient to simultaneously symbolize male and female? Secondly, even if the single Ôgi-sama were accepted as a joint symbol of both male and female, how significant is that fact? Without answering such questions, it remains an attractive theory linking sexuality and reproductivity, and one with great possibilities, but at the same time it is at root an interpretation which has been forced from the morphological resemblance of the Ôgi-sama with a fan (ôgi).

B. Sacred Borders (Shime)

The sacred borders (shime) spoken of here are those erected in the garden of the Sakaki home on January 29. These shime involve three strings of offering streamers (hei), day lilies, pine needles, sea tangle (konbu), and yuzuri leavesVI mounted on a framework formed from two 180cm staves and two 60cm staves which are fastened together into a hatch shape like the character "#." Of the three strings, the one in the middle is formed from a chestnut limb three feet long with its bark stripped off, onto which papers are wrapped in three locations (at top, middle, bottom). In turn, these three places are tied respectively with seven, five, and three hempen cords, and the ends of the cords are aligned, cut off evenly, and the remaining ends spread out like a tassel, so that it has seven, five, and three ranks of paper hei attached to it.

The other two shime are chestnut limbs about 70cm long and affixed with hei. Narrow bamboos about 10cm in diameter are split at the ends, and paper is inserted into the splits and wound onto the sticks. Three of these paper-wound sticks are forced into the end of the chestnut branch. The lower end of the bamboo sticks are left protruding, and feature the same cut as those of the gohei held by the child dancer in the upper guild's "earth stamping."

The ceremony for the hanging of the shime is performed quietly by the shrine's gûji and negi, a fact that contrasts well with the central attention given to the Ôgi-sama. The shime is also completely ignored at the time of the earth stamping held at the garden of the Sakaki house on the second day of the festival. And at the "lowering of the shime" held on February 4, the shime is removed without fanfare by the priests, who thereafter merely toss it out.

The question here is why is this shime, so completely removed from general attention, enshrined within the garden of the Sakaki house? Funaki Tatsuo suggests that the shime, based on its resemblance to the inau of the indigenous Ainu, is an extremely old element.26 It appears without doubt to have been present since before the establishment of the Kasuga Shrine. The shrine negi named Endô, who is responsible for enshrining the shime, appears to have an awareness that his family is older than the Kasuga Shrine. Further, at the Shimotsuki Festival (Shimotsuki Matsuri[Glossary: shimotsuki_matsuri]) held at the Rokusho Shrine (Rokusho Jinja) on December 15, prayers are offered to the effect that the coming Ôgi-festival be observed without mishap.27

It is sometimes said that the Rokusho Shrine is the "home shrine" (honsha) of the Kasuga Jinja, or that the original Kasuga Jinja located in Nara was invited to the Rokusho Shrine and that thereafter, the latter was transformed into the present-day local Kasuga Shrine, and so forth.28 In any case, it is a certainty that the Rokusho Shrine is older than the current Kasuga Shrine. From these facts, it can be hypothesized that a form of festival existing prior to the establishment of the Shinzan Shrine continues to make itself apparent today in the form of the festival held on the fifteenth day of Shimotsuki (the old word for the eleventh lunar month) at the Rokusho Shrine, and in the hanging of the shime at the Sakaki house.

In other words, it is possible that in the festival held on the fifteenth day of Shimotsuki and in the shime rituals, we are seeing a deity indigenous to Kurokawa since prior to the existence of the Shinzan Myôjin shrine, a deity which continued to exist without being absorbed by that later shrine.

From the standpoint of the shrine priests, why is it that these important rites fail to capture the attention of the general populace? According to their interpretation of the festivals, the shime is erected to welcome the deity to earth, and after the end of the festival thanks are offered to the deity as it leaves the earth again.29 In other words, it can be said that it is the shime which represents the deity in his sojourne in Kurokawa during the Ôgi Festival. This deity does not express the relationship of opposition seen in the guild activities. No sense of tension or excitement is created like that seen in the Ôgi-sama. This fact is not unrelated to the fact that, compared to the Ôgi-sama, the shime is a more abstract and vague representation of the sacred. The shime indicates an abstract totality not based on the principle of opposition. Namely, the shime can be considered a symbol of Kurokawa as a united whole.

It should be recalled here that the shrine priests play roles both as official members of the upper and lower guilds, and also as officiants who perform rituals for both guilds, from a position superceding their own guild memberships. As a result, the priests, who play a role transcending and mediating the conflict between guilds, and the shime, which symbolize totality and supercede the confrontation inherent in the Ôgi-sama, can be said to occupy the same position structurally. This makes it easier to understand why the priests view these rites with importance, even though they do not attract the attention of the guilds, and it is possible also to consider the shime thus as a symbol for the priestly community itself.

