Presently, as in the usage ‘matsuri: sale,’ the character 祭 ‘matsuri: feast, festival, festivity’ has come to be used also apart from the original religious context. Compared with the ancient usage, its meaning became slightly shallow.
The character 祭 originally depicts a scene of worship of ancestors’ souls in the mausoleum. The 又 at the right above is a hand, the part 月 at the left above is the meat offered, and 示 below is an altar, thus it shows the part of a ritual of offering worship meat on an altar with the hands. By adding the宀 roof classifier showing the roof of a mausoleum it gets 察 ‘satsu: guess,’ which originally means to inquire the divine will. The 阝 of 際 being a ladder for the gods, when conducting this ritual of presenting offerings, as result the gods descend. The tortoise plastron and bone character form being the starting point of 祭 does not have the element 示, which was added later in the bronze inscriptions. As the original character form of 禮 also has no 示 classifier in the early stages of Kanji development, it can well be understood that the number of character strokes is small on the tortoise plastron characters compared with the forms of later times due to the hard nature of the medium. As also could be seen in the case of 師, the custom of offering meat to worship the ancestors exists since old times. The dots at the part showing the meat in the above tortoise plastron character form represent drops of blood.
The upper part of this character is often explained as assembling 日 ‘sun’ and 月 ‘moon’ to mean very ‘bright,’ which, however, is a misinterpretation. Dr Shirakawa has scolded explanations propounding simultaneous appearance of the sun and the moon in the sky as ‘idiotic.’ In the ancient character forms, the left part of 明 shows a 囧 window and the whole character part gets the meaning of moonlight shining through the window. Deification of the moon can be observed in all parts of the world. The moon is not just the light of the night; there also is the possibility of it showing the appropriate point of time for concluding an alliance. To regard pledges or oaths being guaranteed and authorized by the gods was a measure that enabled to treat traitors against an alliance the same as opponents to the gods. The 皿 (usually ‘plate’) actually is a version of 血 ‘blood’ shortened by one stroke. As this is a blood alliance, the alliance ritual consists in sipping blood from a plate together, swearing to be each others allies.
Until Shirakawa Kanji science became known, the 口 of 石 was traditionally explained as a piece of stone lying below a cliff. The tortoise plastron and bone characters, however, show that 口 is a sacred receptacle for putting in prayer writings. As was introduced in the explanation of 暦 ‘koyomi: calendar,’ 厂 shows the form of a steep cliff, and cliffs were regarded as places of strong spiritual power and were used for various religious services, worship and rituals. Other characters showing the relation between stones and spiritual power are 宕 and 祏. 宕, which shows a mausoleum, has 石 below 宀 a mausoleum roof. 祏, which means an ancestor tablet, combines the 示 altar classifier with 石. From 石 appearing in characters related to rituals and worship, it may be inferred that stones also functioned as altar.
Not only in antiquity, but also in the present, people with strong spiritual sense warn to take stones away from nature and bring them home as one pleases as spirits can easily dwell in these basic elements of nature. In Japan, especially in shrines, worship of stones can often be seen.
In common with 婦, the basic character of 掃 is 帚. The 扌 hand classifier was only added considerably later. The first form in the tortoise plastron and bone characters is extremely simple; it clearly is just the form of a 箒 ‘hôki: broom.’ As the tortoise plastron and bone characters were created by a group of ancient clerics the cleaning this character originally refers to should be imagined as a sacred act or duty. It was humbly conducted in the mausoleum for worshiping the ancestors. Besides using the broom for sweeping as is done in the present, it was established etiquette to sprinkle well-smelling liquor with the broom for exorcising and purifying the mausoleum. It may be compared to the present burning of incense for the ancestors.
The upper part of the unabbreviated character 帚 shows a hand, and the middle line extending to the right shows the part of the hand including the joint which is especially important when sweeping. In the shortened character form of the Common Use Character, however, nearly only the fingers remain. 帚 also appears in 歸, the older character of 帰 ‘kaeru: return.’ It shows military returning from war at the ritual of reporting at the mausoleum bringing worship meat. At this time, there also was the custom of exorcising and purifying the mausoleum with a broom and liquor.
Sokutai is the full official dress worn by emperors, aristocrats and courtiers since the Heian Period (794). It is also called Hino-shouzoku.
The word Sokutai, was originally found in the Analects of Confucius, where it meant layered clothes tied with an obi belt and it indicated a full set of dress.
