Rice and Shinto
Rice and Shinto have a close relationship each other.
According to a Japanese legend which forms a platform of Shinto, the Sun Goddess (Amaterasu) sent her grandson (Ninigino-miya) from heaven to Japan.
Giving rice ears (Ina-ho), Amaterasu ordered him to govern Japan by nourishing the people living there.
Partly because of this story, rice has been considered as a sacred plant and played an important role in Shinto since ancient times.
Incidentally, the oldest Japanese chronicle tells us that this Ninigino-miya is the great grandfather of the first emperor Jinmu.
Shinto is the indigenous religion in Japan.
They say that Shinto gradually emerged at the dawn of Japanese history and crystallized itself as a system of imperial religion maybe around the 5th century.
Therefore, it has neither a specific founder nor any sacred Scripture.
According to Shinto, gods live in everything in nature.
As a result, everything in nature could become gods.
Furthermore, even personages that accomplished great feats, such as Tokugawa Ieyasu or Togo Heihachiro, could become gods after their death and protect the areas related to them.
Shinto and Purification
What is most notable in Shinto is its emphasis on purification.
It encourages us to purify ourselves through some methods.
1) by water
In front of the main shrine of Shinto, you find a water basin to wash your hands and rinse your mouth.
Washing hands with water represents purification from the dirt of everyday life.
Incidentally, you could observe this custom also in tea ceremonies.
How to use water basin
- Take a ladle and fill it with water.
- Pour water on your left hand and then, right hand
- Make a scoop with your left hand and pour water in it
- Rinse your mouth with this water (but, don’t drink it)
- Pour water again on your left hand
- Tilt the ladle to make the rest of water flow through the handle (this is done to purify the handle)
Salt is also closely related with the thought of purification.
We’ve believed that it has a special power to purify something by driving away evil spirits.
That is why Sumo wrestlers throw salt in the ring before each bout.
We’ve believed that Sake could please gods and purify everything.
That is why Shinto priest sprinkles Sake in Shinto ceremony.
Sake and Shinto
Made from rice, Sake is also closely related to Shinto.
Coupled with the trance effect it brings, we have considered Sake as a sacred drink.
After each harvest, we have many festivals giving thanks to gods and in these festivals, there are rites to dedicate Sake to them.
Soon after the rite, people gathering there share it, together with the blessing from gods.
In addition, in the precinct of Shinto shrine, you can often find Sake barrels dedicated to gods.
Their appearances are rich in variety and look very beautiful.
However, you cannot taste the Sake inside of them.
Because they are empty.
rice cake and Shinto
Mochi is a rice cake made from sticky rice.
If I follow the most supported theory, the sticky rice came to Japan in the late Jōmon period (10,000 B.C.- 300 B.C.) when people deeply believed that all the marvelous things were gifts from gods.
Therefore there is no doubt that they offered Mochi to the gods in special ceremonies.
Among the customs to offer something to gods, what has been kept very faithfully until today is the custom of Kagami-mochi.
Kagami means mirror.
Mirror has been considered as an object of worship which represents the Sun Goddess Amaterasu since ancient times. Because it reflects the light and shines as the Sun itself.
It is quite natural that people began to make mirrors with Mochi at New Year and dedicate it to gods, especially to Amaterasu herself.
This is the custom of Kagami mochi.
These mirrors are made in different sizes and placed up and down.
On January 11, we eat the Kagami-mochi as a sacred leftover, believing that mochi would bring the spiritual power of the gods to us.
By the way, in the Tale of Genji , we can find the first record of Kagami mochi being eaten at New Year.
The Tale of Genji was written in the very beginning of the 11th century by a female writer named Murasaki-Shikibu.
rice straw and Shinto
At Shinto shrines, we can find a large straw rope decorated with white papers called Shime-nawa.
Generally, it’s made of rice straw.
Shinto teaches us Shime-nawa separates the sacred domain from the terrestrial world and drives away evil spirits.
You can also find it in Sumo stadium.
As for stories about Sumo and Shinto, visit here
⇒Sumo and Shinto
Izumo shrine located in the Shimane prefecture is famous for its huge Shime-nawa.
It measures 6.5 meters and weighs 1 ton.
In the Kagura-den where they dedicate music and dance to the gods, you can find a larger Shime-nawa measuring 13.5 meters and weighs 4.4 tons.
Here I’d like to introduce an interesting story which characterizes Izumo shrine.
Usually, they twist the rope from right (the lower side) to left (the upper side) to make Shime-nawa.
However, in Izumo Shrine, the manner is totally reversed. That is to say, from left to right.
Because in Izumo Shrine, the right is the upper side.
- Please keep it in mind that right and left indicate from the main temple side, not from worshiper side.