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Arrow-Seizing Ceremony

The September 25th issue of Jinja Shinpō included an article about an annual purification ceremony held at Kamo Mioya Jinja (also known as Shimogamo Jinja) in Kyoto, an ancient and important jinja that enshrines the mother and grandfather of the kami of Kamo Wakëikazuchi Jinja — “Mioya” means “honourable parent”.

This ceremony is held on the day before the calendrical first day of autumn, which this year was August 7th. (The calendrical seasons are based on the solar calendar, but they are way off. The theory I have heard is that they were based on an area of China where the seasons started earlier. I don’t think this one has anything to do with the change to the solar calendar moving everything a month or so earlier, but September 8th would make a lot more sense as the first day of autumn…) This is the “nagoshi” (“summer passing”) purification, which is normally held on June 30th, but at this jinja it is held on the day when the name of summer passes — “name passing” can also be read as “nagoshi”. It may also be worth noting that the last day of the sixth month of the luni-solar calendar was August 15th this year, so on the old calendar the last day of the sixth month and the official beginning of autumn would normally have been quite close together.

The ceremony started at 6:30 pm, with a matsuri in the main jinja. Everyone then processed to the purification pool, where the chief officiant recited the Ōharaëkotoba. Then, a bunch of “naked” (that is, wearing white loincloths and headbands) men jumped into the water to fight over sacred sticks, which were stuck in a ring in the middle. These sticks represent arrows, and although they are fought over there seem to be as many as there are participants — about fifty of each. However, some are longer than others, and judging from the photograph there are not many of the long ones. So maybe size does matter.

And while we are doing innuendo, this ceremony is said to be based on the legend of the origin of the jinja. According to this story, Tamayorihimë was playing in a river, when an arrow came floating past with the current. She picked it up and took it home, and became pregnant with Wakëikazuchi Ōkami, the kami of the other Kamo Jinja.

This makes the symbolism of the ceremony… interesting. I do wonder about the history of it all, and whether there was a period when women fought over the arrows. It could also have been constructed surprisingly recently. The water fight is followed by paying distant reverence to a jinja associated with the purification pool, and then passing through a straw ring (a “chi-no-wa”), which is a very common part of summer purification ceremonies. This means that the whole ceremony combines several standard features with a couple of unique ones, which in turn means it looks as though it has at least been revised over the years.

In any case, this is an interesting example of a purification ceremony with standard elements (immersion in water, the chi-no-wa) and elements drawing on the history of the particular jinja (fighting over the “arrows”). There are a lot of matsuri with the same sort of composition, and when interesting ones come up in Jinja Shinpō, I will continue writing about them.

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