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I recently received the latest issue of the Journal of Shintō Studies (April 2022), which contains several interesting articles. This post, however, is inspired by something mentioned in passing in one of them. The article itself is about the function and origin of tamagushi, and I have already written about that research, because a summary of an earlier stage was published a year or so ago.

The bit I want to pick up concerns “tasuki”. This is the Japanese for a sash: a loop of cloth worn over one shoulder so that it crosses over the body to the opposite hip. These are often mentioned as part of ritual vestments in early sources, from over a thousand years ago, and they are still worn in certain very important, and ancient, ceremonies today. In all the contemporary photographs I have seen, this is a single sash, going over one shoulder.

However, last year I attended an online lecture given by Shin’yūsha, which included an illustration of Amënouzumë dancing before the Cave of Heaven while wearing a double tasuki: one over each shoulder, crossing in the centre of her chest.

There is also a modern practical use of tasuki with kimono, in which a single loop of cloth, going round the shoulders and crossing at the back, is used to hold the sleeves back while working. I have seen suggestions that the original ritual tasuki were practical as well, possibly helping to support the weight of offerings.

The article about tamagushi provided transcriptions of parts of the Enryaku Gishikichō, an early ninth century text that gives detailed descriptions of the rituals at Jingū. In a couple of places, it mentions that people should wear tasuki, and it specifies “on the right shoulder and left shoulder”.

Thus, at least in this context, the tasuki is either a double tasuki, with one over each shoulder, or something like the modern practical one, with a single loop that passes over each shoulder. Because Japanese does not distinguish singular and plural, there is no way to tell how many loops of cloth are referred to in these passages. In addition, a single loop could not be used in quite the same way as the modern tasuki, because the clothes worn underneath were not the same as a modern kimono.

So, my image of these tasuki has got a bit clearer, but there are still significant uncertainties.

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