C. The "Earth-Stamping" Child

The two children who perform the dance called the "earth stamping" are also thought of as subjects for the embodiment or possession of the deity. Each child is a boy around five years of age, selected from the relatives of the tôya. Barely within a month of being apprenticed to the nôdayû, he will learn how to perform the difficult earth stamping ritual and invocation. On the evening of February 1, the boys perform before the upper and lower guild tôya as a preliminary to the festival. The following morning, the lower guild's boy also performs the dance at the Sakaki mansion before the asa jinjô. And finally, the earth stamping is held in the presence of both guilds on the stage of the shrine. The upper guild's child wears black robes with a gold formal headdress (eboshi), and black headband, while the child from the lower guild wears red robes with a black eboshi and red headband, and he later slips on a long over robe. In short, the dress of the upper guild's child is masculine while that of the lower guild's is feminine.

The earth stamping dance is based on an exorcistic ritual called the henbai which is said to be for the purpose of subduing the spirits of the earth; the stamping child from the upper guild "firms the four cardinal directions" while the lower guild's child stamps at the diagonals as a representation of the five elements (gogyô), thus showing the likely influence of Chinese theories of Yin-Yang (the feminine and masculine principles) and the five elements. The artless simplicity of the young boys' dance delights the audiences, but the real interest is in their recitation, and the audience looks on apprehensively lest the child should forget any part of the difficult invocation.30

As the child recites the difficult oracle in the midst of the unearthly still of the room, those looking on are deeply moved and impressed with a sense of the divine. As the recitation ended I heard the woman next to me say to herself, "God is really here at times like this." In fact, while the child is without doubt considered the yorishiro (a sacred receptacle possessed by the deity) which symbolizes the guild, at the same time he is also viewed as the god himself making his appeal to human emotions. This performance is viewed as the demonstration of a power which exceeds the normal abilities of a child, and such power is considered the result of being possessed by the deity. For example, the villagers advance the interpretation that, "The deity enters into the child, and uses his voice to speak. As a result, the child can recite the oracle, even though he can't remember it afterward."31 In sum, the tradition of the earth stamping child is imbued with elements of belief in shamanistic possession.

5. Conclusion

I have here tried to examine the three major divine symbols of the Ôgi Festival, namely the Ôgi-sama itself, the shime and the earth-stamping child, from the perspective of the divine (kami) as a representational and conceptual symbol. As a result of that examination, we can conclude that, in the role of a conceptual symbol the Ôgi-sama is a symbol of the guild, while the shime is a symbol of the entirety of Kurokawa or the priestly community, and the children are symbols of their respective guilds. Based on the degree of abstraction from cognition, the shime is the most abstract and simultaneously the most general. In contrast, the Ôgi-sama is representational in the sense that it is treated humanly as expressing the masculine and feminine elements (Ch. yang and yin), and by taking the shape of a fan (ôgi).

The child is a symbol of the guild concept, but also a representational symbol, based on its association with the deity and its superhuman powers, and in that sense it is the object of shamanistic possession. On the other hand, a symbol which leaves a deep sense of emotion is most appropriate for an appeal to human feelings, and this role is also played perfectly by the child and the Ôgi-sama.

From the standpoint of the relationship of divine symbol to social organization, if the Ôgi-sama aims at control by fomenting confrontation, then the shime functions as a form of control which fundamentally transcends such confrontation. In short, the former is founded on the principle of "confrontation and reconciliation," whereas the latter finds its role as mediator to such confrontation.


1. See for example Sonoda Minoru, "Matsuri: hyôshô no kôzô" [Festivals - the structure of representation], Tamaru Noriyoshi, Muraoka Sora and Miyata Noboru, eds., Girei no kôzô [The structure of ritual] (Tokyo: Kôsei Shuppansha, 1972), 260-262.

2. Yanagawa Keiichi, "Shinwa to taikô no matsuri" [Festivals of conciliation and confrontation], Shisô 582, (1972): 76.

3. My discussion here owes a great deal to Miura Tsutomu's Ninshiki to kotoba no riron [Theory of cognition and language], part 1 (Tokyo: Keisô Shobo, 1967), especially 50, 263.

4. Togawa Anshô, Kurokawa Nô no rekishi to fûdo [The history and cultural climate of Kurokawa Nô] (Chûô Shoin, 1974), 55.

5. The eldest son is permitted to enter the za at the age of twenty-five; second and third sons must wait until the age of thirty.

6. There are a number of opinions regarding what Chinese characters should be used to express the meaning of this term. One is oizake, a combination of sake (rice wine) with oi, a portable case borne on the back of pilgrims and ascetics; others include oizake or "aging sake" and oizake, "upper" or "premier" sake.

