In early March, before the outbreak of coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, I noticed a big wreath called Chinowa hanging on Torii gate of Eki Jinja, the sub-shrine of Yasaka shrine. Usually, we can see it only on July 31.
In addition to it, in the next week, another Chinowa was installed near the main hall of the shrine. This Chinowa is available only in the last week of June.
These Chinowa seemed strange to tourist who had some knowledge on our culture but quite natural for me.
The story in the 8th century
The oldest story about Chinowa is referred in Bingo no Kuni Fudoki in the early 8th century:
When Mutoshin, a Deity, was on his odyssey, Somin Shorai helped him. Mutoshin said to him, ” I’m Haya Susanoo no Mikoto. When epidemic outbreaks, I’ll protect people who called themselves descendants of yours wearing Chinowa on waist.”
The chinowa referred in the story is a small one like this. It is a Chinowa amulet. The Kanji letters on a piece of paper read: 蘇民将来子孫也. “I’m a descendant of Somin Shorai.
Nagoshi no Harae ritual
Chinowa is used in Nagoshi no Harae ritual which takes place on June 31. In this ritual, people do Chinowa Kutuguri (Walikng thorough Chinowa) to keep themselves away from malady.
No one can tell the reason why it started.
The following is a hypothesis: In ancient times, epidemics often ravaged people in summer. They used Chinowa as a tool to prevent themselves from epidemics, for the purpose of spending the rest of a year with health.
We can see the ritual in many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temple these days though it once ceased to exist due to a large civil war.
Why only Yasaka shrine provides us with Chinowa?
Haya Susanoo no Mikoto is a Shinto Deity enshrined in Yasaka shrine. Under the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism, Haya Susanoo no Mikoto was fused with Gozu Tenno a.k.a. Mutoshin.
Susanoo no Mikoto has been respected as a Deity who save us from malady. For example, Gion matsuri is the most important festival Yasaka shrine holds and a kind of ritual in which he take maladies away from Kyoto.
So, Yasaka shrine found people were in the fear of the spread of COVID-19, it installed Chinowa to come up with the situation.
It may be strange to believe a wreath keeps us from malady but many people wait in line to do Chinowakuguri. I’m sure they don’t believe it can satisfy their purpose. I suppose they want to feel relieved.
Japan is know as a country of technology. Actually we can make android like this. She can talk and move hands and even eyelids. On the other hand, we admire old customs.
If you are interested in Chinowa Kuguri, pls follow me!
I sincerely hope all the people suffer from COVID-19 will recover and show my deepest condolences for the deceased persons all around the world. 合掌。