Monday, 5 March 2012

Shinto Purification

It is the home stretch now for the tour preparation. (Almost there.... just some glass in the window frames. ) Nat appeared out of nowhere and caught up in her whirlwind of enthusiasm we both jumped in head first to the Japanese Textile Tour World.... It is now hard to remember life without it.

At first we figured to have the tour members stay at a nearby log cabin resort. Imported log cabins from Canada...kind of like me. Considering the picking up and dropping off and the very non-Japaneseness of the cabins the decision was made to host the guests at the house.

There has been a constant flow of people coming to the house since I first moved in 18 years ago. Some slept in the hay in the old barn. Others have found their own little nooks and crannies to nest in. There was a good pile of futons on the second floor and the policy was to set up camp wherever you took a liking to. Fun for certain.... but not practical this time. It was time for an upgrade to the house. The house is big. In the "Impossible to Renovate Category."

It started with book cases and organizing all the silk equipment two years ago. Somehow the entire house was suddenly engulfed and under construction both inside and out. Then Nat showed up and the two year plan was condensed to 8 months.


First, my beloved outhouse toilet had to be seriously upgraded. Now I have flush toilets! Just amazing...Civilization has arrived.

I won't bore you all with house construction stories. Those of you have been there and done that know what it is like.

Last weekend Sugimoto san and his wife dropped by to wish me luck. (He was actually born in the house.)
He wasn't feeling well and his son had been off work with the flu. I was complaining of back pains.... He figured that the root of all these health issues was that the house was put under major construction without offering anything to the house gods. The Shinto priest was to come on Saturday but for some reason he couldn't make it. Sugimoto came by in good spirits with his wife and would play the priest-role himself with a bottle of rice wine, a dish of salt, and a handful of Shrine-issued paper votives for appeasing the house gods for making a nuisance with house renovations.

The local dialect in this village is hard to follow. And try following the logic of these animist beliefs without offending the villager's good intentions.

Have you got an alter to put this stuff on?
Well but will this old box do?
Need a cup to put the rice wine in.
This sake cup do?
No. It is for the God you need something bigger.
How about this rice bowl?
Anything bigger? You have to dip the branch in it.
Branch? The house is a mess shouldn't we vacuum first?
(Blank look of disbelief...)
Did you bring a fish or something for the ceremony? Snoopy might take it if we leave it on the alter and turn our backs.
No fish this time. Do you have some sacred sakaki leaves?
No..but I can get some from the tree next to the graveyard I'll be back in five minutes.
Don't bother. Anything green will do.
How about a cedar branch.
What? (Disbelief) Anything else around?
How about that coffee tree branch?
It will have to do.

Sugimoto and I walk around the outside of the house clockwise. He sprinkles salt and chants while I dip the fake sacred branch in sake and sprinkle it behind him.
He chants.
"House God, good health to us all. House God please let there be no accidents until the construction is finished. Snoopy did a big job there you better clean it up. House God please make the house strong and last forever. The stones on the septic tank were a nice finishing touch. House god, I hope Bryan knows what he is doing and doesn't go bankrupt with house repairs. House God, How about an early spring?"

Some profound religious feeling missing here. I suspect the House God would be offended rather than pleased.

Back at the start of the circle it was time to tape up the votives. North, South, East and West facing walls. Above the entrance and on the central pillar of the house, then the big wood votive in the kitchen God shelf-shrine.

What is the tradition with the tape?
Hmmm... why ask such troublesome questions? No rolling the tape on the back. Make sure it doesn't fall down until next February or you will be in trouble.

What do I do with the leftover rice wine? Is OK to drink it? What about the leftover salt? Can I use it to cook with?
No answers to these questions. I realized that Japan didn't have hundreds of years of Christian debate setting down the do's and don'ts. No Thomas Aquinas etc. Just a kind of free for all. The rules instinctual.

Later that evening on the news the president of TEPCO ( Nuclear meltdowned plant operator.) says that the company isn't responsible for the radiation. They just make electricity and the by-products are not his problem.....


