What Do Japanese Kami Eat? - The History of Shinto Offerings

In Shinto, the food offering made to the deities is translated into Japanese as shinsen (神饌).
In other words, it is the meal of the deities. The traditional offering consists of rice, rice cakes, sake, salt and/or water. The best of the season, such as seafood or agricultural products from the mountain are gathered and offered.

What Do Japanese Kami Eat? - The History of Shinto Offerings

The Shinto priest, who purifies himself beforehand, must give the offering following the tradition as much as he can. The offering consists of food prepared with care.
There are also rules about how to serve and offer the food, in order to not disrespect the deities. Depending on the shrine, there may be differences in the way offerings are made, but all strive to offer food that is as good and pleasant to see as much as possible.

The origin of shinto offerings 

Do you know for how long the Japanese have been giving offerings?

If we take a look at the history of Shinto, we can see that there were detailed descriptions of these offerings in the Engi-shiki.
Written in the middle of the Heian period, the Engi-shiki is a compilation of ancient Japanese laws and legislation, which also contains rules concerning the ceremonies, etiquette and administration of the Imperial Court. Since this period, a wide variety of goods, ranging from agricultural products to marine products, were used as offerings.

The rules concerning rituals in shrines were established during the Meiji era (1868-1912). The contents of food offerings were determined according to the rank of the shrine, and these rules have been handed down until today.

What Do Japanese Kami Eat? - The History of Shinto Offerings

Receiving and connecting with the power of Japanese kami - festivals and "second encounter”

Since ancient times, the Japanese have cherished the festivals of each of the four seasons.

During festivals, also called matsuri, the Japanese entertain the deities with sake and food used as offerings. These offerings are then eaten by the festival participants. The festival participants then enjoy the sake and food that have been offered to the deities together. This is called the "second meeting".

In Shinto, the offerings have a special power, called "the blessing of the deities". It is said that eating food containing the power of the deities allows one to receive their blessings and strengthen the ties between humans and the deities. Just as eating a meal with people builds relationships, so does this process.

Offerings do not only take place during matsuri. They also punctuate the daily life of Japanese people. For example, if you follow us on Instagram, you must have already heard about Kagamimochi.

What Do Japanese Kami Eat? - The History of Shinto Offerings

Every year on January 11, Kagamibiraki Day, the Japanese open the Kagamimochi (rice cake) used as an offering in their alcove, all accompanied by a soup made from sweetened red bean paste, also called oshiruko. Since I was a little girl, I was often told to eat my kagamibiraki to the last crumb, in order to be protected from illness. This practice is also part of Shinto rituals.

1500 years of prayers and the ultimate food offering

As mentioned above, the "ultimate food offering" is called Higoto Asayu Omikesai (日別朝夕大御饌祭). It is performed at the Ise Shrine for Amaterasu Omikami, the most important goddess in Shinto. The components of this offering meet special criteria in order to be offered. The water is drawn from the Kaminomii Shrine, which is located outside the Ise Jingu Shrine. The rice, vegetables and salt are grown in special fields.

Finally, Shinto priest prepares the fire. This process is called Imibiyaden (忌火屋殿). The food is prepared in the morning and evening. So the ceremony is held twice a day, morning and evening, 365 days a year for about 1500 years, in the Divine Meal Hall, also called Mikeden (御饌殿) located outside the shrine.

No matter what the situation is, whether it is during wartime or during a typhoon, this tradition was observed to pray and thank the deities for the prosperity of Japan and the happiness of Japanese people.
I think it is wonderful that this Shinto ritual has continued with the same regularity.

I think that offerings are a way to express in a visible form our feelings towards the deities. Knowing that it is already difficult to express our feelings as human beings, it is even more difficult when it comes to the spiritual world. That is why we Japanese express our sincerity as much as possible. The Japanese "culture of hospitality" probably comes from this mindset.

Text and photos by Misa Kikuiri, writer for 供TOMO


★Envy to learn more about Shinto? You can read our articles about the history of Shinto part 1 and 2 !

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