June marks the beginning of summer in Japan, and the end of the first half of the year. On June 30th, many Shinto shrines celebrate the Nagoshi-no-Harae ritual. This is a purification rite dating back to the Nara period (some 1300 years). It is meant for people to atone for their sins of the first half year and at the same time to purify themselves and pray for health in the second half of the year.
The main ingredient of a proper Nagoshi-no-Harae purification is a large chinowa wreath made from miscanthus reeds. People are supposed to walk through this chinowa in a specific pattern resembling an infinity sign in order to purify themselves and ward off illness in the future. Some people even take out reeds of the wreath, make their own, smaller version of it, and mount it at the entrance of their homes. These days, many shrines sell appropriately sized chinowa wreaths as talismans.
Traditionally, this ritual was performed by the imperial court twice a year, at mid summer, and at the end of the year. However, the winter purification is not popular any longer, but the summer Nagoshi-no-Harae has spread throughout the country. Part of its attraction may lie in the legend that is told about its origins:
Once upon a time, Susanoo-no-mikoto, the brother of the sun godess, was travelling incognito through Japan. One night he was looking for lodgings, but was refused by the richest man in town. Instead, the poor Somin Shorai offered his own little hut, and in the morning, the god gave him little chinowa wreaths and instructed him to wear it for protection. Promptly, Somin and his family survived the plague that was coming soon after.
Another ceremony that is sometimes performed involves little man-shaped pieces of paper. Depending on the shrine, people may have to write their ailments onto it or rub the paper doll onto aching parts of the body. The dolls are then floated into the sacred waters of the shrine or ritually burned in order to take the illness away.
Below are the most popular shrines for the Nagoshi-no-Harae in Kyoto, but many others also offer the rite on June 30th. There will always be a chinowa wreath to walk through (sometimes set up a few days early), and some shrines also sell little paper dolls for an additional purification rite.
Here you can find the largest chinowa in Kyoto, more than 5 metres in diameter. it is set up on June 25th already.
A lovely little shrine in the cool mountains north of Kyoto. Here also, the chinowa is set up on the 25th.
The chinowa ceremony is in the morning from 10:00. In the evening, from 20:00, people can throw paper dolls into the pond as a special form of purification.
Another ceremony involving paper dolls. Participants will receive a small chinowa wreath to take home.
A chinowa is set up at the rare black torii of Nonomiya Shrine in Arashiyama.
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