Sokutai consist of a crown, hitoe clothes worn over underwear followed by akome and shitagasane clothes with a long sash called kyo hanging in the back. Crimson under pants and baggy outer trousers are then added and finally, an outer robe called hou, which is tied with a leather belt containing stone decorations called sekitai.
Sokutai, based on the court uniforms worn by the government officials under the ritsuryo codes, became the full official dress of the Imperial Court. Those who were among military officers, civil officials in Nakatsukasasho who oversaw imperial affairs and aristocrats who held the sangi position or higher and who were granted Imperial permission were allowed to wear a sword. As time passed, sokutai has become more ceremonial, only being worn in special occasions.
There are two kind of the hou outer robe: houeki which the civil officials wore and ketteki which allowed more free movement and was worn by military officials.
Sokutai is traditional and elegant full official wear for the emperor as well as aristocratic and government officials.
This character cannot be seen among the tortoise plastron, bone, or bronze inscription characters but from the Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) seal script on. Certainly, it can be divided into a left and right part. It, however, would be too rash to jump to an A+B style mathematical explanation. Dr. Shirakawa summarizes: “The meaning is to realize an oath.”
Rather than a mere superficial interpretation like that of a 言 ‘kotoba: word’ that 成る ‘naru: realizes,’ one has to take the customs and religion of ancient China into consideration here. As was pointed out in the explanation of 信, the 口 of the lower part 言 is a vessel for putting in prayer writings. The meaning of the upper part with its four horizontal lines is hard to understand from the form of the Common Use Kanji. Its original form and meaning has to be understood in the context of the tattoo and ritual body painting culture. It shows the form of an instrument, a needle with a handle for tattooing. Already this part 言 only has the meaning of words of oath to the gods.
The part 成 shows the form of the ritual of completion performed after the making of a 戈 ‘hoko: halberd’ is finished, adding a decoration. This means that the left and right character parts have their origin in religion.
無 is the first character form of 舞 ‘dance.’ When following the classification of the traditional ‘Six Categories or Scripts of Characters,’ 無 is regarded as a ‘loan character’ which shares the same on-reading with another character. As, however, the classification method if the ‘Six Categories or Scripts of Characters’ was created to analyze the corrupt forms of the Chinese characters a thousand years after their origination, to think they were invented along these guidelines is a mistaken conclusion.
As the very first stage of Kanji is pictographic, it is obvious that on this stage the meaning ‘nothing’ cannot be expressed. With thought becoming more abstract in later times, therefore, ‘loan characters’ were very useful. Rather than naturally developing, however, ‘loan characters’ are a group of characters that receive their meaning by convention and custom. That 無 is the first character form of 舞 can be known from the tortoise plastron and bone characters. There, it actually is the form of a dancing human being with decorations hanging from both sleeves.
The Lun Yu of Confucius, Chapter 12, has “ … went to the 舞雩 ‘rain altar.’ ”
雩, read ‘u’ in Japanese, means a place for rain dance rituals or sacred music. The meaning ‘nothing, not’ can also be regarded as having its origin in the state of having ‘no rain.’ If understood this way, there is no need anymore to rely on the notion of ‘loan character’ for 無.
Anyway, explanations like “It shows a house burning down thus resulting in the meaning ‘nothing at all’,” which the author once heard in China, are misleading.
The Todai-ji Temple Omizutori or Water Drawing Ceremony is one of the rituals that takes place during Shuuni-e religious services at Nigatsu-do, located inside the Todai-ji Temple complex. Because it is regarded as the most significant, the Omizutori ceremony has become almost synonymous with the Shuuni-e services. These are held for two weeks, beginning with the first day of March.
Shuuni-e is formally called “Juuichimen-keka-hou” (which, translated literally, means eleven headed repentance). It is a memorial service in which priests at the Todai-ji temple forgive people’s sins and pray to Juichimen Kannon, the eleven-headed goddess and principal image of Budda at Nigatsu-do for the nation’s peace and prosperity.
Shuuni-e is said to have been started by a Priest named Jichu in Februrary of 752. This is even prior to Daibutsu Kaigen, another well known ceremony at the Todaiji-Temple that was first held in April of the same year. Since then, it has been continued for more than 1,200 years without any interruption.
In the Omizutori ceremony, priests scoop up sacred water from the Wakasai Well at midnight on March 12th and present it to the Kannon. The other famous ceremony is Otaimatsu in which priests carry burning torches and run through the balcony of Nigatsu-do.
Omizutoi is also a ceremony to bring Spring to the people of Nara. By the time the ceremony is finished, the cherry trees have begun to blossom and Spring has arrived.