Accession of the Reiwa Emperor, 令和天皇, 2019 and the Mystery of the God SeatReiwa is the name chosen for the new Emperor and the era during which he will reign. As those who follow this blog know, Japan functions under two systems of year counting: the Gregorian calendar—whereby the year is 2019—and the Imperial calendar, in which case the year will be Reiwa gannen. Gannen means 'first year". Next year (2020) will be reiwa 2. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Emperor is not actually called the Reiwa Emperor until after his reign is finished. In the meantime he will be called by his given name, Naruhito.
I encourage anyone who is interested in the year counting aspect of the accession to check the kink above. Also, for those interested in the entire sequence of events, view this post from the Kunaicho. Then on a practical note, lest we forget that ceremony and pageantry has a price, view this article from The Japan Times. The current post is about one important, mysterious, and lesser known aspect of the accession: the daijosai. To quickly state, the accession ceremony (Sokui no rei 即位の礼) consists of three parts. First, is the hand-over of two of the three sacred regalia—a sword and a string of beads, (not handed over is a mirror which never leaves Ise Jingu). Second, is the enthronement which takes place in a structure wherein the new Emperor will sit on the "throne" for the first time. The third part is the daijosai which is related to a harvest ceremony that takes place every year called the niinamesai. It is this mysterious, secretive, and somewhat controversial ceremony which is the subject of the remainder of this post.
For those few, hearty souls, who relish getting into the weeds of history, I will reproduce in its entirety, a somewhat thorough-going entry from the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, published by the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, in 1990. Nanzan University is a private Catholic university in Nagoya which publishes one of the most prestigious and informative journals of religion in Japan. This particular article is by Carmen Blacker, who was one of the most renown researcher's and writer's on Japanese religious culture and cosmology. She is best known for a book on Japanese shamanism called "The Catalpa Bow."
|Marcel Duchamp, Self-portrait with Pipe (Smoke and Mirrors)|
The Shinza or God-seat in the Daijosai—Throne, Bed, or Incubation Couch?—
The daijosai 大嘗祭 is the oldest and most mysterious ceremony in the ritual sequence which marks the consecration of the Japanese emperor. It is also possibly the oldest ritual of its kind to survive in the world. Its exact age is not known. The first record of its performance comes in the reign of Emperor Tenmu 天武 (r. 672687). But certain features of the rite — the absence of any metal in the building of the Daijogu 大嘗宮, the rough earthenware vessels and oak-leaf dishes from which the emperor eats and on which he offers food to the kami —indicate that its origin may take us back to a prehistoric age.
During its long history of at least a millennium and a half the rite has naturally suffered many vicissitudes. Wars, rebellions, and impoverishment of the imperial house led to periods, longer or shorter, of discontinuance. The longest lapse lasted for more than two centuries, from 1466 to 1687, when civil war and its aftermath prevented its performance. During this long gap much of the tradition surrounding the ritual was lost. The ceremonial prescriptions which during the early tenth century had been committed to writing in the Engishiki 延喜式 were safely preserved, but much of the surrounding oral tradition, which had been a closely guarded secret of the imperial household, was forgotten.
Among the lost parts of the ritual were the entire geino [entertainment] element— the ancient folk songs, the furugoto ふるごと or old stories chanted by the kataribe 語部 minstrels, the aboriginal cries and dances. Some of these have been “revived” in recent times by court musicians, but their reconstructions are not the authentic ancient tunes. Lost or suppressed also was the very name of the divinity or divinities in whose honor the rite was performed. Lost also was all knowledge of the symbolic meaning of certain ritual objects prescribed for the ceremony (Okada1979, pp. 260-62). It is assumed that, like all rites whereby a sacral king is consecrated, the symbolic sequence confers on the new sovereign the sacred power which transforms him from a human to the divine condition necessary to become a king. But exactly what the ritual sequence signified in terms of symbolism is still far from clear. A number of enigmas still remain.
