Japan from the inside out

Photos purified and burned in Japanese ritual

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 4, 2008

IN PARTS OF THE ARAB WORLD, it is said, people still believe the lens of a camera is an evil eye and that taking a person’s photograph will steal his soul. Perhaps remnants of that idea linger in other parts of the world, too.

How do people get rid of photographs they no longer want or need? Most of us don’t think twice about just throwing them away, especially if they have no sentimental value. And these days, deleting them from a digital camera or cell phone requires no thought at all. Still, if a photograph captures part of a person’s soul for an instant in time, then it’s not difficult to understand why some people might hesitate to toss them into the trash can with the coffee grounds, egg shells, and dust from under the refrigerator.

The Ozaka Shinto shrine, in Kanazawa, Ishikawa, provides the perfect solution to relieve that discomfort. On 1 June, which is Photograph Day in Japan, people bring their unwanted snapshots to a purification ceremony, known as an o-harae, after which they are burned in a Shinto rite called the Photograph Memorial Service and Festival.

Priests at the shrine, which was founded in 1643, ritually purified about 40,000 photographs this year, then recited Shinto prayers as they were cremated in two pyres on the shrine grounds, as you can see from the photo above. (Cremated is as good a word as any, don’t you think?) In addition to those from local residents, photographs were received from people in the Tokyo and Osaka areas who found out about the event on the Internet.

Said a 67-year-old Kanazawa housewife, “This year was the third time I brought photos. I thought the memorial service was a good opportunity to reorganize the pictures I had saved, so I had the shrine burn them.”

Was this an event organized by some superstitious tribal folk who have difficulty coping with the modern world? Not at all—it was the brainchild of the prefectural association of camera merchants, among others, and dates from 1993.

Photography Day, incidentally, was the idea of the Photographic Society of Japan to commemorate the day the first ferrotype photo was taken in the country.

Silly? Perhaps, but I suspect everyone went home happy. Would that we all could say the same.

One Response to “Photos purified and burned in Japanese ritual”

  1. […] introduces a Shinto rite called photograph memorial service and festival hold by the Ozaka Shinto shrine. Posted by Oiwan Lam Share […]

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