There was a nice column in the June 7th issue of Jinja Shinpō by a priest in Kumamoto Prefecture, in western Kyushu. He, Revd Kudō, was talking about the importance of cleaning the jinja precincts, and, in particular, sweeping up the leaves that drop from the trees planted around the sanctuaries. He quotes, without objecting, another chief priest as saying that most of a Shinto priest’s job is cleaning.
Traditionally, this is done while in vestments, with a bamboo broom, but he confessed that he had started using a leaf blower. Revd Kudō commented that after years of practice cleaning around the sanctuaries by walking around them clockwise, he could do it quite efficiently, but if he tried to vary the routine, it all went wrong. (He also noted that his acquaintance in Hokkaidō who had to clear two metres of snowfall from the sacred path every day might not be impressed by his problems with a few fallen leaves.)
Cleaning the jinja precincts is a very important part of a priest’s, or miko’s, job. It has been a central part of their duties for over 1200 years, and part of it is simply maintenance of the grounds. Sweeping the grounds is also closely connected to the idea of ritual purification: “haraë” or “misogi”. Physical cleanliness and tidiness is an important part of that, so keeping the jinja precincts clean is important to priests today for religious reasons. Revd Kudō says he feels as though he can hear the kami saying “Ah, that feels better!” when he finishes, and the title of the column is “Cleaning is Misogi”.