The purpose of this study is to try to elucidate one of these puzzles: the meaning and purpose of the shinza 神座 or “god-seat” which stands in the very middle of each of the two “halls,” the Yukiden 悠紀殿 and the Sukiden 主基殿, in which the rite is performed. This shinza resembles a bed, of strange and complex construction, with a well-defined pillow and coverlet. But so completely has its function been forgotten that during the course of the ritual the emperor does not once touch it, let alone lie on it. As Holtom put it in 1928, “the god-seat and its strange furnishings stand there throughout the night as silent witnesses of a half-forgotten past” (Holtom 1972, p. 96). An intriguing variety of theories have been advanced to account for its presence. It has been seen as a throne, as a marriage bed, a symbol of the Sun Goddess, a resting-place for a visiting god, a refuge where the emperor may receive the soul of his ancestors. Before considering these varied explanations, however, let us recall in brief outline the outward sequence of the rite.
The Sequence of the Daijosai Ceremony
The heart of the daijosai ceremony is apparently a communion meal, in which the emperor eats the first-fruits of the new rice of the season, and offers the same, cooked in the same vessel, to the kami of his ancestors. The very name of the ceremony, Festival of Great Eating, reflects the importance attached to this act of commensal eating, and indeed the rite has much in common with the old annual harvest festival, the niinamesai 新嘗祭，also recorded in the Engishiki. It is tempting therefore to see the daijosai as simply a grander version of the niiname, which is performed at the beginning of the reign of every new emperor, and hence confers, through the spirit of the rice, blessings and fecundating power on the new sovereign. This interpretation, however, leaves several puzzles unsolved.
The ceremony is prescribed for the second hare day of the eleventh month. It lasts for four days and can be seen in three principal stages. On the first day is performed the rite of chinkonsai 鎮魂祭, or “pacifying the soul.” The emperor’s clothes, treated as a symbol of himself, together with a cord of white silk, are brought to two specially constructed shrines. The clothes are shaken ten times, and ten knots are tied in the white cord. The second stage comprises the ceremonies in the Daijogu, the focus of this study, enacted on the night of the second day and the early morning of the third. These are followed on the third and fourth days, our third stage, by banquets for some hundreds of guests. It is the ceremonies in the Daijogu, which form the second stage, which concern us.The complex of buildings known as the Daijogu, or Shrine of the Great Eating, consists of two identical “halls” known as the Yukiden and Sukiden, surrounded by a fence of brushwood. These are constructed seven days before the ceremony by the specially skilled carpenters known as miya-daiku. The architecture of the Yukiden and the Sukiden is of an archaic type similar to the buildings of the Ise Shrines: they stand on piles, with crossbeams on the thatched roof; all posts and timbers are of rough unpeeled pine; the walls and ceilings are of matting; and around each building is a veranda of bamboo. No metal of any kind is used in the building. The brushwood fence which surrounds the enclosure has an entrance to the north and to the south; a kitchen where the sacred rice is cooked is allotted for each hall, one to the east and one to the west of the enclosure (see Fig.1).
|Suki-den and Yuki-den|
Divination for the forthcoming daijosai ceremony next November took place on 8 February 1990; the results decreed that the Yuki field should be in Akita Prefecture, further north than on any previous occasion. The Suki field was located in Oita Prefecture in Kyushu.In these fields, and under strict conditions of ritual purity, the rice is sown, cultivated, harvested, and eventually transported to Kyoto or Tokyo. This is the rice which is to provide the meal and the sak6 which the emperor at the climax of the rite shares with the presiding kami.
Inside the Yukiden and the Sukiden, the furnishings are identical. In the center stands the shinza, the focus of our inquiry (see Fig.2). It is of exceedingly complex construction, consisting of seven layers of thick tatami arranged in three tiers, so that there is a projection or ledge
at the foot, to the north, and another to the right or east. On the ledge at the foot lies a pair of slippers, purple with a white pattern. On the ledge to the right lies a comb and a fan, encased in folded white paper, and a length of silk, in a willow box, known as uchiharai no nuno 打拂布. On the uppermost layer of tatami, at the south end of the bed, is laid a pillow of triangular shape known as saka-makura 坂枕. Over both the pillow and the uppermost tatami are laid eight layers of thinner reed matting known as yaedatami 八重畳. Lastly, completely covering tatami and pillow, is a coverlet of white silk, known as ofusuma 御衾 .
