The Setsubun Festival
The Ayabe grounds of Oomoto hold huge shrines and many buildings, most of which were in use for the Grand Setsubun Festival. Here many people from all over Japan begin to gather during the afternoon.
Paper lanterns and signs over walkways have been inscribed with poems and prayers from Oomoto followers.
People begin to congregate on the floor of the main shrine where the festival will begin. The ceremonies are also televised to the other buildings on the Ayabe grounds.
The Fifth Spiritual Leader speaks to the Congregation, officially opening the sacred ceremonies.
100 priests and 100 priestesses enter the hall in a slow, dignified march
Soon the chanting and ritual presentation of the bounty of the Earth to God will begin.
These gifts of the Earth, including fish, sake, fruits, and vegetables, are carried to the alter in a zig-zag ritual movement performed by many priests.
The Fifth Spiritual Leader bows to the alter and will soon kneel before it to lead the congregation in chanting the prayers.
Two young girls in traditional dress dance the purification ceremony while the woman at the left plays the traditional harp of Japan.
The priests lead and the congregation follows.
On the platform projecting beyond the bridge over the river, the Fifth Spiritual Leader leads the priests and congregation on the shore in chanting the prayers.
The platform is reflected here in the river water as the wisps of paper carry the prayers of believers to God.
in Ayabe: 3 Feb.05
Meanwhile workers are constructing this platform out from the bridge that crosses the river at Ayabe.
A huge bonfire is built in a central area of the grounds for people to warm themselves throughout the night as the festival continues until dawn.
Bill Roberts, an American journalist writing a book on Oomoto, gives a preliminary talk.
Priest and priestesses dressed in white robes begin to enter the great hall and walk toward the low stage at the front.
They walk onto the stage and sit erect on the shining floor. A huge drum in the back of the hall booms forth its sounds.
This new year festival also celebrates the February 3rd anniversary of the date when God first spoke to the Foundress, Nao Deguchi, in 1892. The bounty of the Earth is ritually presented back to God, from whom all blessings flow.
Many gifts are carried to the alter in this dignified and reverent manner.
Various dignitaries from the congregation are invited to participate in the ceremony of the sacred pine bows.
Twice during the all-night ceremony, the entire congregation, led by all the priests and priestesses walk half a mile through the streets of Ayabe to the bridge over the river.
The streets of Ayabe are lined with paper lanterns and lit by torchlight as the procession advances to the bridge.
Thousands of slips of paper have been filled out containing the names and addresses of believers who pray to wash their sins out to sea by the river. These are emptied from jars onto the river and collect on the water to be carried away.