Aki Matsuri - A Traditional Japanese Shinto Festival


Aki Matsuri is a popular Shinto festival that has evolved into a secularized Japanese national holiday comparable to Thanksgiving Day in the US. It was historically a day centered on the local Shinto shrines, during which the shrines' portable shrine was paraded through the village, and people used the occasion to express gratitude to the heavenly powers (kami) for the plentiful harvest.

Those who held the shrine made wishes for happiness to those who lived there when they went from house to house. The day starts with the priest purifying the temple and the participants donning traditional garb.

In Japan (and the Japanese diaspora), there isn't just one autumn festival, but a slew of them, each held at a different location with a different focus and on different dates during the month. The festival's local dates are often changed from year to year to keep it on a weekend. The Aki Matsuri in Kyoto contains a commemoration of the city's founding (October 22).

The festivals in Akita, Aichi, and Nihonmatsu are among the most significant. The procession to the nearest Shinto shrine is conducted at night in these areas, and it involves hundreds of lanterns that wind down the street as music plays. Hachiman, a famous Shinto god of war and the country's supreme guardian as well as a Buddhist bodhisattva, is the subject of several autumn festivals in Japan, including those in Himeji, Hyogo prefecture, and Takayama, Gifu prefecture.

The latter starts with a ceremony at the Sakur ayama Hachimangu Shrine, accompanied by a procession of 11 portable shrines (known as mikoshi) that are carried across town to enable Hachiman to visit each neighborhood's homes. The shrines are on display throughout the evening and can be seen by the illumination of several paper lanterns. Nagasaki is also home to the Nagasaki Kunchi, a massive autumn festival that dates to the 17th century.