Next, on either side of the shinza stands a table supporting a basket of cloth. The basket on the western side contains a soft cloth called nigitae, that on the eastern side a rougher cloth called aratae.The function and meaning of these two lengths of cloth have, like the function and meaning of the shinza, been forgotten.
Next amongst the furnishings of the two halls are the mats on which are placed the food offerings for the kami, and the food eaten by the emperor. The chamber is lit by two lamps, one white and one black, each standing on an eight-legged table. Finally, the food, which is carried in procession into the halls and which is served in boxes and dishes of oak leaves and on dishes and bowls of unglazed red earthenware, includes steamed rice, fresh and dried fish, seaweed broth, awabi broth, fruit, boiled rice and millet, and two kinds of sake. The emperor's food, onaorai 御直会, consists of steamed rice and millet molded into dango, or small dumplings.
At two o’clock the following morning, exactly the same ceremony is repeated in the Sukiden, the whole ritual sequence ending before dawn. The Daijogu rite is thus concluded. The buildings are dismantled the same day, and all the dogu or ceremonial implements, together with the remaining food offerings, are buried (maizo) at a spot in the precincts of the Kamigamo Shrine. Banquets follow for the next two days (Tanaka1975, pp. 166-237).
Kingship Rituals and the Daijosai
A. M. Hocart, in his classic work, Kingship, discovered that in the consecration rituals for kings all over the world an extraordinary similarity of structure was discernible. So marked was the similarity, indeed, that he was tempted to wonder whether all could have derived from a single source. From numerous examples he distilled a model rite, to which all more or less conformed. Here he concluded that the general purpose and intention of the ceremony was to enact symbolically the death of the new king to his old human state, and his rebirth as a divine or semi-divine being. The moment of transformation or symbolic empowerment was accomplished when the king:
a. was invested with special clothes: a tunic, cloak, gloves, hose, or sandals;
b. received regalia, or magic objects of a power-conferring kind: a crown, an orb, a scepter, a ring, a sword;
c. was either baptized with water or anointed with oil;
d. received communion, or ate special food (1969, p. 70-98).
In all Hocart's examples, the king performed at least one of these symbolic actions; in some rituals he was required to enact more than one.
The daijosai did not number among the examples Hocart analyzed to this end. But it is clear that the Japanese rite is no exception to his rule. All scholars who have sought to interpret the general symbolic action of the daijosai agree that the ritual sequence enables the future emperor to pass from a human to a divine condition. Where they disagree is over the question of which action in the ritual symbolizes the principal power-giving transformation.
From our brief description of the rite it is at once clear that the climax appears to be the communal eating, by the emperor in company with his ancestral kami, of the First Rice grown from the sacred crop. At the same time we note that the shinza with its strange appurtenances, is completely ignored. It is not surprising therefore that explanations of the meaning of the rite should fall into two broad categories. Some scholars give principal importance to the communion meal; it is in the eating of the special magic food that the transforming moment occurs. The bed is of minor importance. Others would have it that the bed does not stand in the center of each hall by accident; some secret or forgotten rite (higi) must have taken place upon it which is of equal or greater importance than the communal meal. The explanations offered by these latter scholars come in general under the heading of our first Hocart alternative, the investiture of the King in magic clothes.
Let us now review some of these theories regarding the shinza and its function.
