Tanokami (deity of rice fields and harvests) is a deity (Shinto religion) that Japanese agricultural people believe watches over a rich or poor harvest and brings about a bumper crop of rice. It is called No-gami or a peasant priest.
Characterized by a god of crop soul, god of water and rain, and a guardian god at the same time, Tanokami is an agricultural god known as having a deep relation to the worship of Yamanokami (God of the Mountain) or Sorei shinko (worship of ancestral spirits).
Folkways in enshrining the Agricultural God
It is known that there were folkways to enshrine agricultural gods in ancient Japan.
The names of gods, Inadama, that are, 'Ukano-mitama,' 'Toyoukebime' (Toyoukebime no kami), and the crop deity Otoshi no Kami are found in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) and "Kojiki" (The Records of Ancient Matters)
"Norito (Shinto prayer) of Otono-hogai" of "Engishiki" (codes and procedures on national rites and prayers) describes that, in particular, Toyoukebime-no-kami as Inadama with a note that it is also commonly known as Ukano-mitama. In this regard, Kunio YANAGITA suggests that miko (a shrine maiden) making rituals for the soul of rice were integrated into a god to be worshiped and thus the agricultural god came to be regarded as a goddess.
In folk beliefs, agricultural gods have generally been called Tanokami but regionally 'No-gami' in Tohoku region, 'Saku-gami' in Koshin Region (Yamanashi and Nagano Prefectures), 'Tsukuri-gami' in Kinki Region, 'I-no-kami' in Tajima Province (Hyogo Prefecture) and Inaba Province (Tottori Prefecture), 'Sanbai-(sama)' in Chugoku and Shikoku Regions, and 'Chijin (earthly deities)' in regions along the coast of Seto Inland Sea. Linked with other beliefs of different origins, Tanokami is commonly regarded as Ebisu (god of fishing and commerce) in Eastern Japan and Daikokuten (Mahakala) in Wewtern Japan. Tanokami may be further identified as an earthly deity (Chijin) or Inari-shin (the god of harvest) but clearly differentiated from the fishing god and Fukutoku-shin (a god who brings fortune and luck).
Folklore of Shunju kyorai
The worship of Yamanokami has been formed and handed down by people living mainly in mountains such as those engaged in hunting, swidden agriculture, charcoal burners, woodcutters, sawyers, kijishi (wood master) (wood vessel production) and miners having their unique faith and religious behaviors according to their occupations.
Rice farmers believed that the Yamanokami descended from the mountain to villages or houses to become Tanokami and watch over farmers working in the fields in spring when rice cultivation starts, and helped rice to grow, bringing about a good harvest. This belief is called Shunju kyorai (coming and going in spring and autumn) of Tanokami and Yamanokami, which was prevalent across the country.
According to a legend handed down in Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture (formerly Sanpoku-machi, Iwafune-gun (Nigata prefecture)), for example, Tanokami is believed to come from Tenjiku (India) and descend on houses on March 16. Tanokami is then believed to leave the houses to their paddy fields on April 16 and revisit the houses on October 16. People conducted rituals to offer Botamochi Rice Cake to Ebisu (god of fishing and commerce) on these days believing that Tanokami returned again to Tenjiku on November 16. Tanokami moves place to place among Tehjiku, houses, and fields in a year. These moves almost match the yearly process of rice cultivation.
This kind of folklore of Tanokami coming and going through houses is commonly found and have as follows.
Tanokami returns home from paddy fields.
Tanokami leaves home to paddy fields.
Tanokami descends on houses from mountains.
Tanokami returns to the mountain from houses.
Tanokami comes and goes to and from houses and paddy fields.
Tanokami becomes Rusu-gami (Caretaking-Gods) instead of coming and going.
And other patterns exist in folklore. Like the example of Sanpoku-machi above, some folklores contain distant places such as Tenjiku from which Tanokami comes and goes.
Aenokoto, a folk event handed down to today in Okunoto (Ishikawa Prefecture) (Nation's important intangible assets of folk culture), is an event in which people welcomeTanokami home from their paddy fields to hold a banquet (Ae) after the autumn harvest (on December 5 originally November 5). They also had an event to send the Tanokami from home to the field at the beginning of spring (on February 9 originally January 9).
