Hatsuho (初穂)

In Japan, hatsuho is a ripe rice ear presented to God (Shinto) before autumn rice harvest. It is also called hayaho, sakiho, or saika.

It is said that in ancient times, a local ruling family who spearheaded Saishi (religious service) collected hatsuho from subjects in order to cover the expenses or to use it as altarage. When Yamato sovereignty (the ancient Japan sovereignty) wrested the political and religious powers from local ruling families, and then established the ancient Japanese government of centralized governance, hatsuho changed the form into denso (rice field tax) which was paid to a kokufu (provincial office) representing the ancient Japanese government of centralized governance, and then the denso became a component of the Soyocho system (a tax system). Today, the Ise-jingu Shrine holds Nuibo-sai Festival (rice-harvesting ceremony) before Kanname-sai Festival (ceremony for offering of the first fruits).

Some other shrines and local areas have a Nukiho (picking rice ears) event before Autumn harvest festival (Hassaku (August 1 on lunar calendar), Choyo (September 9th), etc), too. This is considered the original form of hatsuho. Originally, the literal meaning of hatsuho was rice ear. Later, the meaning was expanded to something other than grain. Vegetables, seafoods or hunted animals which are gained and presented to Shinto and Buddhist deities at the beginning of the year were also called hatsuho. In addition, hatsuho later represents the money offered in place of primeur. Today, the money offered to Shrine is called 'hatsuho-ryo' (ceremony fee) which was derived from this. When rice is offered, rice grains in place of rice ears are thrown in an event called 'sanmai' (throwing rice) or they are offered in the form of 'wrapped offering' which is wrapped with white paper. Furthermore, cooked rice or rice cake became available as hatsuho.

This hatsuho tradition, of supplying gods with things harvested first (first fruit) of the year, later came to be called 'hatsumono' (primeur) and valued, and was then developed into a tradition of giving hatsumono to neighbors or acquaintances.

[Original Japanese]