In the first category of scholars, who favor the communion meal as the climax of the rite and relegate the bed to a minor appurtenance, comes Tanaka Hatsuo, with his massive and authoritative Senso daijosai (1975). For Tanaka the whole ritual is easily explicable in terms of symbolic action signifying hospitality to a guest. The primary focus of the rite is that the emperor should summon，entertain, and honor the visiting kami, who in return will lavish blessings and protection on his coming reign. Thus the emperor offers food to his divine guests and, like a good host’ partakes of the same food himself. But his hospitality does not end here; he also provides a bed for his guests to rest after their journey, and even a pair of slippers, a fan, a comb and a change of clothes for their toilet The shinza is thus not a transforming symbol; it is merely a comfortable refuge for a weary guest. This explanation puts the daijosai into a pattern common to many Shinto matsuri in which kami are summoned, entertained, honored, treated with every mark of hospitality, and finally requested for blessings before being sent back to their own world (1975, pp. 129-44).
Holtom, too, regarded the communion meal as the climax of the daijosai, but at the same time he was convinced that the shinza must be some kind of throne. It proclaims “by every line of its couch-like construction," he wrote, “that it is the True Throne of the old Yamato Sumeragi” (1972, p. 49). He offered no explanation, however, of the function that this throne can have been assigned in the sequence of the ritual, nor of the meaning of the pillow and coverlet placed upon this “throne.”
An entirely different explanation, in this same first category, is offered by Saigo Nobutsuna in his Kojiki no sekai (1967). The climax of the rite is still the communal meal. By eating with his ancestral kami the products of the earth, the emperor acquires the magical power to bestow fecundity on the land under his rule. But before he can reach this climactic moment of transformation, he must undergo a rite of passage. The necessary power must be conducted from the body of the old, dead emperor into his own body. To this end, he must revert to the condition of an embryo in the womb, wrapped in placenta. By this symbolic action he becomes the actual, direct child of Amaterasu; he is born directly from her womb. At the same time he re-enacts the mythical paradigm, recounted in the Nihonshoki, whereby Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of the goddess, is despatched down to the human world wrapped in a coverlet called madoko-ofusuma 真床襲衾. Only when he has thus been symbolically reborn as the child of the Sun Goddess is the emperor ready to receive the final empowering communion of food and wine (1967, pp. 133-36).
Ellwood, on the other hand, believes the shinza to have been a marriage bed, and that a hieros gamos or sacred marriage must have been a feature of the consecration ceremony in ancient times. It is a common Shinto myth, he declares, that a male kami from an upper world should marry a local goddess of the human world, and that their act of union should confer the blessings of fecundity and prosperity on the land. The argument by which he relates this myth to the scenario of the daijosai is, however, speculative and unconvincing. There is no real evidence that, if indeed the emperor did lie down on the bed, he lay in the company of a woman. There is even less indication as to who this woman may have been (1973, pp. 37-77).
We now turn to the explanations of scholars in our second category: those who assign greater importance, in the transforming process, to some secret or lost rite (higi) concerning the shinza, than to the communal meal.
Overwhelmingly prominent in this category is the theory of Origuchi Shinobu, expressed in 1928 in his essay "Daijosai no hongi” (1979). This essay has been extraordinarily influential in Japan. Briefly his view is as follows: sacral power comes to the Japanese emperor through the entry into his body of the soul or mitama みたま of the imperial house. The legitimacy of the imperial line, dating back to the descent of the divine grandchild Ninigi-no-Mikoto, depends not so much on hereditary blood succession as on the complete and correct transference of the imperial mitama from the old emperor to his successor. This transference is accomplished by the ritual of the daijosai, in which we see, symbolically enacted, all the necessary steps of the implanting and gestation of the imperial soul in its new vessel (1979).
The imperial mitama, in Origuchi’s view, resembles in some degree the ancient Shinto tama, which was believed to reside in a host, imparting to him/her life and energy, but not personality. When the tama grew weaker, or left the body, the host must fall sick and eventually die. But Origuchi reminds us that the boundary between life and death was by no means clear cut in ancient Shinto belief. Even after bodily death, the tama was still subject to recall, by special magic songs and dances, so that life might once more be infused into the dead body. To this end the body was placed in a “mortuary hut,” known as mogari濱，where for a stated period the magic songs, dances, and ritual calls were performed which might induce the tama to return. Only if the body failed to return to life at the end of the period was the final funeral performed.
