The rare Japanese ritual is conducted only after a new emperor takes the throne. Photo: Imperial Household Agency/AFP
national

Turtles stick neck out for imperial rice forecast

21 Comments
By Miwa Suzuki

In an ancient ceremony that occurs only once every imperial era, Japanese palace courtiers in traditional robes and hats decided on Monday where best to grow royal rice -- using shells from endangered turtles.

Two thin plates made from turtle shells were heated over a flame to produce cracks then used to determine where rice should be grown for a key autumn ceremony presided over by new Emperor Naruhito.

The cracks "told" officials to grow the rice in the ancient capital of Kyoto and in Tochigi Prefecture.

For the ceremony -- which Naruhito did not attend -- officials clad in long black robes and ornate black hats were seen walking slowly into a striped tent.

The rare ritual is conducted only after a new emperor takes the throne. It was last seen in 1990 about a year after Naruhito's father, Akihito, ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne.

While the shells are harvested from rare green sea turtles, they are procured as part of a conservation scheme, officials said.

The turtles come from the Ogasawara, a Pacific island chain that lies 1,000 kilometers south of central Tokyo but is administratively part of the capital. People in the region have been eating sea turtles since the mid-19th century and are allowed to catch up to 135 of them annually.

Around 100 turtles are used for meat -- often consumed raw -- while the shells are used for craft objects. Eggs are harvested from the others to keep the population stable and managed. These turtles are then released back into the sea.

Shells from eight turtles are provided to the palace but they are not killed specifically for the ritual.

Ogasawara town official Takeshi Ando told AFP that "earnest conservation efforts" were being made, noting that the number of eggs hatched there was increasing.

The village only catches big turtles with shells bigger than 75 centimeters as mandated by the Tokyo metropolitan government, he added. A palace spokesman said the tradition had been in place "since ancient times".

The palace "must pass this on (to the future)" although it is aware that some believe it should not use the endangered animal, he told AFP.

Many on Japanese social media voiced surprise over the ancient rite.

"Too rare and too much fun to make a decision by fortune-telling with turtle shells in modern-day Japan," said one tweet.

Another Twitter user wrote: "I feel sorry for green sea turtles even though they were not killed only for their shells. We should carry on this tradition with something else."

The rice grown in the selected provinces will be used in a ceremony in mid-November, where the emperor will give thanks and pray for rich harvests, as well as peace for the country and people.

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


21 Comments
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Makes perfect sense to me

Rice field - Turtle Shell - Open Flame - Cracks appear...and there you have it folks, the logic of yesteryear.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

Ancient Chinese fortune telling in 2020, Amazing this practice has been preserved 7000 years.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

I kind of like the idea of these "ancient" rituals. It gives us a look into the past to see what the Japanese did in ancient times. Facinating really. It's also good that they have conservation methods in place for the turtle population as well.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

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An endangered species of turtles -=yet !!!!

So what happens if this species should become extinct !

How would they know where to plant the imperial rice !?

.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"Makes perfect sense to me

Rice field - Turtle Shell - Open Flame - Cracks appear...and there you have it folks, the logic of yesteryear."

Makes perfect sense to me:

Tradition has it that if the groundhog sees its shadow on February 2 it will be frightened by it and will then return to its burrow, indicating that there will be 6 more weeks of winter.

Giant rat- shadow- winter or spring and there you have it folks.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

19th century. Oh, the good old times.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Groundhog Day is public and taken with a sence of humour, not cloaked in mystery and religious overtones that require a serious coutanence.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Even traditions change with the times. There are just so many we don’t do anymore.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

@zichi. Don’t like the immersing suspected witches in rivers for 5 minutes though.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Groundhog Day is public and taken with a sence of humour, not cloaked in mystery and religious overtones that require a serious coutanence.

Isn't that the difference between America and Japan, though?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Does anyone know how much tax payer money this cost? Fair question.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

@ Cricky

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True !

And the groundhog is not an endangered species !

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Cricky : Does anyone know how much tax payer money this cost? Fair question.

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My thoughts, exactly !

It must be HUGE : the rites in themselves with the priests, not to mention the very selectively-bred turtles !!!

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1 ( +2 / -1 )

not to mention the very selectively-bred turtles !!!

They're not 'selectively-bred'; their eggs are taken, hatched artificially, then released back into the sea. There's an island off the coast of Chichijima where in summer you can see the tracks left by female turtles coming up the sandy beach to lay their eggs, often with three twigs sticking up at the end of the 'track' showing where the eggs are (The twigs are a warning not to stomp around in that area.)

Tourists can take part in turtle release events, where the baby turtles are released into the sea at night, when they have a greater chance of avoiding becoming smorgasbord for seabirds.

You can sometimes come across a baby turtle (or even his mama) when swimming off the beach.

The poor turtles used for the useless 'choose the sacred rice field' ritual are among the 135 unlucky animals that are snatched out of the water and butchered.

I allus thought Shinto was about life and fruitfulness and nurturing nature, not about death and further depleting already endangered species.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The cracks "told" officials to grow the rice in the ancient capital of Kyoto and in Tochigi Prefecture.

That sure is some fortune telling when it tells you to hedge your bet.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As this "ritual" performance is only done at the beginning of a new gods reign I guess a tent is appropriate. That's a saving for tax payers. These Maji or Mystics are they on a retainer? How do they earn a living? Are they part of the IHA staff. Or called in when required. Do they practice first? Like on ordinary turtle shells? There are a lot of questions here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Does the shell have to be fresh, I wonder? If not, then surely one shell could last generations. If this is conducted genuinely ethically and humanely, it sounds like a culturally rich worthwhile ritual.

On another logical/illogical level it is not too dissimilar from the Druids who used to read the splattered innards of their enemies after disembowelling them.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am curious as to what Japanese palace courtiers do the rest of the year or years. Is the position, part-time, full-time or is it an unpaid honorary position?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Cricky

I wish I had your "problems"...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I am curious as to what Japanese palace courtiers do the rest of the year

They stand around in the corridors tut-tutting that Masako hasn't fulfilled her duty by producing a male heir.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How can a ritual have been conducted since "ancient times," when the turtles are harvested from an island chain that was first explored by the Japanese in 1670?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonin_Islands#History

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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