  1. onesmallstitch6 March 2012 at 07:09

    thanks for the laugh of the week, pretty sure I wouldn't have signed on to stay in a Canadian log cabin - spent my childhood in one!! An early Spring would be much appreciated and all I ask is that the snake in the barn is GONE.

  2. My first priority is the same as Jean, then maybe your Shinto doctor can do something for my aching back? If it is necessary to embrace the 'rules instinctual' I am in favour.

    1. Dear Blandina:
      I have had chronic back pain in the past. Aghhh.
      I will make sure the bath his hot every night and if you would like to try the local acupuncturist I will make an appointment. It is always hard to figure what needs to be done with back pain. Sometimes it is extended daily long walks. Other times peace and quiet. Other times it takes a few hours in my massage chair.(Yes, I have one waiting.) Panasonic gave me one for writing a blurb for their ads.

  3. Oh Bryan, how you made me smile, I was with you both walking round, sprinkling salt etc and saying appropriate words (oops, are women allowed?) I am abandoning things I thought I would do "before Japan" and so goodness only knows how you are feeling, the countdown is on. Just glad the toilets are in and flushing :-) but I didn't sign up for a fortnight in the Hilton, staying at yours is part of the attraction of the tour.

    1. Dear Lis: I complain but I am enjoying every minute of it. The windows arrived this morning. One step closer to the HIlton!

  4. Thank you for an entertaining post. I loved the dialog with House God.
    Good luck with your reno.

  5. the last line about lack of responsibility for radiation is rather strong stuff!

    1. Dear India:
      He really had my head spinning. I had to double check the double speak with my Japanese friend to make sure I was hearing and understanding the Japanese right. Japanese language is very often ambiguous. This ambiguity has it's special beauty and sensitivity for certain. My friend replied that it would be like Asahara Shoko, the mastermind from the Aum cult who released Sarin gas on the subways, saying that it was all the Sarin gas fault. The gas killed and hurt the people not the him or his followers who squished the bags containing and releasing it on the train and then got off as the doors closed.

      It is heartbreaking and depressing and infuriating to witness what happened here and what continues to happen. There are only two operating nuclear reactors now supplying energy to all of Japan. Japan has 54 reactors in total. We can see now that the massive cash producing reactors fed politics, media and the university of Tokyo's nuclear science department. The industry was so powerful that no one would dare make even a veiled criticism. Safety drills and safety procedures were ignored and not developed as to avoid spooking a public that were assured nuclear power in Japan was 100% safe.
      I wish that there was a just a little bit more healthy suspicion of authority here. Sorry, this is a weaving textile blog and I can't put a lid on myself at times.

    2. I should add that coal powered energy has taken up the slack from the down nuclear reactors and that house energy consumption has decreased dramatically as people became aware of power related issues.

  6. hi bryan... just found your blog and i have added it to my blog roll... i will be checking in.. i live in Nagasaki, we just bought a slightly older house and did a few renovations (flush toilets!!) our good friend helped us bless the house with splatters of sake in all the windows and entry ways and little piles of salt..speaking of energy, we are adding solar panels to our roof this week (except for the rain in the forecast.....) mainly for the environment, and to lesson our dependance on evil evil nuclear power... i think we have a plant in operation near us at Matsuura...anyhoo.. just wanted to say HI!!

  7. hi bryan!! i am in nagasaki and we just bought an older house, and remodelled with flush toilets!! our neighbor friend helped us with piling salt and splashing sake in the windows and doorways....
    by the way, we are adding solar panels to our roof this week , trying to love our mother earth!! I have added you to my blog roll and I will come around here to check in on you!!
    love all your posts... i will try to get through all of them eventually, i see by the comments that we have several mutual friends..

    1. Hi Jan;
      Great to hear a kindred spirit is out there! Send me some house pics.

  8. I've really been enjoying your blogging - you got more chatty about things at some point and it's very fun to read. I'm learning indigo dyeing so I watch for clues about the process, too. Buying a place in the country soon, have indigo seeds in hand already, and will be doing a lot of work on the house, so the Shinto purification will come in handy. Will make sure I have a large enough bowl for the sake. :)