National Agendas and Local Realities: Festive Material and Ritual Culture, Nationalism, and Modernity in the Chita Region of Japan

Sean McPherson, Wheaton College
Kibana of Miyamotoguruma. Photo by author.
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Abstract

The reworking of religious space in modern Japan encompassed the reinvention of the spatial, material, and ritual culture of matsuri 祭り(festivals). After a period of relative official disfavor, festivals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were reinvigorated by changes in ritual process and spatial scope, as well as by shifts in the architecture and sculpture of dashi 山車 (wheeled festival floats). The incorporation of matsuri into broader discourses of national cultural identity was driven by the affective potential of their supposed cultural authenticity. This reinvention of festivity is evident in the Tokoname Matsuri of Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture, where after the 1905 Russo-Japanese conflict several Edo-period shrine festivals were merged into a shōkonsai 招魂祭 (festival for the war dead). The spatial scope and ritual process, as well as the architecture and sculptural iconography, of the six dashi built for the new Tokoname Matsuri tied this regional city into national discourses of cultural authenticity, racial purity, and martial valor. The ideological resonance in prewar Japan of the Tokoname Matsuri and other festivals with nationalist imagery sprang from their indelibly local origins; matsuri were not controlled entirely from the top down, but rather were mediated at multiple levels.