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New Omamori and Matsuri

A few weeks ago, Jinja Shinpō had a short article about some unique omamori that a chief priest had made for his jinja. The jinja is Takuhirëshi Jinja, in Toyama Prefecture (on the Japan Sea side of central Japan). The jinja’s precincts border on a river, the Shinzū River, which is famous for ayu (sweetfish) fishing, and the chief priest himself is a keen angler, so the new omamori were inspired by this.

They are modelled on the nets that anglers use to keep fish that they have caught before they take them home, and the chief priest makes them by hand, using skills he has built up over forty years of angling as a hobby. The net itself is made of fishing line, but the chief priest gathers the reeds and deer antlers for the frame himself, and even made his own net-making tools out of bamboo, because the ones that you can buy are designed for rather larger nets.

These omamori are not designed for any particular purpose. Rather, the idea is that you obtain them with another kind of omamori, and they store up the good fortune that the other omamori brings, so that it is even more effective. The ones he made this time have already been distributed, but they were very popular, so he plans to make more in the future.

There was a second article about the same jinja the following week. This was about a new matsuri that the jinja had started holding for Setsubun, an annual event in early February where oni are driven out by throwing beans at them. The name of the jinja means “Honourable Purification Cloth” (“hirë” is the name for a cloth that was used in early Shinto ceremonies, but has not been used for centuries), and so the senior priest at the jinja (looking at the names, probably the chief priest’s son) thought that this would be very appropriate.

The matsuri does not appear to have involved throwing beans, even though that is very traditional. Rather, they plucked a bow string towards two unlucky directions (northeast and southwest). The sound of a plucked bow string has a long tradition of being used in purification, specifically on this day, but it is less common these days.

The attendees were given some lucky beans (can’t have setsubun with no beans at all), miniature bows so that they could pluck them at home, and “salt holly”. The salt holly were designed and made by the priests. They filled a substantial bamboo tube, harvested at the jinja, with sea salt created from sea water at the jinja, and put two branches of holly, with shidë tied on, in the salt. The holly was taken from a holly tree that grows next to the purification font. Thus, the salt holly was created entirely from things gathered at the jinja. The idea was to place it near the entrance to your house, as purification.

About thirty families attended the ceremony, and the priests intend to perform it again next year, and presumably continue it into the future.

This sort of new event seems to be generally accepted in Shinto, if the people at the particular jinja are happy with it. It is firmly rooted in old traditions, which are simply adapted and enhanced for a particular location. This is a good thing, because this is how traditions stay alive, and Shinto has a long history of developing its matsuri in this way.

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