Shinko-sai Festival (神幸祭)
The Shinko-sai Festival is a shrine festival where the divine spirit makes an imperial visit. It is also referred to as shinko shiki. In many cases, the object in which a deity resides or the object to which a spirit is drawn is transferred to a portable shrine, and an imperial visit to the shrine parishioner, or togyo (transfer of a sacred object from its place of enshrinement) to the otabisho (place where the sacred palanquin is lodged during a festival), or to the genkyu is performed. Most of the festivals in which portable shrines or imperial carriages appear are a type of Shinko-sai Festival.
Shinko-sai Festival' means an 'imperial visit by god' and broadly refers to the entire imperial visit; narrowly conceived it refers to the process of the outward trip from the shrine to the destination such as otabisho. In the latter, the term Kanko-sai Festival is used for the process of the return trip from the destination to the shrine. The Togyo-sai Festival and Kangyo-sai Festival mean the same thing as the Shinko-sai Festival and the Kanko-sai Festival, and the Togyo-sai Festival also refers to the entire imperial visit (togyo) in a broad sense.
Originally, the divine spirit was welcomed at the altar in a village, but as the altar developed into a shrine, as a facility for accomodating religious services, the act of welcoming remained as a home visit or reverse process, and led to the Shinko-sai Festival. Therefore, the place at which a god descended, such as the dwelling place of a god, became otabisho, and in many cases, are currently referred to as genkyu or the original enshrinement place.
The flow of a Shinko-sai Festival heading to an otabisho is roughly as follows. Shinji (Shinto rituals) for transferring the divine spirit to portable shrines, etc.
Togyo from the shrine to the otabisho
Shinji and dedication at the otabisho (Otabisho-sai Ceremony)
Kangyo from the otabisho to the shrine
Shinji for returning the divine spirit
This process can take several days. In processes 2 and 4, the shrine parishioner's community is often visited. If not heading to the otabisho, the divine spirit patrols the shrine parishioner's community, or an imperial visit is made to perform shinji at specific locations.
Miyadashi refers to taking the portable shrine outside the shrine's premises, and miyairi refers to the entry of the portable shrine into the shrine's premises after the visits. These words are used when festival cars offered by children parading as tendo and the shrine parishioners exit and enter the shrine.
Togyo is where many shrine parishioners can participate in the religious festival as carriers of the portable shrine, or in larger festivals, festival cars are used, shishimai (lion dance), and dancing are included as part of the parade. The order of the togyo parade differs depending upon the festival, but often at the beginning of the parade, the sarudabiko (Shinto god) leads the way, and then things that serve as outriders such as staff with plaited paper streamers used in Shinto, kasaboko, liondog, flag, large paper lantern on a pole, drum, or things that indicate the head of the parade, and then often the portable shrine. Other than these, Shinto priests, shrine maidens, children parading as tendo, festival cars, liondog, dancing, etc., may also join the parade. Music during the journey of togyo varies, and often, gagaku (old Japanese court music) is performed by Shinto priests, or matsuri-bayashi (Japanese music) and marching songs by shrine parishioners.
Most eye-catching in the parade is the portable shrine and festival car, shishimai, and dancing. The portable shrine is carried in different ways depending upon the festival - some are carried solemnly, some with high spirits, some go on togyo by boat (Funatogyo), and some are carried in the water. These styles of execution are associated with the enshrined deity, or are styles that were carried out sporadically, but became customary, and eventually a tradition. Festival cars can have a role similar to portable shrines as an object to which a spirit is drawn, or are elegantly decorated for dedication, and shishimai and dancing, which can be categorized as Shinji mai (shinji dance) and hono-mai (Shinto dance for dedication), are both carried out mainly by shrine parishioners, and in the case of hono, towns of shrine parishioners often compete against one another by elaborating on elegance and style of execution.
When togyo is performed during the night, a lantern procession is added and festival cars are also lit up.