Shokon no matsuri (Soul summoning rite) (招魂祭)

Shokon no matsuri is a ritual practiced by Japanese Onmyodo and Chinese Taoism. It was also practiced in the imperial court.

For Shokonsai (soul summoning rite) that the shokon-sha shrines and the Yasukuni-jinja shrine began to practice after the Meiji period for the dead, see Yasukuni-jinja.


In Japan's Onmyodo, the ritual is performed to revitalize the sick; in contrast, in China's Taoism, it is performed to prevent the souls of the dead from wondering away. It is not to be confused with Chinkonsai, which is performed on both the living and the dead.

Japan's Onmyodo

It was introduced to the aristocratic class in the mid Heian period. The first record of Shokon no matsuri is in "Shoki mokuroku," volume 8, under "Onsaijifu-kaijo," in the article, "2nd year of Eien era, November 11th, Shokon no matsuri." 2nd year of Eien era is 988. It was believed that a person possesses a "soul," and when he is in deep sleep, or is troubled by something, the soul drifts away from the weakened body. Therefore, during child labor or illness, a ritual of waving clothes on the roof was performed to lead the soul back to the body. This ritual was for the living, and it was forbidden to perform on the dead. Those who broke the taboo were punished (an article on August 23, 1025 in "Sakeiki" [A Diary of MINAMOTO no Tsuneyori]). In August 1025, an Onmyoji (a master of Yin Yang) Tsunemori NAKAHARA almost received punishment for performing Shokon no matsuri on the deceased FUJIWARA no Kishi. Japan's Onmyodo does not practice Shokon no matsuri on the dead, which is the key difference from the Chinese Taoism.

Examples of Shokon no matsuri and confusion and distinction between Shokon no matsuri and Chinkon no matsuri

The term Shokon no matsuri was used in "Chronicles of Japan," Volume 29, an article on November 24 (day of Hinoe Tora) of the 14th year of Emperor Tenmu that states, 'Shokon was performed for the Emperor on that day.'
In "Chinkonden record", Nobutomo BAN refers to this particular case as chinkon-sai. In Hikobae (Essays on Study of Historical Artefacts of Nobutomo BAN), volume 20, he writes, "Emperor GoDaigo's 'Nicchu Gyoji' (book on the ceremonies of the court) states "the daily rituals of shokon have been established " where shokon refers to a shokon no matsuri performed by a onmyo-ji, not a chinkon no matsuri," making a clear distinction between the two types of rituals.

Chinese Taoism

Taoists perform Shokon no matsuri on the dead as well as the living. However, it is not a rite of resurrection. For instance, "Kinji" (a collection of literary works in Chinese history) written in the Warring States Period (in China) before common era states that according to 'shokonhen' (the section of soul summoning rite) of Sogyoku, the rite was performed to bring back the soul of Kutsugen (a Chinese scholar-official), who was pursued and killed by the villain even though he had no fault, so that his soul won't wonder around.
Kokusho' of the 9th song of "Kinji" states that when you die, your body dies but by the power of god, your soul turns into a demon.'
Today, the rite is performed 1 to 3 years after death by writing the name of the deceased on 'shinshu' (it is equivalent to Buddhist tablets which is also used in Confucianism) and it is revered as a new ancestor. Then, while the soul is still a kind of demon, it becomes a protective ancestor that watches over the safety and well-being of the descendants.