when and where to see fall foliage (Japanese version only):

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kasugawakamiya Onmatsuri

Kasuga Taisha Shrine
photo by 日本の旅・鉄道見聞録
 Kasugawakamiya Onmatsuri(春日若宮おん祭) is a festival held at Wakamiya Jinja Shrine(若宮神社) which is one of auxiliary shrines of Kasuga Taisha Shrine on its grounds. Although some events of the festival are held in July, October and early December, main events are done from December 15th to 18th.
The main hall of Wakamiya Shrine was built to save people from famine and epidemics in 1135. The festival started in 1136 and has been held continuosly for more than 870 years.

At midnight on December 17th, people carry the god of the shrine from the shrine to Otabisho(お旅所) surrounding with sakaki leaves(Cleyera japonica) in complete darkness because the image of god should not be seen. The passage of the god was preceded by the carriers' voices. Not only taking pictures but also turning on a flashlight is prohibited on the way to and from Otabisyo. The passing is accompanied by live music.
After arriving Otabisho, foods as an offering are served to the god. Various performances are dedicated to the god.

At 11:00 p.m. on December 17th, people carry the god of the shrine from Otabisyo(お旅所) to the shrine. They have to escort the god to the shrine on the same day.

Some of the annual events in Kasuga Taisha are closed to the public.

The offerings include confections from ancinet China. Only the priests of the shrine can make the Chinese confections because they are dedicated to the god. The process for making them has been handed down in the shrine's priests for generations.

Japanese missions to Tang China(遣唐使) were frequently dispatched from 630 to 839 and introduced the culture from the mainland to Japan. the members of the missions risked their lives to cross the sea.
So they visited Kasuga Taisha to pray for a safe travel before leaving Japan and to thank the god for having been able to return to Japan after arriving in Japan.

It is said they offered the confections to the shrine at that time. Until then, sweet things meant fruits and nuts in Japan.  The Chinese confections spread among Shinto shrines all over Japan as an offering to the gods.

The recipe for the confections has been handed down in Shimogamo Jinja Shrine(下鴨神社).
On a TV program, the current priest made the confections and performers tasted them. They said the confections tasted good. One of them is shaped like jiaozi(餃子) or ravioli. The priest kneaded a mixture of rice flour and glutinous rice flour, shaped it and deep fried in sesame oil.

Kameya Kiyonaga(亀屋清永) which was founded in 1617 still sells the confection called Seijo-kankidan(清浄歓喜団) that is descended from an ancient Chinese confection. Kanki(歓喜) means Kangiten(歓喜天, Nandikesvara (Ganesh in the Buddhist pantheon)). This confection had been made as a offering to Nandikesvara. Now we can buy this.

It has the shape of eight lotus petals. It's made by deep-frying kneaded flour containing sandalwood, borneol, clove, cinnamon and others in sesame oil. The confection was originally sweetened with liquorice or amazura(甘葛, ivy or jiaogulan). It came to include sweet adzuki bean paste after the middle of the Edo Period.

Seijo-kankidan is introduced on this site(Japanese version only.)

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