- or shin-yo'Kami-palanquin' or 'honourable palanquin'. An ornate covered litter used to carry a kami, as if a distinguished personage, from one place to another. The usual English translation of 'portable shrine' is not quite accurate for the journey is usually between the main shrine and one or more temporary shrines or resting-places (o-tabisho), or between one permanent shrine and another if the kami is visiting a neighbouring kami. At the SannO matsuri of the Hie taisha for example two male and female 'rough spirits' (ara-mitama) are brought together in two mikoshi to be married. The mikoshi is analogous to an imperial palanquin; it is purely for travel and the journey is in some cases carried out in solemn secrecy and in darkness. Though a public processional journey may take the kami past the homes of parishioners (see Shinkoshiki) and the kami hallows the places (ujiko-machi) it passes, worship takes place only at o-tabisho, special places where the kami comes to rest. Mikoshi vary in construction; there are for example four, six and eight-sided versions, and they come in many sizes, ranging from several tons to those designed to be drawn by children. They are housed at shrines between use in a building called the mikoshi-gura or shinyo-ko. One or more mikoshi are generally carried during matsuri by an energetic group of young adult men of about 18-30 years who should be ritually pure (harae). Mikoshi themselves may be purified; the mikoshi of the Sumiyoshi taisha are dipped in seawater for this purpose. The men carrying the mikoshi represent the organised ujiko of the shrine and are accompanied by a procession of priests and other participants. At night they will escort the mikoshi with numerous lanterns (chOchin). In some cases a horse follows the palanquin in case the kami wishes to ride part of the way. The origin of the mikoshi is unclear but there is a tradition that in the Nara period a purple coloured renyo (palanquin) was used to welcome the deity Usa Hachiman to the capital for the celebration of the construction of the Daibutsu (Great Buddha). In Tokyo where the use of yatai (floats) was stopped in the late Meiji era because of problems with overhead cables, festivals focus much more on the mikoshi, which are carried by men and women, including recently some women-only teams of bearers (onna-mikoshi). Some mikoshi processions which had died out in the Meiji period have been re-established in the post-war period with varying degrees of success to provide urban areas with a sense of communal identity.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.