Court Ritual (宮中祭祀)

Court rituals are performed in order for an emperor to pray for peace, security, and prosperity of the nation and people.

Summary and history

As Emperor Juntoku stated in the "Kinpisho" (a book written by Emperor Juntoku, which records the history and origin of the Imperial Court's ceremonies and sets forth the rules and etiquette for carrying out such ceremonies) that consideration should be given to divine service before other manners at the Imperial Court, successive emperors have given the highest priority to Shinto rituals since the establishment of the country. Court rituals which are performed in the Three Shrines in the Imperial Court consist of taisai (grand festivals), in which the Emperor himself conducts a ceremony and presents a message to the ancestors of the Imperial Family, and shosai (small festivals), in which the shoten-cho (the chief ritualist) conducts a ceremony and the Emperor bows his head in prayer.

Most of the present-day festivals are the rituals that were formalized based on the Taiho Code, the Jogan-gishiki (a set of books of ceremonial procedures compiled in the Jogan era), and the Engishiki (an ancient Japanese book of administrative regulations and ceremonial procedures that was completed in 927) in the Meiji period. Rituals such as Shihohai (a Shinto ceremony held on New Year's Day, in which the Emperor pays respect to the deities in all quarters) had been carried on by past emperors since before the early modern age. The renaissance and re-establishment of rituals, including the Harvest Festival, was actively pursued from the middle to the latter half of the Edo period, when the imperialism based on Mitogaku (the scholarship and academic traditions that arose in the Mito Domain) was enhanced. In the Meiji period, the revival of old festivals and the creation of new festivals were brought by the separation of Shinto and Buddhism and the deification of the Emperor that people regarded the Emperor as an 'arahitogami' (a living god). In 1871, the Grand Council of State declared that Shinto shrines should be enshrined by the nation, and the Koshitsu Saishi Rei (the Ordinance of the Imperial Household Religious Rites), which defined Court rituals, was enacted as one of the Imperial Household Orders in 1908.

Before World War II, the Ministry of Imperial Household administered the affairs of the Imperial Court, and its authority was almost equal to the authority of the Cabinet, which administered the government. Additionally, from the legal aspect of these institutes, the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, which handled the national administration and affairs, as well as various laws and ordinances established based on the Constitution equally coexisted with the former Imperial Household Law, which handled the Court affairs, and various Koshitsu-rei (the Imperial Household's Orders) under the Law. After Japan was defeated in World War II in August 1945, the Allies demoted the Ministry of Imperial Household to the Imperial Household Office, which was later demoted again to the Imperial Household Agency, and they ranked the Imperial Household Law as one of general laws, which should be under the control of the Constitution of Japan. Furthermore, they thoroughly 'amended' the contents of Imperial Household Law, and they also abolished all the Imperial Household Orders which were established before the war, including the Koshitsu Saishi Rei.

When the former Imperial Household Orders were abolished, the Imperial Household Agency issued an internal notification in order to ensure that issues that lost explicit provisions after the war would be enforced according to the former Imperial Household Orders. Thus the present court rituals are still performed according to the former Koshitsu Saishi Rei. The Constitution of Japan and laws established under the constitution, however, do not have any explicit provisions about the Court rituals, and the budget for the Court rituals is included in the budgeted allowance for the private expenses of the Imperial Family. Therefore many constitutional scholars interpreted the postwar Court rituals as the Emperor's private rituals. However, it is comfirmed that the heads of the three powers (legislative, executive and judicial) such as the prime minister have attended some rituals, mainly taisai. Eisaku SATO attended the Spring Korei-sai Festival (an Imperial ceremony to worship the Imperial ancestors held on Vernal Equinox Day), the Spring Shinden-sai Festival (an Imperial ceremony to worship the Eight Gods and the gods called Amatsukami and Kunitsukami held on Vernal Equinox Day), the Autumn Korei-sai Festival (an Imperial ceremony to worship the Imperial ancestors held on Autumnal Equinox Day), the Autumn Shinden-sai Festival (an Imperial ceremony to worship the Eight Gods and the gods called Amatsukami and Kunitsukami held on Autumnal Equinox Day), and Niiname-sai Festival (the Harvest Festival) almost every year while he was at the post of the prime minister. The NHK TV program 'Emperor as a Symbol, the Record of the Real Emperor,' which was aired on April 10, 2009, included a scene in which the heads of the three powers such as Prime Minister Taro ASO attended the Spring Korei-sai Festival and the Spring Shinden-sai Festival.

