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NORITO are religious statements addressed to the deities (kami ) in Shintō rituals. They usually follow upon a one- to three-day purification rite, at the conclusion of which the kami are invited by the Shintō priests to be present at the ceremony. A norito generally contains the following elements: (1) words of praise to the kami, (2) an explanation of the origin of, or reasons for, this particular ritual or festival, (3) entertainment for the kami, (4) expressions of gratitude for protection and favor given, and (5) prayers for the successful completion of the matter at hand. Norito are composed in the classical language, and contain expressions of great beauty; they are usually written exclusively in Chinese characters, some of which have merely a phonetic function. The rhythm produced by the peculiar word arrangement, which involves many pairs of expressions and sets of words to modify the same object, is intended to pacify both the kami and the participants and instill in them a feeling of unity.

Although there are many etymological theories regarding norito, examples drawn from the classics and Shintō history suggest that they were words of blessing spoken to all the kami and to the people by the emperor, the descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu and the "great life-giving" kami Takamimusubi. Norito, therefore, were originally regarded as able to produce a beneficial response from heavenly kami. Later, however, two families, the Nakatomi and the Imbe, were given the exclusive right to recite norito on prescribed occasions to all enshrined kami.

The oldest known norito are a collection of twenty-four such documents edited in 820 ce, during the reign of Emperor Saga, as part of detailed legal regulations that were eventually compiled in the Engishiki in 927. The most important norito are entitled "Grain-Petitioning Festival," "Festival of the Sixth Month," "Festival of the First-Fruits Banquet," and "Great Exorcism of the Last Day of the Sixth Month." All of these begin with the expression "By the command of the sovereign ancestral male kami and the female kami who remain in the High Celestial Plain." The first three are concerned with ensuring a bountiful rice harvest so that the country may be stable and prosperous. The last is a purification ritual for the land and people, and is especially valuable for its precise description of both heavenly and earthly sin, in the Shintō sense.

A second group of six important norito in the Engishiki collection is dedicated to the personal safety and repose of the emperor. Among them, the "Ritual for the Tranquillity of the Imperial Spirit" is recited to lay to rest the emperor's spirit in the Office of Rites sanctuary. The next three, "Blessing of the Great Palace," "Festival of the Gates," and "Fire-Pacifying Festival," are dedicated to the protection of the emperor from external danger. Although the remaining two are not regular or seasonal, they too have the same basic function, protecting the emperor from evil spirits. It should also be mentioned that the formula "the heavenly ritual, the solemn ritual words" is used only in norito connected with pacification of evil spirits. This unusual phrase is believed to refer to a special magic formula that was transmitted to the Nakatomi family from the deities but that has been lost over time.

Most of the remaining norito are for rituals observed at the Grand Shrine at Ise. Of special significance is the norito called "Divine Congratulatory Words of the Kuni no Miyatsuko of Izumo," which indicates through its title that in ancient times the chief priest of Izumo Shrine, who was also the ruler of that area, represented other local leaders in the ritual presentation of local land-spirits to the emperor.

With the decline of imperial power in the late twelfth century, a new type of norito emerged, a type deeply influenced by Buddhism and concerned especially with ritual purification. After the eighteenth century a movement to revive Shintō arose, but no attempt was made to standardize norito until the beginning of the Meiji era (18681912). In 1875, and later in 1914, the government ordered that the shrine rites and rituals as well as official norito be standardized, but today there is a tendency to use contemporary expressions in order to adjust to the demands of a changing society.


Kamo no Mabuchi's treatise of 1768, Noritokō, in Kamo Mabuchi zenshū, vol. 7 (Tokyo, 1984), and Motoori Norinaga's commentary of 1795, Oharae kotoba kōshaku, in Motoori Norinaga zenshū, vol. 7 (Tokyo, 1971), remain classic introductions to the topic. For more modern studies, see the following works.

Orikuchi Shinobu. "Norito." In Orikuchi Shinobu zenshū, nōto-hen, vol. 9. Tokyo, 1971.

Philippi, Donald L., trans. Norito: A New Translation of the Ancient Japanese Ritual. Tokyo, 1959.

Tsuita Jun. Norito shinkō. Tokyo, 1927.

Ueda Kenji. "Shiki noritoko." In Shintō shisoshi kenkyu. Tokyo, 1983.

Ueda Kenji (1987)

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