But the case of the imperial mitama, Origuchi writes, is special in so far as during this period of intermediary waiting the soul must be transferred from the body of the old emperor to that of the new. It does not, as in the case of the souls of ordinary people, simply leave the body and depart for another world. The new emperor’s body is a tamashii no iremono 魂の容物, a vessel for a soul, ready waiting to receive the soul of his predecessor. The period which is called “mourning” for the old emperor is thus at the same time the period in which the soul transfers itself to the body of the new emperor and there gestates.
The initial symbolic implanting of the mitama, Origuchi believes, takes place before the beginning of the Daijogu rite, during the ritual of chinkonsai which immediately precedes it Here, it will be recalled, the emperor’s clothes are shaken ten times. The act of shaking the clothes, which symbolize the emperor himself, indicate that the mitama is already attached or implanted. It is further consolidated and strengthened by another preliminary step, the emperor’s hot bath, which was taken in the Kairyuden immediately before the start of the Daijogu rite (Origuchi 1979, pp. 220-23).
The reason for this is that hot water, particularly the water from hot springs, was not in ancient times a mere agent of cleansing. It was a magic, purifying, and hence life-giving substance, originating in the paradise of Tokoyo, conducted to Japan over vast distances by underground channels, and eventually bursting through holy vents in the ground. The visits which the Kojiki records that the early emperors made to hot springs were hence not for mere purposes of health and hygiene. They were of the nature of pilgrimages to holy places’ where pollutions could be washed away and spiritual power consequently strengthened.
The hot bath which the daijosai prescribes that the emperor should take in the miyu no fune carries this transformative power. It is enhanced by the robe which the emperor wears during his bath. The ama no hagoromo, or heavenly feather robe, is the analogue of the very feather robe, celebrated in legend and drama, by which a tennyo or angel is enabled to fly between heaven and earth. Deprived of her robe, she is confined to the human world. Restore her robe, and she once again becomes a divine being. The very name given to the emperor’s hempen robe indicates therefore that its purpose is to confer and consolidate nascent divine power (Origuchi 1979, pp. 243-46).
But the next, crucial step, is that the mitama, thus implanted, should be enabled to gestate and grow. This it can only do in darkness and seclusion. Thus, during the ceremonies in the Daijogu, the emperor must have lain on the shinza, closely wrapped like a cocoon in the coverlet, and hence in darkness.
Origuchi here reiterates a view to which he often returns in his works, and which he believes to be deeply embedded in Japanese culture: that spiritual power, if it is to grow and mature, needs a period in the darkness of a sealed vessel. Within this vessel it grows until it bursts its covering and is “born” into the world. Certain vessels, he continues, are imbued with the necessary power of containing and nurturing a supernatural principle. The quality is known as utsubo or “hollowness” to the divine. Thus a peach, a gourd, a segment of bamboo, from which in folklore supernatural children are born, are utsubo vessels. So is the cave or darkened room in which the religious ascetic secludes himself (Origuchi 1950, pp. 260-74; also the lucid discussion in Ouwehand1964, pp. 122-23).
So also, therefore, is the ofusuma,which by wrapping the emperor in darkness enables the mitama inside him to gestate. Further and more empowering still, according to Origuchi, the ofusuma has a mythological analogue: it is the material representation of the original madoko-ofusuma, coverlet of the true couch, in which the NihonShoki states the Sun Goddess’s grandson was wrapped during his journey to the human world (Aston 1972, p. 90).
The coverlet, by its act of transformative wrapping, can therefore be seen in the category of a magic garment, analogous to the cloak, tunic, or shoes which are believed in other consecration rites to endue the king with sacral power. It is, in fact, the second magic garment, after the hagoromo9 in which the emperor is wrapped in the course of the rite. The hagoromo confers powers of magic flight, enabling its wearer to pass from one world to another. The ofusuma incubates and gestates the nascent soul of his ancestors, which has been passed on to him from his predecessor, whole and unimpaired from the very beginning of the imperial line.
