New rice to be offered to gods at Ise Shrine

Watch the Daijosai being performed on this Youtube videoclip.

Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture will host one of its most important annual festivals Monday in which the year’s new rice harvest will be offered to the shrine’s gods.

The festival this year is special because the sacred symbol of a deity will be installed in a new shrine next year. This event occurs once every 20 years. Therefore, many people from all over Japan will bring their own offerings of rice to the ceremony, and various groups will perform dances from local festivals around the country.

The festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The venue is close to Ise-shi Station on the Kintetsu Line.

For further information, visit or call (0596) 25-5151

Source: KANSAI: Who & What  (Japan Times, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012)

Editorial notes on the historical background of the national rite:

Niiname sai 新嘗祭 “Celebrations of the First Taste” or Rice Tasting Ceremony. According to an article by Nakanishi Masayuki in the Encyclopedia of Shinto:

“Literally, “Celebrations of the First Taste,” niiname sai refers to the set of harvest festivals in November carried out at the imperial palace and shrines throughout the country. Complements the Kinen sai, a rite involving prayers for a healthy crop and held in on the fourth day of the second month. In ancient times also called nihinahe and niha’nahi. Motoori Norinaga suggests that, since it appears in the “feting anew” section of the Transmission of the Kojiki (Kojiki den), that it was a festival in which new rice was offered to the deities. As in the ancient Chinese celebration “Name no matsuri,” a rice festival held in the autumn, this was a typical festival expressing gratitude to the gods for exercising their powers on earth and bringing about a successful harvest. The origins probably date back to the Yayoi period when rice cultivation began. The niiname sai is mentioned in both the “Era of the Gods” section of the Nihon shoki (“when Ama-terasu ôkami honorably performed Niiname”) and in the entry for year forty of its “Nintoku” section (“In the month of Niiname, since it was a day of banqueting, sake was given to the palace ladies”). For a long time it was held on the latter “Day of the Rabbit” in the eleventh lunar month (or the middle “Day of the Rabbit” if there were three such days in the month), but with the conversion to the new calendar in 1873, it was changed to the November 23. In the Ninth Article of the 1908 “Prescriptions of the Imperial House Rituals,” this celebration is named as one of the Major Rites (tai sai), and listed as occurring between November 23 and 24. For the rite two dais, one for the deities (kamiza) and one for the emperor (goza), were constructed inside the Shinka Hall, then the emperor makes food offerings to Ama-terasu and the many divinities twice, once at dusk on the twentythird and again at dawn on the twentyfourth. The emperor arranges an offering of sake, rice porridge, and steamed rice (made from the newly harvested rice) served in special vessels crafted from woven beech leaves (kashiwa) and presented to the kami on a special reed mat (kegomo). Following this evening meal (yūmike), the emperor purifies himself in seclusion (kessai) for the night and, after changing robes (koromogae), prepares the morning offering of food for the kami. Also listed in Article Two of the “Regulations for Shrine Rituals” of the Association of Shrines (Jinja honcho kitei) as a Major Rite, it is performed at shrines throughout the country to accompany the rites at the palace. Besides the yearly Niiname sai, the one which is the first performed after a new emperor’s ascendance (sokui) is called the Daijō sai.”

Wikipedia, however, gives a different date for the beginning of the niiname sai rituals. “The Nihon Shoki mentions a harvest ritual having taken place during the reign of the legendary Emperor Jimmu (660–585 BCE), as well as more formalized harvest celebrations during the reign of Emperor Seinei (480–484 CE). Modern scholars can date the basic forms of niiname-sai to the time of Emperor Temmu (667–686 CE)”.

Daijōsai 大嘗祭

The Great Food Festival is an elaborate variation of the annual rice-tasting ceremony known as Niinamesai 新嘗祭:

And from the JAANUS database:

