I sincerely show my deepest condolences to the deceased and those who lost loved one and my respect to healthcare professional who fight against COVID-19. I pray the day everyone who suffers feel relieved will come soon. 合掌。
Why does Japan have low death toll?
So far, Japan keeps low death toll in comparison to other nations. I have no medical background and exact idea why it does.
Some say that one of the reasons is Japanese people love to be clean: They often wash hands, wear masks, bathe and wash their hair everyday…they are not so peculiar for us. Nothing but our everyday routine.
In this article, I want to reveal the reason why we love to be clean in terms of our cultural inheritance.
Shinto detest “Kegare”
Shinto is a “religion” indigenous to Japan. I double-quoted the word because it is not strict like other religions. In this article, I think “highly-sophisticated animism” would explain what it is properly to you.
Kegare is a state where our body and soul are not clean. Shinto detests it because it leads us to the anemic state of mind: We loves to be health physically and mentally to lead our life. To prevent Kegare from us, we take advantage of water to purify us and to keep us away from it.
In this principal, we love to be clean. So, we change clothes everyday, bath everyday, wash hair everyday, wash our hands when we come back home, and so on, to live a virtuous life.
In the following chapters, let us learn to get rid of Kegare in traditional ways.
We have good examples in many places. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temple have wash basin usually. At the entrance, we wash hands and rinse mouth to get rid of Kegare in the secular world and to put us in the appropriate condition for the sacred place.
This is an abbreviated “Misogi.” Misogi means that an act to get into water and make our body move to have Kegare inside of us go away.
We can’t see Misogi these days except specical occasions. For example, Japanese Emperor implement Misogi to prepare for Daijosai.
On the contrary, simple form of Misogi still exist in some events. The most popular examples is Saiohdai in Gyokei ni Gi, a ritual held prior to Aoi matsuri festival. She performs one of the simplest Misogi. Saiohdai is a lady plays a role of Saioh in Aoi matsuri festival. Saioh is a priestess who visited Kamosha (It is known as Kamigamo shrine and Shimogamo Shrine today) on behalf of the Emperor in ancient times.
In a ritual prior to Aoi matsuri, Saiohdai washes her hands in a stream. It is an easy way of Mishogi. On the other hand, Saioh spent 3 years to make herself purified in her residence to prepare for paying a visit to Kamosha.
Harae is popular for us. Harae is an act to put Kegare on Katashiro and throw it into water like stream, river, sea, and so on. Today, a piece of paper is used as Katashiro but the original one is a doll. Harae gave birth to a ritual like Hinamatsuri festival.
We think that we gain Kegare in day by day basis in the secular world. They disable us from leading health life physically and mentally. So, we need to remove them in every six months. For the purpose of it, we have Nagoshi no Harae on 31 June and Oharae on 31 November.
In Naghoshi no Harae, we carry out Harae in the same way as Saiohdai does in the previous video: We rub ourself with a piece of human-shaped paper and put our breath on it. We put the piece into a box the shrine prepared and priests throw our Katashiro into water (I think river is the most popular one) on behalf of us. These days, I suspect that most of shrines burns Katashiro with sacred fire instead of putting it in the river or somewhere. It is not acceptable to throw something river these days. For example, in the previous video, there is a net in the stream to catch Katashiro.
The most famous Nagoshi no Hare is the one held at Yasaka shrine. We carry out Harae with Katashiro and Chinowa. Chinowa is a huge wreath made of Chigaya grass. Base on a story about Susanoo no Mikotom, the Deity of Ysaka shrine, it is believed that Chinowa saves us from epidemic. Gion matsuri festival is also founded on the story.
In early March, we found ourselves in the fear of COVID-19 and Yasaka shrine installed two Chinowa immediately. I have no idea whether it keep us away from the disease but it reveals that the old story is still alive in Kyotoites.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Japanese people often seem strange to foreigners because they wear mask though they are not medical professionals.
Mask is not new to us. In Shinto or Buddhist rituals, priests and monks wear masks sometimes.
Take a look at the photo. It is Nakagoza Mikoshi of Gion matsuri festival. Mikoshi is translated portable shrine because a Deity is in it. Shinto priests asked a Deity to descend to Yorishiro in a box and they put the box in a portable shrine. When they bring the box, they wear masks usually because even priests wear Kegare before Deities and they have to avoid to breath on them.
The mask in the photo is a mask used in Buddhist ritual. Ninnanji temple provided us with this mask to visitors.
The old belief still goes on
In this article, we learn why do Japanese people love to be clean. As shown, Japanese people is under influences of many old beliefs and stories. I hope my analysis will be some help to understand our culture. Thank you for reading, BAAAH!!!