It is, therefore, the moment when the new emperor takes off the coverlet and emerges from the darkness once more into the light, that he is fully empowered and qualified as emperor. The mitama is fully matured and safely resident within its new receptacle, the new emperor’s body. His emergence from the coverlet is thus a moment of rebirth.
Origuchi’s view of the imperial mitama and its transference by means of the coverlet on the bed from the old emperor to the new has exerted an extraordinary influence over subsequent interpretations of the daijosai. Many scholars have reiterated or elaborated the theme. Matsumura Takeo, for example, in his four distinguished volumes, Nihon shinwa no kenkyu, follows Origuchi entirely when he avers that the real key to the daijosai symbolism is the concept of a mitama or soul which can be renewed, strengthened, and transferred from one person to another. The same concept is found among the Ainu, where the bear sacrifice is performed with exactly this intent, and in the Ryukyu islands, where “soul” may be transferred through magic songs called omoro. There, too, soul not only can be transferred and implanted in someone else，like mistletoe which everywhere is revered as a magic plant, but also can even be offered voluntarily, as an act of homage, to a ruler by his people. To attach part of your soul-strength to the ruler was indeed to offer him your most precious possession (1955, pp. 540-44).
Mayumi Tsunetada (1978b, cited in Okada Shoji 1989, p. 2) also follows Origuchi when he asserts that the shinza symbolizes the form of Ninigi, sent down from heaven wrapped in the coverlet. Every emperor in succession therefore is the ancestor figure, and every emperor can be conceived as emerging from the shinza.
Widely influential though his views on the inner meaning of the daijosai have been since 1928, however, Origuchi is not without his critics. Of these, perhaps the most cogent is Okada Shoji (1989), who argues that there is no real evidence for the existence of any secret rite (higi) attached to the shinza. In fact, there is not a single mention of any such secret tradition in any of the extant documents concerning the daijosai throughout the ages. We examine in vain the premedieval records, written by those who actually took part in the ritual, for any shred of proof that the shinza carried the secret meaning that Origuchi ascribes to it Nor is there any proper documentary evidence that the coverlet is rightly interpreted as the analogue of the madoko-ofusuma in the Nihonshoki. The Nihonshoki makes several references, to be sure, to tennorei, or imperial soul or spirit, but by no possible stretch of the imagination can the word be interpreted as a soul brought to rest in the new emperor by means of the daijosai rite.
Look at any of the records and diaries of those who actually witnessed or took part in the preparation of the daijosai in any century, and you will find, Okada continues, that what is common to them all is that it is always the communal meal which is stressed as the central climax of the rite. Any mention of a secret tradition that may happen to appear in these accounts, pertains not to the bed, but to the communal meal, and in these contexts “secret” means no more than “that which is not made public,” that which is confined to the Palace tradition.
What is more, Okada continues, all the appurtenances of the bed—the pillow, the coverlet, the eight layers of tatami (yaedatami)—are frequently found in old shrines as saigu or ritual implements. There are brocade coverlets at Ise, a pillow at Usa Hachiman, a shinza with a yaedatami at the Kamo Wakeikazuchi Jinja, and a pillow, shoes, and coverlet at the Sumiyoshi Jinja. Such objects must have been common in shrines during the Nara period and before; they are simple saigu and nothing more. But there is absolutely no mention anywhere of the emperor, or anyone else, being wrapped in a coverlet or tatami (1989, pp. 7-8).
The suggestion that the emperor may have been wrapped in the ofusuma before the ritsuryo period, and that the practice was discontinued at that time of drastic change, likewise holds no water. We should expect some documentary mention of such a major change in the ritual. The fact that nothing in writing can be adduced in support of Origuchi’s theory must lead us to conclude that the so-called “secret rite of the shinza” never existed. The theory is pure speculation, with no foundation in history.
