Living With Kami: All About Konkokyo and Shinto

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This past month of July — Nagoshi no Oharae, Tanabata, flooding, heatwave, and lantern matsuri

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

 

I am surprised that the month is already almost over, and what a month it has been. I had been meaning to write since the year end purification festival, known in Japanese as Nagoshi no Oharae (Half Year Purification), or also my shrine, Hantoshi Kansha Sai (Half Year Appreciation Ceremony), but responsibilities, and also tragedies had hit the country, and my priorities had shifted towards these incidents.

I will start from the beginning — that is, at the end of June on the 24th, we held our Half Year Appreciation Ceremony.
At this time, in Shinto traditions, it is a time to reflect on the year so far since New Year’s. It is an important time of renewal — the renewing and reflection of our hearts and souls. It is also to give thanks for the year so far, and to pray for the next 6 months of the year to go well. The date itself varies from shrine to shrine, but this event is usually commemorating the Summer Solstice, or the time around and after the Solstice.

The ceremony at our shrine went very well. Traditionally at this time, there are a few special things you will notice. Such things are a large wreath made of cogon grass (chigaya) or zebra grass (kaya), and it is called a “Chinowa” . It is placed at the entrance path for people to walk through in a particular manner from ancient times, to be purified. Shrines near rivers utilize various ritual systems to release one’s negative energy of the year to be released into the river. The key item across all shrines being the Oonusa, or purification staff, to purify the visitors who come for the ceremony.

During the Ceremony

Offerings prepared

Our shrine’s Oonusa, or purification staff

At the time of the ceremony, I looked back on the first half of 2018, and the year before, in 2017. I found a lot of things I wanted to change with myself, and made a decision moving forward, I would do my best to put those changes into my actions, too.

I thought about how, I often feel I’m not worthy to call myself a priestess. In truth, I had originally planned to become ordained much later, when I was about 35 was my original plan. However, life turned in a strange way, and I ended up getting ordained at 22. Even though it happened, I feel far from done, far from being worthy of the title. Though I still try to live up to it in my daily life, and recognize and fully understand the weight of what that means, in all aspects of my life, it’s not easy to grasp. I am 25 now, and I wonder if I will really reach that goal. I don’t know, I can’t say. But, on that day, I tried to figure out a plan to really take a hard look at myself and the past, and what could I improve, what could I change?

I had all these thoughts…but, then the flooding came. And, with that flooding in Japan, all my thoughts of focus — were lost to anxiety, sadness, and fear, which overtook me.

Tanabata occurred on July 7th, which is a festival to celebrate an old myth of two star crossed lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi (Who are said to be the stars we know in English as Vega and Altair, respectively). On this day, people write down their wishes, and hang them on a bamboo tree for them to be fulfilled.

However, this year’s Tanabata, we were too focused on the flooding, and the devastation that was occuring.

Over 4 million people across Japan were affected by the flooding, and 2 million are homeless. Over 200 people have died. It was completely devastating.

I live in an area which was not affected directly by the flooding; but all my friends and family in the affected areas, all the homes, all the shrines and temples..so much had been lost. I was at a loss for words. For a time, it felt like the rain would never go away, and all would be swept away. I was terrified. I kept praying at the shrine, and tried to act calm on the surface, but deep down there was so much concern and anxiety.

In the end, thankfully I had heard everyone was safe, but, the devastation and damages, and loss of life, was a very real issue to face next.

And just as I had begun to think of what to do to volunteer, a heatwave unlike any ever seen is now hitting the exact same regions as the areas affected by the flood. Temperatures up to 38 C to 40 C are scorching for Japan, and already 14 have died with over 2000 people sent to hospitals. Many left without homes or any water to escape the heat, it is a horrible combination.

I am still trying to process all the devastation that is going on..my other fears are the crops for the year, the rice harvest, the food supply, will also be heavily affected. It feels like all at once. And I could only pray that there is some relief from the heavens, all while doing what I could physically to alleviate the issues striking the country.

All of it had left me feeling very depressed, but I kept pushing on, thanks to the support of my family and friends, whom I deeply appreciate.

The past Sunday, was a sort of relief from the bad news. I got to enjoy a local small lantern matsuri, hosted by our neighboring Shinmei Shrine group. It was a really nice event, which helped provide a much needed uplift of my spirit.

I think that is a blessing of shrine matsuri, they have the power of purification as well — to alleviate the negative feelings deep in our hearts, bring us closer to the community, and feel a sense of peace and happiness. I was deeply grateful I could go, even if it was just for a short while, it was a magical time I will treasure.

Mikoshi of Shinmei Shrine

I’m still working through a lot of difficult emotions, coming to terms with the mistakes I made, coming to terms with my reflection from the ceremony — and then, figuring out action I can take to help Japan, the country I love so much, figuring out a way to move and cope with all these tumultuous emotions, instead of becoming numb and closed. How can I manage myself?
Surely, July is a month of reflection.

Perhaps fittingly, this month, we also cleaned out the entire shrine, and threw out a lot of old things, and found a lot of old treasures. One such treasure was a sacred mirror, hidden away in the sacred tool store room.

I’m currently in the process of polishing it. When I polish the mirror, I imagine myself polishing my heart. I want to polish my heart, so it can reflect light clearly and fully. I can reflect my truest self.

Right now, much like myself, the mirror is still clouded. But every day, I will work to polish the mirror, until it shines brightly and clearly, worthy to be placed on the altar.

Well, with that being said, even when I finish to polish the mirror clearly, I feel my heart will need a lot longer time to be clear.

 

To help with the relief efforts in Japan, please check out this article on how to help those affected: https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/news/flood-and-rain-disaster-in-west-japan-how-to-help-the-relief-and-recovery-efforts-071018 thank you very much!

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Hello! I am Olivia. Nice to meet you. I am an ordained Konkokyo priestess since October 22nd, 2015. My hometown is Toronto, Ontario, Canada, but I'm currently working as an associate minister/priestess and miko at the Konkokyo Yokosuka Kyoukai in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan. During my training, I went to various shrines and temples, and regions all around Japan, and I want to share all the spiritual knowledge I was able to learn with many others all around the world. I hope to help others as much as I can!

Comments

  • Aryós Héngwis
    Aryós Héngwis Tuesday, 17 July 2018

    I'm sorry it's been such a chaotic, discordant month. As always I appreciate you sharing your thoughts here.

    I do find it very interesting that Japan has so many annual festivals that occur within such a short span of time. It does remind me of how in medieval Europe, there were feast days for a saint or special day in the Christian calendar just about every other week. I do feel that's something we've lost a bit in the West, though I do know in many large cities there is still a lot of smaller festivals and parades that are put on locally.

    I look forward to hearing from your next post.

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