A good hachimaki is a terrible thing to waste
Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 21, 2008
YOU’VE ALL SEEN those bandanas or towels the Japanese sometimes tie around their foreheads. They’re called hachimaki, and the Japanese have been wearing them for almost as long as there have been people living in the archipelago.
They were originally used in religious ceremonies, and they’re still worn by men performing strenuous manual labor or carrying mikoshi (portable shrines) in festivals. Once upon a time, women wore them during childbirth.
Soldiers also wore them in battle because they were thought to strengthen the spirit, and that custom still lives today in another context. School children, particularly boys, sometimes wear them while hitting the books to give themselves a spiritual edge in passing the entrance exams to high school or college.
There is a very old belief in parts of Asia that the spirit can penetrate and create a “charge” in inanimate objects over time. If true, that would mean the old hachimaki of students who safely passed through the valley of examination death are just bursting with positive electrons and good vibrations. It would be a shame to stick them in the corner of a dresser drawer and waste the residual power of those brain waves.
That’s why the Hofu Tenman-gu, a Shinto shrine in Hofu, Yamaguchi, accepts donations of the hachimaki used by successful students and recycles them.
The tutelary deity of the Hofu shrine is Sugawara-no-Michizane, a scholar/politician/poet/ambassador who served the Imperial court more than a millennium ago. He was so well known for his erudition that he became a divinity of learning and is enshrined at many Shinto facilities around the country.
Until quite recently, the Japanese were loath to use recycled clothing of any kind (except hand-me-downs in the home), but those inhibitions were ignored when it came to entering the school of one’s choice. Students preparing for exams will try anything they think might work. It can’t hurt, and besides, it might possibly help.
The shrine has about 5,000 hachimaki on hand donated by those who passed their exams, but it just wouldn’t do to hand out bandanas that were soaked with someone else’s sweat. And cleanliness is next to godliness, after all. So the Hofu Tenman-gu miko (shrine maidens), handle the domestic chore of laundering the hachimaki and hanging them out to dry on the grounds of the shrine. That’s the scene you see here in the photo.
The shrine will give them away at no charge to anyone who asks. But if you’re the kind of person who just can’t bear the thought of wearing something that someone else wore, the shrine will be glad to sell you a special student package with a good luck votary tablet, some pencils, and a brand new hachimaki, all for just 2,500 yen (about US$ 28.00). They sell about 40,000 sets a year, and considering what the markup on those items must be, they can afford to be generous and give the old ones away. They also don’t have any problem getting donations; they say about 10% of all the bandanas they sell are returned.
Now here’s a thought: do they have heirloom hachimaki passed down from year to year from students who gained admission to schools with particularly rigorous standards? Or is two years the limit for exam mojo?
Afterwards: Try this for some more about Sugawara-no-Michizane.