“The Great Food Festival, which includes extensive preparations for the final enactment of the communion of the emperor with the gods. It dates from ancient times as a major part of the enthronement ceremonies and is therefore performed only once within an emperor’s life time. It is an elaborate variation of the annual festival niinamesai 新嘗祭 when the emperor offers the first harvest of new rice to the ancestral gods and then partakes of it himself. Several references to the annual harvest festival are found in both the NIHON SHOKI and KOJIKI before the first appearance of the word daijou in 674, during the reign of Emperor Tenmu (?-686). The Great Food Festival is described in the JOUGAN GISHIKI, (Ceremonials of the Jougan era; 859-876), and book seven of the ENGISHIKI (Procedures of the Engi era; 901-922) contains a detailed description of The Great Food Festival of Enthronement. Before the Heian period, a special area for the daijousai was enclosed and consecrated in front of the Imperial Council Hall, daigokuden. After the capital was moved to Heian, the daijousai took place in a sacred area slightly north of the palace called kitano-no-saijou (place of ceremony in the north plain). Later the location was changed to the courtyard in front of the Shishinden 紫宸殿 where various temporary structures were erected to form the sanctuaries in which the Great Food Festival took place. See *daijoukyuu. According to the ENGISHIKI, the newly enthroned emperor entered the precinct from the southeast side gate. After various rituals he entered the Ablution Hall, kairyuuden, where he received ceremonial purification before being attired in garments purged of all defilements. He then continued to the Yuki-in *shoden, the main hall of the eastern sanctuary of the daijoukyuu, where he entered the inner chamber. There he offered specially grown sacred rice and rice wine to the gods, and then ate the rice and drank the wine himself. This was the evening meal which according to the ENGISHIKI was taken shortly before midnight. Following this, he returned to the kairyuuden, where he underwent more purification rites, and then proceeded to the Suki-in shouden 主基院正殿 or western sanctuary. There he repeated the same offering to the gods and then ate his morning meal. According to the ENGISHIKI, this ceremony began about 3:00 A.M. When the Great Food Festival was completed all the temporary structures were burned. By the end of the 12th C. the extent of the pomp and pageantry at the Daijosai had decreased, and the festival declined further over the next few centuries, ceasing altogether in the 15th C. during the Onin wars. Although later revived, the festival did not attain similar elaborateness until the enthronements of the Meiji, Taisho and Showa Emperors in 1871 in Tokyo, 1915 in Kyoto, and 1928 in Tokyo respectively.”

It is highly likely that the rituals associated with rice originated in the country where rice was domesticated, and although there have been various conflicting studies as to the origin of rice, the most recent gene re-sequencing studies reveal that rice originated 9,000 years ago in the Yangtze Valley, China.

See Study: Rice originated in China BioSpectrum 29 May 2012

“China was the original home of rice

A study that employed large-scale gene re-sequencing to trace the origin of rice, through thousands of years of evolutionary history, has revealed that the cereal grain originated in China. The research was conducted by scientists at the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology and Department of Biology, New York University; Department of Biology, Washington University, St Louis; Department of Genetics, Stanford University; and Department of Agronomy, Purdue University; and was published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program. Previous research had suggested that domesticated rice had two points of origin, including India and China. Although the Asian rice, Oryza sativa, has several varieties, two major subspecies of rice – japonica and indica – represent most of the world’s varieties. Because rice is so diverse, its origins have been the subject of scientific debate. One theory-a single-origin model-suggests that indica and japonica were domesticated once from the wild rice O. rufipogon. Another-a multiple-origin model-proposes that these two major rice types were domesticated separately and in different parts of Asia. In the PNAS study, the researchers re-assessed the evolutionary history, or phylogeny, of domesticated rice by re-sequencing 630 gene fragments on selected chromosomes from a diverse set of wild and domesticated rice varieties. They concluded that the two species have the same origin as they have a closer genetic relationship to each other. The investigators also used a ‘molecular clock’ of rice genes to see when rice evolved. Depending on how the researchers calibrated their clock, they pinpointed the origin of rice at possibly 8,200 years ago, while japonica and indica split apart from each other about 3,900 years ago….” Read more at:

paris AFP Jiji The mother of all cultivated rice was grown on China’s Pearl River according to DNA map

DNA ‘map’ sites ancient roots of all cultivated rice in China
By Agence France-Presse, October 4, 2012, via Yomiuri Shimbun

The mother of all cultivated rice was grown on China’s Pearl River, according to a DNA “map” published on Wednesday.

PARIS (AFP-Jiji)– The mother of all cultivated rice was grown on China’s Pearl River, according to a DNA “map”.

The first domesticated strain of rice was Oryza sativa japonica, which was grown thousands of years ago from wild rice in the middle of the Pearl River in southern China, says the study, published recently in Nature.

One of the “Big Three” crops that feed the world along with wheat and corn, rice today has diverged into hundreds of varieties.  …

Researchers led by Bin Han of Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences put together a gigantic database to compare tiny single-letter changes in rice DNA. Their trawl covered 446 geographically diverse types of wild rice (Oryza rufipogon)– the ancestral progenitor of commercially farmed rice–and 1,083 varieties of japonica and indica.

By putting together a family tree, the researchers say they can disprove theories that indica rice was domesticated separately from wild rice. Instead the first indica was a cross between japonica and wild rice. Tis mix then spread into Southeast and South Asia where farmers bred varieties to cope with local conditions, thus creating the distinctive indica group. …

HUANG Xuehui et al., A map of rice genome variation reveals the origin of cultivated rice Nature (2012) doi:10.1038/nature11532

Read more at “Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time” by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney where at page 46, the author tells us that while other rites may have been added to the Emperor’s duties, the core ones have always been niinamesai, onamesai (=daijosai) and kannamesai. The harvest festival ritual of the ninamesai becomes onnamesai at the accession of a new emperor and is held as the last of three acccession rituals ….although niinamesai and onamesai are almost identical, the kannamesai is the ritual in which a new crop of rice is offered to the Ise Shrine rather than at the Imperial Court itself…”

Other references:

Research on the origin of Chinese cultivated rice: Present situation and forecast by WANG, Xiangkun et al.


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