Scarecrow, Yashiki-gami (family house god), Sorei-shin (ancestor deities)
"Kuebiko" that appears in the anecdotes of the nation building of Okuninushi (chief god of Izumo in southern Honshu Island, Japan, and the central character in the important cycle of myths set in that region) is a deification of scarecrows, which are also Tanokami (the agricultural god) and Chijin (earthly deities). Scarecrows were regarded as yorishiro of a deity (object representative of a divine spirit) because of their shapes. In some regions, harvest festivals and small New Year's festivals around January 15th involve 'Kakashiage (setting up of a scarecrow), ' because scarecrows are linked with a belief in Yamanokami.
People in some regions also call scarecrows themselves 'Tanokami.'
In addition, the legend of Shunju kyorai is believed to have a deep relation with the establishment of Yashiki-gami (family house god). Although Yashiki-gami was established relatively recently, the divinity is believed to have a close relation with the agricultural god and sosen shin (ancestral god). There is a close relation with Sorei shinko that can be pointed out. In ancient Japan, souls of the dead were believed to live in mountains. Based on this belief, therefore, many suggest that Yashiki-gami may have originated from ceremony sites established in mountains or forests near homes to worship ancestors. In ancient times, a divine spirit was generally believed not to stay in one place but to visit a specific place in a specific season and return after receiving religious services. Religious services to Yashiki-gami, in general, are held mainly in spring and autumn, when such services to the agricultural god (Tanokami) are held as explained below. The agricultural god also came to hold an important position in Sorei shinko. In this way, the three gods--Yashiki-gami, the agricultural god, and Sorei-shin--had close relations with each other centering on the a god of crop soul (Toshigami (god of the incoming year)).
Festival of Tanokami
By the nature of Tanokami, most festival days of Tanokami also concentrate in spring and autumn corresponding to the phase of cultivations.
Most take the shape of agricultural rituals, mainly including the following:
Toshigami-sama (god of the incoming year) and preliminary celebration of New year
Rites and festivals of Rice planting (Otaue, Hanataue), festivals before and after rice planting
An event of removing calamity
Rites and festivals in the harvesting season
Festivals in rice planting and reaping seasons are especially held on a large scale.
Toshigami-sama, preliminary celebration of New year
It is widely seen in houses even today where all hanging scrolls are displayed on walls and sake and food are offered on a table to worship Toshigami (Otoshi no Kami). Some offer branches of Narase-mochi (Mochibana) (decorating trees with rice cake).
Among events of Yoshuku Geino (Preliminary Celebration), Taasobi (ritual Shinto performance to pray for a good rice-crop for the year) handed down in Itabashi Ward, Tokyo and Hanazono no Ondamai (the rice field dance in Hanazono) performed in Hanazono, Katsuragi-cho, Wakayama Prefecture (both being designated as Important Intangible Property of Folk Culture) retain the old forms as an event held at New Year or Lunar New Year. Akiu no Taue-odori (the rice planting dance in Akiu) (designated as Important Intangible Property of Folk Culture) held in Akiu, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture in every April today was originally a Yoshuku Geino held on Lunar New Year in the depth of winter. Other folk events having a characteristic of the preliminary celebration include events of Niwataue (literally, rice planting in the garden) such as 'Secchutaue (literally, race planting in snow)' in Yoshida, Yokote City, Akita Prefecture and 'Enburi (a rice planting dance named after a tool for rice field preparation)' in Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture. In addition, the following events are also folk events having a characteristic of the preliminary celebration, although they do not directly involve Tanokami itself but have close relations with it: bird-driving events widely handed down in East Japan, festivals of God of Water and Rain such as a mid-January festival in northern Japan, snow huts in which children play house, a festival of Sagicho (ritual bonfire of New Year's decorations) including the Dondo-yaki (a bonfire of the New Year's decorations, such as pine branches, bamboos, and straw festoons, at a shrine around the 15th of January), visits of Toshinokami widely seen in regions across Japan such as namahage (folklore demons of the Oga Peninsula that pay frightening visits to children at the New Year), Sai-no-kami, Toshidon and Amahage.
In Minakuchi-matsuri Festivals, Tanokami is received before the cultivation season in spring and enshrined when rice nurseries are seeded. One example is a festival in Marumori-machi, Miyagi Prefecture, in which Gohei (wooden wands, decorated with two Shide (zigzag paper streamers)) containing branches of Yaezakura (double cherry blossoms) and roasted rice are erected at Minakuchi (water inlet) of rice nursery fields. Another example in Makabe-machi, Ibaraki Prefecture is where a pole called 'Tanokami-sama' of Japanese sumac is made New Years and carried to Minakuchi in spring. Also in Zama City, Kanagawa Prefecture, branches are bound like a broom at the Minakuchi of a rice nursery. The details and style of the Minakuchi-matsuri Festival differ from region to region.
