Kiyoharai Shiki

Last Sunday, the evening before we moved in to the new flat, I asked the priest of the local shrine (Shirahata Hachiman Daijin) to come to perform a purification ritual for us. The Japanese name is “Kiyoharai Shiki”, which means, roughly “Cleansing Purification Ritual”. People who read Tamao will remember that Akiko and Shiraishi did quite a lot of these at people’s houses, but when I wrote that I’d never actually seen one done. It’s rather a relief to discover that I didn’t get anything seriously wrong. They were doing a rather more abbreviated ceremony than we had performed, but, on the other hand, they also charged rather less, so obviously that’s just their shrine’s custom. The priest did drive over in his vestments, just like Akiko and Shiraishi.

He arrived about twenty minutes before the ceremony was due to start, to set up the portable altar. I took a photograph before the ceremony started.

The altar is formed from two tables, with the sanpo stands on the upper shelf, and the ohnusa on the lower
The purification altar

The altar was set up in our living room (you couldn’t do it now…), facing south. In the middle of the top shelf are two o-fuda, shrine tablets. The one in front is for Shirahata Hachiman, the kami of the shrine, while the one behind is for Kojin, a kami responsible for fire, and keeping it under control. To either side of the o-fuda are two sanpo, the trays on which things are typically offered to the kami. The one to the right has the offerings on; the tall jars contain sake, while the small round one in front of them contains water. The rice and salt plates aren’t really visible in the picture. The one on the left has a small plate of rice, a small plate of salt, and a small bowl of sake, with a sakaki leaf. These are purification tools for the ceremony. On the lower shelf, there is a large sakaki branch with shide (strips of white paper folded into lightning shapes) on it. This is another purification tool. At the extreme left of the top shelf is a box, which contains small sakaki branches with shide on, called tamagushi. These were also used later in the ceremony.

Yuriko’s parents were here on Sunday, so we all gathered in front of the altar, lined up with me in the middle, since I am the head of the household being purified. We had to kneel on the floor, with no cushions, and that got a bit uncomfortable towards the end, particularly when Mayuki decided to climb onto my knees.

The ceremony started, as always, with purification. First, the priest knelt in front of the altar and recited the purification prayer. He then took the large sakaki branch from the lower shelf and waved it over the altar and the tamagushi to purify them. That is normal. Next, however, he purified the whole flat, and we went with him. He started in the entrance hall, purifying the threshold (with the door open), and then he did every room, including the toilet, specially purifying the shelf installed in the Japanese room for the kamidana. The last room to be purified was the kitchen, and that was part of the ceremony, because he mentioned doing it last. Then, we all knelt back in front of the altar, and we were purified.

After purification, it was time to invite the kami to descend into the o-fuda and be present at the ceremony. The priest knelt in front of the altar again, and said the norito to call the kami. He said it very quietly, far too quietly to be heard, and then performed the keihitsu, a long “o” sound, during which the kami are supposed to take up residence in the o-fuda.

Once the kami were present, the offerings were formally presented. Sometimes this actually involves putting them in front of the altar, but it is quite common, as in this case, to simply take the lids off the jars.

The next stage was the norito, the formal prayer. The priest knelt in front of the altar again, and then recited it. First, the kami are invoked by name. There were several, including kami with traditional connections to the home, as well as Shirahata Hachiman and Kojin. Most of the norito was recited in a strong voice, but there was one phrase of two or three words near the beginning that the priest recited very quietly. The content of the norito was a request for safety and prosperity for the new home.

After the norito (I think; it was a week ago, so I may have got a bit of the order switched), the priest picked up the sanpo with the rice, salt, and sake from the upper level of the altar, and we all went to purify the flat again. He purified the threshold, the kitchen (particularly the cooker), and the kamidana, scattering rice, salt, and sake at each point. The amounts he used were tiny; it may have been a single grain of rice. This form of purification is very traditional, but the need to clean up after purifying seems to have reduced the amounts involved.

Returning to the altar, we knelt again, and then offered the tamagushi. This is also a standard part of a Shinto ceremony. First, the priest offered his, and then it was my turn. You take the tamagushi in both hands, raise it upright, then rotate it so that you place it on the table with the bottom of the stem towards the kami. Then you bow twice, clap twice, and bow once. Yuriko did it after me, and her parents bowed and clapped with her. Mayuki bowed and clapped with everyone, but you’re only supposed to do it when someone is offering a tamagushi on your behalf, and at the beginning and end of some ceremonies, when you bow once, with the presiding priest.

The kami were then dismissed (don’t want them hanging around the house) with another keihitsu, and the ceremony was over. We are supposed to keep the wooden o-fuda on the kamidana for a year (but I’ll probably hang on to it; I tend not to return the ones associated with significant events), and the paper one for Kojin over the stove. It’s paper, and in a plastic bag, so that you can stick it on the wall without it becoming dirty from oil and grease. The tamagushi should also be kept on the kamidana until we feel that we are properly settled in the new flat, at which point we should return them to the shrine. I have no idea how long that will take, so it’s a good job the priest told us it was no problem if the sakaki dried out.

I don’t know whether it has anything to do with the ceremony, but things are going well in the new flat. Not only did we have three days of good weather for the move itself, but living here is working out as we’d hoped, at least so far.






One response to “Kiyoharai Shiki”

  1. Jean avatar

    Thanks for sharing your description of the purification ritual. I enjoyed reading it.

    Good luck in your new home!

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