In the academic society of constitutional studies, some conservative scholars regard the 'inside of the Imperial Court' as a public organization like the prewar 'Imperial Court' because of the perspective that there is no personal affairs in the Imperial Household, and they also strongly believe that the Court rituals are 'public rituals at the inside of the Imperial Court.'

After the Court rituals were institutionalized, both Emperor Meiji and Emperor Taisho were not so interested in them, and chamberlains usually worshipped on behalf of the Emperor. However, Empress Teimei, Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun are said to have been very keen on the rituals. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are also interested in them, and they attend most Court rituals without asking someone to worship on behalf of them, apart from a period that they are sick or in mourning. A ritual requires prior purification and a long-hour seiza (sitting on one's heels). It is said that as a ritual approached, Emperor Showa intentionally sat in the seiza style for a long time, for example when he watched TV, and the present Empeor does the same thing. Since a ritual imposes a heavy burden on the emperor, plans of simplification and modification of rituals have been sometimes made and implemented for some purposes; for example, it had been done between 1965 and 1985 to reduce the Emperor Showa's work in consideration of his age, and it was done in 2009 to reduce the present Emperor's work, taking his health condition into consideration.

Main ceremonies
Taisai indicated in boldface
January 1: Shihohai (a Shinto ceremony held on New Year's Day in which the Emperor pays respect to the deities in all quarters); Saitan-sai Festival (a Shinto ritual to celebrate the New Year held after Shihohai)
January 3: Genshisai (shinto festival of origins)
January 4: Sojihajime (a ceremony in which the chief ritualist reports on rituals at Ise-jingu Shrine and the Court rituals to the Emperor)
January 7: Emperor Showa Festival
January 30: Komei Tenno-reisai Festival (an annual festival for Emperor Komei)
February 17: Kinen-sai Festival (a prayer service for a good crop)
Spring Equinox Day: Shunkikoreisai (imperial ceremony of ancestor worship, formerly held on the vernal equinox); Shunkishindensai (imperial ceremony worshiping Hasshin and the god Tenjin-chigi, formerly held on the vernal equinox)
April 3: Jinmu Tenno-sai Festival (Emperor Jinmu Festival); Koreidenmikagura (a ceremony to comfort divine spirits by a performance of sacred music)
June 30: Yori (purification); Oharae (the great purification)
July 30: Meiji Tenno-reisai Festival (an annual festival for Emperor Meiji)
Autumn Equinox Day:Shukikoreisai (imperial ceremony of ancestor worship, formerly held on the autumnal equinox); Shukishindensai (imperial ceremony worshiping Hasshin and the god Tenjin-chigi, formerly held on the autumnal equinox)
October 17: Kannamesai (an offering of first fruits of the harvest to the Ise deities by the emperor)
November 23: Ninamesai (the Harvest Festival)
Middle of December: Kashikodokoro mikagura (a festival to comfort souls of divine spirits by performing sacred artistic rite in the forecourt of Kashikodokoro)
December 23: Birthday of Emperor Showa
December 25: Taisho Tenno-reisai Festival (an annual festival for Emperor Taisho)
December 31: Yori (purification); Oharae (the great purification)
Date of 1, 11, and 21 every month: Shun-sai Festival (a Shinto ceremony to pray for the nation's peace and security)
Everyday: Nikku no Gi (a rite of providing daily food offerings to the deceased); Maicho-godaihai (a morning worship done by a chamberlain on behalf of the Emperor)