This post is typed verbatim from Keys to the Japanese Heart + Soul, an excerpt from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia with additional input from Wikipedia.
(Kome). As rice was the most important food for the Japanese, its cultivation was traditionally regarded as a religious act- an invocation of the inadama or spirit of the rice plant. Supplications to the deity survive today in various forms of folk performing arts.
Each stage of rice cultivation was marked by a religious rite performed either by the family or by the village as a unit. As the rites were held at the same time every year, they formed a basic calendar of annual observances. The first rite took place around 15 January, when incantations were performed. When the seeding season arrived, azalea branches were placed around the paddy sluice gates and roasted rice was offered to the god of the rice fields. During the season for transplanting seedlings there were rituals to welcome and send off the god, and various abstinences were imposed. From the early summer to the inflorescence stage, there were many occasions for prayer. When beset by insect pests, the ritual of mushi okuri was performed; in drought years, prayers for rain were said; some areas held wind festivals (kaza matsuri) to fend off typhoons. When the grains started maturing in the fall, a few green sheaves were offered to the god of the rice fields at hogakematsuri. Finally, when harvesting was completed, a harvest festival was held.
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