Saiten (祭天)

Saiten is a ritual wherein the god of Heaven is worshipped. It came from ancient China, and is thought to have influenced the cultural area including Japan, changing its style.

The winter solstice under the lunar calendar, which was established in the Zhou Dynasty, was understood as the day when the year started. The calendar was revised in the Han Dynasty, but the winter solstice continued to be remembered, and the ceremony of Saiten continued to be held.

Saiten was a magnificent ritual, and the site of the altar for it still remains in the southern part of Beijing and the site where Saiten took place during the Ming and Qing Dynasties remains with other ancient structures in the park covering 2.72 million square meters. The emperor who was to perform Saiten purified himself in the ceremony called 'Zhaijie' in the special palace the day before, and went to the altar before the sunrise on the day of Saiten. While classical music was being played, the emperor performed the ritual to pray for a good harvest and the security of his dynasty, holding the former emperors' memorial tablets in front of the altar.

As the old dynasty ended with the Xinhai Revolution, national observance of Saiten ceased, but its influence is seen among some people even now. The Hakka people (Han Chinese who speak the Hakka language) have a rite wherein they pray to their ancestors on the winter solstice, placing a stand with some dumplings and other offerings on it in front of their house, lighting candles and burning incense. The Manchurian people have a rite wherein they pay respect to a wooden pole representing ancestors on the winter solstice, placing offerings on a bamboo mat in the yard. The grand Saiten by the Naxi people in Yunnan Province is well-known.. They set up a wooden post, purify themselves, give lots of offerings like rice and cattle, and worship their ancestors and god with fire. It is said to have come down from the ritual in the Zhou Dynasty.

Saiten came down to Japan during the Tang Dynasty, and the ritual of worshipping the former emperors began to take place. According to "Shoku-Nihongi" (the second in a series of chronicles about Japan), the ceremony in which Emperor Shomu received "Choga" (greetings of the New Year) in 725 and the ritual which Emperor Kanmu held in Katano County, Kawachi Province on the winter solstice in 785 correspond to this.

The name 'Saiten' is used for YOSAKOI, a festival that has been held on "Taimatsu Dori" Street (between Sukagawa and Miharu on Prefectural Highway 54), Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture since 2005. This 'Saiten' itself doesn't mean a rite or a ritual, which is associated with the name, nor is it based on the local history and legends unlike Koriyama Uneme Festival in adjoining Koriyama City.
('Saiten' of Sukagawa City is a place where any kinds of performance like dances, mainly YOSAKOI dance, band music, etc. are demonstrated. It is an event that a citizens' volunteer group has started and organized.)

[Original Japanese]