Kinen-sai Festival (Prayer Service For A Good Crop) (祈年祭)
"Kinen-sai festival" (also called "Toshigoi no matsuri") is an annual Shinto ritual in February praying for the good fortune of the year, including the rich harvest. Kinen-sai festival and "Niiname-sai festival" (the ceremonial offering by the Emperor of newly-harvested rice to the deities, done in November) come as a pair.
Day of the Kinen-sai festival
Before the conversion from the lunar calendar to the solar calendar in the Meiji period, the ritual was held on February 4 (by the lunar calendar). After the conversion, the ritual has been held mostly on February 17, but the day was not standardized in particular, so some shrines in northern Japan have held it in March or April, so it has also served as the spring festival.
Originally, Kinen-sai festival was one of the annual rituals held by the Japanese nation under "ritsuryo" (legal codes in the Nara and Heian periods based on Chinese models), and a record says it was held as early as in the later seventh century, the reign of Emperor Tenmu. Combined with the Chinese ceremony to pray for the good crop, the ancient Japanese ritual of agriculture in spring is deemed to have been renewed as the ritual of the nation under ritsuryo. At first, all the shrines as many as 3132 listed on "Jinmyocho" (the list of deities, that is, the list of shrines) were prayed to. But in the Heian period, the ritual turned into a mere façade, and became to be held just within "Jingikan" (the court department of worship). In the middle of the Heian period, people began to recognize that the ritual was mainly for deifying "Amaterasu Omikami" (the Sun Goddess), and in the cloistered emperor's reign, the recognition became more common, and Kinen-sai festival began to be conducted solemnly by the emperor to deify Amaterasu Omikami. In the early 13th century (the early Kamakura period), Emperor Juntoku wrote in "Kinpisho" (the book which recorded the history and origin of Imperial Court ceremonies, and which set forth the rules and etiquette for carrying out such ceremonies) that Kinen-sai festival was the ritual related to Ise-jingu Shrine.
During the later Muromachi period (the times of war), Kinen-sai festival in Imperial Court came to a halt just like other rituals, and instead, it began to be held by the Shirakawa-hakuo family, which hereditarily inherited "Jingi haku" (a chief official in charge of matters relating to Shintoism). During the Genroku era of the Edo period, Kinen-sai festival in Imperial Court was planned to be revived but failed, so the revival came true only after Jingikan was reestablished in Court in the Meiji period. Thereafter, Kinen-sai festival became an important national ritual once again, and from 1869, it was held as a grand festival by the Imperial Court and high ranking shrines nationwide which were authorized by the state. It was held also by the other shrines separated from the state.
When Japanese State Shinto was dismantled after World War Ⅱ, Kinen-sai festival shed its aspect of a national ritual, and now, it is held as a private ritual of Imperial Family in Court, and is held as one of common rituals in shrines nationwide.