Saori is a festival to welcome Tanokami when rice planting starts．
Three sheaves of young rice plants are brought from the rice nursery to be offered at an alter established at home, for example on a tokonoma (alcove in a traditional Japanese room where art or flowers are displayed). Saori may be called Sabiraki, Saike, Wasaue, or Sanbaioroshi depending on the region.
Sanaburi refers to a festival to send Tanokami off at the end of rice planting. It is also called Sanobori or Shiromite. A Shinto ritual is held by bringing young rice plants from the paddy field to offer them with sake and food to Kojin (god of a cooking stove) or Kamado-gami (the tutelary deity of the hearth or cooking range kamado).
In many regions, female rice planters or those who participated in rice planting used to be invited to a banquet
Although the festival is held at individual homes after the Pacific War, it was once held at a landlord's or masters' homes and not at individual homes. After individual homes started to hold Sanaburi, big Sanaburi--events held by entire village communities, municipalities, or prefectures--came into being to show each other's local performing arts. In fact, however, both big Sanaburi and Sanaburi at individual homes have been rarely held recently, because the sense of a community has been rapidly disappearing in today's rural communities.
Rice planting (Otaue, Hanataue)
Rice planting was the most important phase in agricultural rites.
The style of Otaue still remaining today shows this work once constituted a festival
Otaue literally means a large scale rice planting but is used in a variety of meanings such as the day when the largest quantity is planted, the day when rice planting is at its peak, the day when rice is planted in the largest field, and the last day of rice planting. In some mountainous areas in Chugoku region, Otaue refers to having rice planted by female rice planters singing in accompaniment to hayashi (a musical accompaniment in Japanese classical or folk music) played on traditional Japanese instruments such as the sasara (a traditional Japanese percussion instrument), fue (Japanese flute), drums, and bells in an old family's rice fields have been cultivated with the use of beautifully dressed cows. Similar events may be called Hanataue in some regions.
Saotome refers to female rice planters who plant rice seedlings on the day of rice planting. They play roles of hare and ke (sacred-profane dichotomy) and a secret role in serving the gods. On this day, they wore their best clothes (dark blue hitoe (a single layer of kimono), red obi (kimono sash), white tenugui (hand towel), and new sedge hat). Such splendid clothes for rice planting mean that rice planting was a sacred, important event.
Taue-meshi refers to food eaten by people who work in rice fields on the day of rice planting. This is sacred food eaten together with Tanokami. Toshigi or pieces of firewood offered to Toshigami are said to be used as fuel for cooking the food. Dressed-up females called Onari carry the taue-meshi to rice fields. The work of Onari was once done by young women from the family of the field owner who were called Ie-saotome or uchi-saotome. It is believed that Saotome and Onari began to be differentiated, when women who planted rice began to be called Saotome.
Events to prevent disasters
Both the Nebuta-nagashi Festival (Nebuta) in Aomori City and the Neburi-nagashi Festival (the former name of the Kanto Lantern Festival) in Akita City are believed to be part of Tanabata (Star Festival), but they were originally events held to overcome sleepiness so as to prevent calamities. They were linked with the star festival or folk stories of orihime, a weaving young lady of noble birth.
Hokake (rice ear hanging)
Hokake is an event of the first rice reaping in which a small quantity of rice ears are brought home from the field and hanged before the god to offer roasted new rice. It is Shinto rituals to offer the year's first rice to a god. In western Japan, it may also be called Hokake of hassaku (August 1 on lunar calendar). In this case, the day of hassaku (August 1 on lunar calendar) becomes a festival day.
Kariage ritua, a typical event of a harvest festival, is held when rice reaping has finished. It is also believed to be an event that is held when Tanokami leaves the rice field. Formerly, Niho or harvested rice ears were piled at a field side in order to worship them as a god. This festival day varies from region to region; it is called 'Mikunichi' in Tohoku region, 'Tokanya (the night on the 10th day of October)' from northern west of Kanto region through Koshinetsu region, 'Inoko' from western Japan through a part of Chiba, Ibaraki, and Saitama Prefectures along the Pacific coast, and Shimotsuki-matsuri Festival in Kyushu region. Sickles used in reaping work are washed for decoration, or Kariage-mochi Rice Cake (Botamochi Rice Cake), rice balls coated with sweetened red beans, soybean flour or sesame are offered to the god.
