Japan from the inside out

Don’t look down!

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 13, 2008

IT’S NOT OFTEN nowadays that we see people in advanced industrialized countries risk their necks for the sake of religion, but that’s just what those five Shinto priests in the photograph did last week–and do every year at this time.

The priests are from the Hiryu Shinto Shrine, a branch of the Kumanonachi Taisha in Nachikatsu’ura-cho, Wakayama. The rope they are suspending across the top of the Nachi Falls is called a shimenawa. The ropes are made by twisting strands of rice straw into a bundle. They are used demarcate the sacred from the profane at a Shinto shrine, and hung in front of the main entrance hall, in front of the altar, and across the torii, or main gate.

So why are they hanging the rope across a waterfall? Shimenawa are also used to mark shintai, or abodes of the divine, and the Nachi Falls is itself considered the shintai at the Hiryu Shrine.

The big deal about this event is that no one makes a big deal out of it. The priests replace the shimenawa every July as part of the preparations for the Nachi Fire Festival, which will be held later this week. They’re working just two meters away from the edge of the falls without a net or any other safety equipment, wearing straw sandals. If they slip on a moss-covered rock and tumble over the edge, it’s a 133-meter drop to the bottom.

Try this Japanese-language page for a front-on shot of the falls to get a better idea of the risk involved. It’s the third photo from the bottom.

Is there a better example of trusting one’s fate to divine Providence?

One Response to “Don’t look down!”

  1. No way would I do that.

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