Friday, August 11, 2017

Mitarashi; Kyoto's River Walking Ceremony

Mitarashi Festival at Shimogamo
下鴨神社の御手洗祭

The Shimogamo Shrine is located near the intersection of the Kamo River and the Takano River.
The Shimogamo (lower-Kamo) Shrine is closely connected to the Kamigamo (Upper-Kamo) Shrine.
Shimogamo Shrine has a history that goes back to the reign of emperor Tenmu (675-686).
The shrine is a major power-spot in Kyoto that is located near the old Imperial Palace and the shrine functions in a number of major festival; Aoi Matsuri, yabusame, layer kimino demonstrations, archery and more.
During the doll festival (hina-matsuri) paper dolls are set in the Mitarashi pond where they float downstream.

The Mitarashi Festival is the main attraction for this pond at Shimogamo Shrine.
The term "Mitarashi" refers to a purifying water fountain found at a shrine.
Shinto shrines often feature water fountains at the entrance that are used to ritualistically wash your hands as you enter the shrine.
Shimogamo Shrine has a natural spring that produces cool, fresh water. The site of that fountain is the location where a shrine was built, called the Inoue-sha (井上社, or "over the spring/well shrine"). The inou-sha, is better known as the mitarashi-sha, effectively acts as a shrine to the god of clean, pure water.
The Mitarashi pond at Shimogamo is especially well regarded as point of water purifying rituals.
"Misogi" (禊) is the ritual purification ceremony and Shimogamo Shrine's Mitarashi pond has been used by the imperial princesses who were bound for duty as High Priestess at Ise Grand Shrine.

The Mitarashi Festival is held every summer. The festival is for people pray to pray for good health. In particular, the Mitarashi Festival is associated with foot and leg health, with special charms sold at the shrine which play to people with foot problems (such as myself).

At the festival, shrine visitors pay a small fee (300 yen) to purchase a candle and enter the stream. The candles are carried to a temporary altar to pray for health and happiness. The cool water of the natural spring feels startlingly cool as you first put your feet in but the cool water feels great against the hot humid atmosphere of Japanese summer. You will notice the panicked cries of toddlers as their parents initially have them wade into the water, but the water is only shin deep (or thigh deep for the toddlers).
As visitors enter the water they will be able to find alcoves in the walls of the pond with lit candles
to lit everyone's own candles. The soft light of the many candles, the reflections on the surface of the water and the sense of unity as many people form a single procession in one direction creates a magical atmosphere which is popular for people to take photos, you will notice a lot of people lingering about taking photos and selfies.

As visitors exit the water there is a rest area for people to dry their feet. In the rest area the shrine offers pure spring water to drink as means to ensure good health (the water is free but there is a donation box at the water trough).

The shrine has added a number of features this year such as river stone attraction and a water-fortune area. The water-fortunes have been a long standing tradition at Kifune Shrine (another famous shrine in Kyoto) in which the paper is dipped in water to reveal fortune forecasts that were hidden in watermarks.

Recently the shrines in Kyoto seem to be making efforts to attract more visitors by offering novel attractions that were once specialties of other shrines. For example, the Mitarashi Festival is now a feature at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine at their Kyo-no-Tanabata summer illumination event.

The is also a special food associated with the Mitarashi Festival. Mitarashi Dango is made of grilled mochi (rice paste) that is skewered and topped with a type of shoyu sauce. The balls of mochi were said to resemble the bubbles produced by the water rushing out of the spring.
A spring provides cool water for visitors to wade through (up to their shins).
Note the Mitarashi (Inoue-sha) shrine the top of the picture.
Visitors wade slowly through the water nursing their candle flame which holding onto plastic bags that were provided for holding shoes. You can not wear shoes into the water to respect the purity of the sacred pond.
For the Mitarashi Festival there is a ramp that provides access to the stream via a path that leads under an arched bridge.
Note the ropes with pure, white paper marking the pond as a sacred space.
The stairs here are available to access the pond on any day.
The reflections on the water conceal how shallow the water is.
Some girls in their summer yukata.
The candles offer a special golden lighting that gives a nice soft color to everyone's faces.
The entrance to Shimogamo Shrine
An interesting feature of Shimogamo Shrine is an inner courtyard which features small shrines dedicated to the 12 zodiac aninmals; you can look for the animal which corresponds to your birth animal.
Featured here are the shrines for monkey (saru), dragon (tatsu), dog (inu) and tiger (tora); note that two animals are represented in each of the shrines.
The shrine is selling various special charms for the event.
The footprint charm is meant to ward off foot/leg pain.
Signboards detailing the history of the Mitarashi Festival.
For the first time, the Mitarashi Festival features "water fortunes," modeled after the popular attraction at Kyoto's Kifune Shrine.
Another new attraction at the festival features the washing of river stones.


References

http://www.shimogamo-jinja.or.jp/english.html

http://www.greenshinto.com/wp/2011/07/19/mitarashi-festival-at-shimogamo-jinja/

https://yamanomiya.wordpress.com/category/kansai/

http://www.yadokitano.com/blog/2015/01/314/

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