7. Also called shugoshin sama ("tutelary deity"), these masks are objects of great veneration.

8. This is the temple auxiliary to the shrine Shinzan Myôjin.

9. See Makabe Jin, Kurokawa Nô: Nômin no seikatsu to geijutsu [Kurokawa Nô: the life and art of the farmer] (Tokyo: Nihon Hôsô Shuppan Kyôkai, 1971), 43.

10. Ibid., 45.

11. There are 257 homes in the old community settlement and 27 homes in the new settlement. See Shimada Midori, "Yamagata-ken Higashi Tagawa-gun kyû-Kurokawa-mura ni okeru Kasuga Jinja no za to sonraku kôzô - Ôaza Kurokawa Tsubakide buraku no jirei ni yoru" [The structure of the Kasuga Shrine guild and village in the old Kurokawa Village of Higashi Tagawa-gun, Yamagata Prefecture: Using the example of the major village section of Kurokawa Tsubakide community], Graduation thesis presented to International Christian University, 1971.

12. With regard to allocation of membership in the za, I am relying primarily here on Shimada Midori's paper (see note 11).

13. This is the pronouncement made in the upper guild. In the lower guild, the terms used are omote za ("front guild") and ura za ("rear guild"). These terms are based on a mixing of the homophones omote ("mask" or "front") and omote (also meaning "front").

14. Makabe, op. cit., 81.

15. Togawa, op. cit., 173.

16. In the possession of Kenmotsu Kyûgorô.

17. According to Kenmotsu Yamato, when he was young he and other children would play at "Asa jinjô," even going so far as to make platforms. This was done in each local settlement, but they didn't call it Ôgi-sama, instead using the expression "bring out the bonten."

18. At the time the cloth is removed from the Ôgi-sama, the cloth is wrapped onto the body of the man chosen to be the next year's to and is also used to make his ritual garment. This obviously appears to be related to the sacred nature of the tônin.

19. Funabiki Takeo, "Shônai Heiya, Kurokawa no sanshu no seibutsu ni kansuru hôkoku to bunseki" [Report and analysis of three kinds of sacred object in Shônai Heiya, Kurokawa], Minzokugaku kenkyû 39 (1974): 270.

20. Ibid., 264.

21. Togawa, op. cit., 153. The greeting given from lower to upper is in a kind of archaic speech and runs something like, "It is our request that thou shouldst come up," (oagari nasaremasei to môshikoshimasu). On the other hand, the upper says to the lower something like, "We make request that ye be pleased to come up" (oagari kudasaremasei to môshikoshimasu).

22. Yanagawa, op. cit., 75-76.

23. See photograph in Togawa, op. cit., 47.

24. Funabiki, op. cit., 266.

25. Yoshino Hiroko, Ôgi: "sei" to kodai shinkô no himitsu o monogataru ôgi no nazo [The riddle of the ôgi: the secret of sex and ancient religion] (Gakuseisha, 1970), 192.

26. Funabiki, op. cit., 268.

27. Personal communication from Gûji Kenmotsu Yamato.

28. Makabe, op. cit., 150.

29. Funabiki, op. cit., 269.

30. Makabe, op. cit., 111.

31. Togawa, op. cit., 175. [Nakamaki's original text includes a full quotation from Togawa of the invocation made in archaic speech by the earth-stamping child. - Trans.]

Translator's Notes

I. This article originally appeared in Japanese as "Matsuri ni okeru kami no shôchô," Shûkyô kenkyû 227 (March, 1976): 1-21. Professor Nakamaki revised the manuscript substantially for this translation.

II. "Dedicatory" or "offering" papers are oblong pieces of white paper on which are written the names of persons making offerings (usually of money or rice wine), together with the amount or size of the offering.

III. "Seven-and-one-half-times messenger" (shichidohan no tsukai) is a general term used in many ritual contexts to refer to a messenger sent on occasions requiring an extreme degree of ritual etiquette when greeting an honored guest. Literally, the term implies that the messenger will deliver his invitation or greeting "seven-and-one-half times" if necessary.

IV. The san-san-kudo form of toast is most commonly seen today in weddings and other ritual occasions. Three cups are used, with three toasts being drunk from each cup, for a total of nine toasts.

V. This priest's explanation of the meaning of the Ôgi-sama is based on the fact that one possible way of representing the term ôgi in Sino-Japanese characters is ôgi, or "king-deity." Nakamaki further notes, however, that the term is also frequently associated with the character ôgi which means a folding fan.

VI. The Yuzuri (Daphniphyllum macropodum) is a bushy evergreen tree which reaches heights of around ten meters. Native to Japan, its leaves have long been used in New Year's decorations.

[Table of Contents]

$Date: 1999/03/09 02:00:43 $
Copyright © 1988, 1997 Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University. All rights reserved.