Japan from the inside out

Big rope

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 9, 2012

HUNG in front of the main worship hall, altar, or tori of Shinto shrines are cords or ropes made of rice straw called shimenawa. They are used to set off a sacred space from the profane, and tradition has it that they ward off evil and sickness. During New Year’s they’re sometimes hung over doorways, or even on the front bumpers of automobiles.

The Izumo Taisha in Izumo, Shimane, is one of the oldest and most important Shinto shrines in Japan. It’s so old, in fact, that no one knows exactly how old it is, though it was described as the highest building in the country in 950. (It’s been reduced in size since them.) The enshrined deity is Okuninushi, considered by legend to be the creator of Japan.

A place that important is bound to have a serious shimenawa, and it certainly does. So serious is it that when it was replaced earlier this year, for the first time in four years, it required a crane to lift it into place. The entire operation took six and a half hours.

Made with straw from the local variety of koshihikari rice (the kind everyone thinks tastes the best), it is six meters high and weighs 4.4 tons.

It’s on video too, about three and a half minutes in.

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