Shinto Festivals as a Gateway
to Japanese Cultural History


The following texts were originally published in 'Swissair Gazette' (1980/1), the thentime inflight-journal of the Swiss airline. The whole journal was thematically dedicated to the subject of Japanese Shinto cult festivals. The photographs in this file were copied from the journal. They may have slightly darkened over the years.

Hardly any other aspect of Japanese life is better qualified to help us understand the country's traditions than its festivals. The recent work of Japanese ethnographers, as yet hardly recognized in the West, has done a great deal to facilitate this understanding. They have succeeded in showing - much as has been done in the field of linguistics - that local village cultures have kept these basic traditions alive. Festivals are a very important element of these cultures and are striking both in their frequency and in their variety. They are also a central feature of the indigenous Japanese religion. Just as pre-Christian ingredients have persisted in European customs, many traditional relicts - primitive cultic objects, figures, masks, dances, plays - have survived as part of them. The festivals of Japan are consequently a receptacle of its cultural past. The attributes of long-forgotten times have lived on in them, often in a surprisingly complex form, and are now able to tell us a great deal about the nature and development of Japanese culture. All this explains why Japan's most eminent ethnologist, Yanagita Kunio, has described the traditional term for a festival (matsuri, essentially "cultic festival") as the key to an understanding of Japanese culture as a whole.

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