But what of the shinza itself? What function does Okada assign to this complex object? The simple one that it is, after all, as its name indicates, the kami’s seat. It is a seat for the visiting kami, who is doubtless the Sun Goddess since the rite is oriented in the direction of Ise, to rest after her meal. Of course the emperor does not touch it, let alone lie on it, for it is for invisible guests only. The dual nature of the rite, with its two identical halls which have so puzzled scholars, is likewise easily solved. The two halls are really one and the same; they are divided merely because courtesy and regard for purity require that the kami has her morning meal in a different place from her evening one. When the morning rite in the Sukiden ends and dawn breaks, the kami goes home. The rite is at once solemn and simple (Okada 1989, pp.16, 23-4).
These are cogent criticisms, which force us to consider whether Origuchi’s theory, with its apparently compulsive attraction, may not have generated a mythology of its own.
In conclusion and with diffidence, I offer one further suggestion. Is it possible that we see in the shinza an example of an incubation couch, a bed on which a sleeper lies who has solicited an oracular dream from a god?
We know that the practice of incubation—of sleeping in a holy place in order to solicit a dream — survived in Japan until as late as the sixteenth century, usually associated with Buddhist temples, such as Ishiyamadera and Hasedera, dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon. But Saigo Nobutsuna, in another interesting book, Kodaijin to yume (Ancient peoples and their dreams), suggests that the practice may be far older than the introduction of Buddhism, older indeed than any cultural link with China. At this early period it was the emperor, the sacral king, who was the principal “dreamer” in the land. He was the chief link, through oracular dreams, with the world of the kami and the supernatural knowledge which lay in their gift. He had only to lie down to a “ritual sleep” for a kami to appear with the answer to a problem that seemed hitherto insoluble. Incubation for the emperor was therefore an important religious duty.
The emperor’s palace, Saigo continues, always comprised a special hall where such dreams could be solicited, equipped with a special couch, known as the kamudoko 神床. The Kojiki tells us, for example, that Emperor Sujin, grieving that so many of his subjects were dying of a terrible epidemic, lay down upon a kamudoko in the hopes of learning through a dream the cause of the sickness. Sure enough, the god Omononushi appeared to him in his sleep, with clear oracular advice as to how the plague might be stopped. Saigo reminds us also of the Yumedono, or Hall of Dreams, which at the end of the seventh century Shotoku Taishi is said to have constructed next to his sleeping chamber. After bathing three times, he would enter this hall, to emerge on the following morning to speak of “things good and bad all over the world.” The Yumedono must have been an incubation chamber, and Sujin's kamudoko an incubation couch (Saigo 1972, pp. 35-49).
Could the shinza also have had such a function in ancient times? Could the emperor in the course of the rite have lain upon it, slept, and experienced a dream in which the apparition of an ancestor conferred blessings and advice on the coming reign? Could the visiting kami, in whose honor the food, the shoes, the fan, and the comb were laid out, have first manifested themselves in a dream in the emperor’s mind?
We have now reviewed a good many suggestions for the presence of the enigmatic shinza in the two halls of the Daijogu. All agree that its function must have in some way contributed to the symbolic passage from a human to the divine condition that every king must undergo. But the extraordinary range of explanations for what exactly that function was, reflects at once the remarkable antiquity of the rite, and the extent to which its ancient symbolic language has been forgotten. We, living in what Rene Guenon called the impoverished reality of the modern world, have largely lost our intuitions of the holy, and of the holy king. Translated into the language of modern politics, the daijosai may well appear irrelevant, meaningless, and in any case out of step with the Ningen sengen 人間宣目, or Declaration of Humanity, whereby in 1946 the emperor renounced all claim to divinity.
In the daijosai, nevertheless, we have, marvelously preserved like a kind of spiritual fossil, one of the most complex and mysterious rituals for the consecration of a king to survive from the ancient world. To suggest discontinuing the rite because it seems irrelevant to the modern scene must be shortsighted and precipitate. Its antiquity and its astonishing powers of survival are enough to remind us that traditional symbols carry knowledge that we ourselves may temporarily have forgotten.