Owarai Shinji (Laughter Ritual) at Hiraoka-jinja Shrine on the Year-end party day. vol.1
December is the season for the Japanese to enjoy gathering, eating (drinking), chatting over the passed year with friends, business colleges, etc. in the Year-end parties called "Bounenkai (忘年会)". Bonenkai literally means "Forget-the-year party", so it can be a party to release unwanted negative feelings, thoughts, energies, and purify ourselves in a relaxed mood. Even there is a saying, "Owari yokereba subete yoshi (終わりよければ全てよし）”, meaning the same as a famous saying in English; "All is well that ends well".
In other way of putting it can be, "Everything was OK in the end".
Positively accepting even unwanted difficult incidents or people and stress in life, by openly talk about them to close ones or drink them over, then we would be ready to welcome a brand new year.
In case of the banquet among the colleagues including bosses, usually an informal rule of "bureikou (無礼講）" , ignoring status and titles would be applied.
The origin of bureikou is in Shinto ritual believe to date back more than 1,000 years, in Heian period. After offering sake, rice wine to the Shinto deity at a shrine, it was strictly customary to hold a ceremony that higher ranking people offer a small amount of sake to the lower ranking people one by one. This was called "reikou (礼講）". And only after that ritualistic sake offering, a loosen up and casual banquet was held and that was "bureikou".
Since the sense of order and respect is still very strong in Japanese companeies, Bonenkai is a unique and rare opportunity that "heart-to heart", honest, open, frank conversations are exchanged among all the colleagues. Everything said or done are expected to be forgotten on the next day.
This year, on 23rd of December, I had one of the most unforgettable Bonenkai with my friends. The day started participating the morning ritual of laughter at Hiraoka-jinja Shrine in Osaka.
To my surprise, on that day, I ended up laughing at laud (not just smiling!) as long as 30 minutes in a day.
Hiraoka-jinja Shrine held this super unique ritual called "Warai Shinji", Laughter Ritual for the last 10 years.
Located at the foot of Mr. Ikoma and listed in the Engishiki, an ancient book of government statutes, this historic shrine was the highest ranked shrine in the Kawachi-no-Kuni province (modern-day eastern Osaka prefecture).
They say the shrine was founded before the first emperor of Japan "Jinmu" took the throne.
Hiraoka is also known as "Moto-Kasuga" (meaning, original Kasuga) because its deities were divided for enshrinement in Nara's Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine in 8th century.
In one of the highlight of the Japanese mythology is, when the Sun goddess Amaterasu hid herself in a cave, and the light of the world was lost.
All the kami (shinto deities) got together and discussed to how to make her come out from the cave.
And the kami cooperate each other and at the end, successfully open the cave the world and the light (sun) comes back to shine over the world.
One of the Shinto deity Ameno koyaneno mikoto, enshrined in Hiraoka jinja Shrine take a key role in this process. He recited Shinto sutras.
Another trick was, all the kami laughed very hard watching a rather sexual dance by Amenouzume, one of the goddess.
Amaterasu wondered how on earth the world sounds so happy and fun where there is no light,......and slightly opened the heavy cave door....
So, the laughter is also related to this Shrine.
Warai Shinji", Laughter Ritual was started by the present head priest about 10 years ago, but it is getting more and more popular each year.
Youtube vidio of Warai Shinji in 2011 (7 years ago)