Mikunichi refers to September 9, 19, and 29 (lunar calendar). It may also be called Kunichi, Okunchi, Mikunchi and Sankunichi. A variety of events are held across Japan. In Tohoku region, rice is believed to be reaped by September 29. In addition, the god was believed to leave for Izumo Province in October after eating the rice cake for Kunichi. This caused a confusion in some regions because it became linked with a folk story from Kannazuki (tenth month of the lunar calendar and literally, the month without gods) but festivals to see the god off from rice fields were held across Japan after mid-October according to the old lunisolar calendar.
Tokanya (the night on the 10th day of October)
Tokanya refers to an event of rice reaping held on October 10 (the old lunisolar calendar). Children stick the ground with a bundle of straws or offer Kariage-mochi Rice Cake to household Shinto altar. In Nagano Prefecture, a festival of Kakashiage is held, in which a scarecrow of Tokanya is brought from the paddy field to put up in the garden and a mill-stone and a square measuring cup are placed to offer rice cake. The conical straw headpiece is removed to make a fire for baking the rice cake in some regions. A legend where a frog carrying the offered rice cake on its back accompanies the scarecrow that ascend to heaven has been handed down in another region. An event called Daikon no Toshitori is held in other regions.
Inoko (the Young Boar Festival)
Inoko is a rice reaping event held on the day of the boar in October according to the old lunisolar calendar. The event is found in regions ranging from Pacific coastal areas, West Japan to Southern Kyushu. In the custom, children are found walking while hitting the ground with stones and a bundle of straws or given rice cake at home. Such custom can be seen in tokanya, too. This can be regarded as a ceremony to soothe the land in which harvesting.has finished.
Aenokoto, Niiname-sai festival
Aenokoto handed down in Okunoto is an event to welcome Tanokami protecting rice fields and worship it by offering what is harvested. Niiname-sai festival (ceremonial offering by the Emperor of newly-harvested rice to the deities) is an event of naorai (feast) in which both god and people eat together.
How Tankami is shaped in details is commonly unknown. Common yorishiro (object representative of a divine spirit) includes branches or bundles of branches put in Minakuchi, flowers, and stones. People tend to have no permanent shido (a hall dedicated to the deity) nationwide. In spite of the nationwide trend, however, it is worthy of attention that stone statues of Tanokami are found only in Satsuma Province, Osumi Province, and a part of Hyuga Province (Miyakonojo City and its surrounding areas) in southern Kyushu. According to the custom of these regions, stone statues called Tanokansa (Tanokamisama) carrying a wooden ladle or pestle is placed at the edge of a rice field and worshiped as a god. Nishisataura-cho, Kagoshima City has an annual folklore event in spring called 'Tanokami Onaori,' in which Tanokami given an elaborate makeup is carried outdoor for a cherry blossom viewing party and is transferred. In Southern Kyushu, the Tanokami-ko (festival in honor of Tanokami) is also widely held on the day of the Ox (one of the twelve animals of the oriental zodiac) in February, and October or November according to lunar calendear (or twice an year in spring and autumn).
The stone statues of Tanokansa are considered to have been made in and after the early 18th century. This is supported by the fact that such stone statues were found only in the territory of Shimazu clan in Kagoshima Domain and not in other regions.
The shape of the stones undergo the following two different lines of change:
Buddhist image type => Buddhist monk type => Travelling monk type
Sacred image type => Shinto priest type =>Dancing Tanokami type (or Sacred dancing priest type)
Juro ONO studied this in detail.
However, Tanokami-ko itself is found in other regions. Stones statues with carved characters of '田神,' '田ノ神,' and '田の神' are widely found by the roadside not only in southern Kyushu but also across Japan.
Kitsune-zuka (fox mound) and Inari faith
The place-name of Kitsune-zuka is commonly found across Japan. This is because the fox was once regarded as Shinshi (a divine servant) of Tanokami.
Mounds (fox mounds) were built near rice fields and later became hokora (a small shrine) of Inari-shin (the god of harvest) to appeal to the gods
This is considered to have caused the Inari faith to spread nationwide.