Mitarashi at Shimogamo

Mitarashi saiMITARASHI MATSURI at Shimogamo Jinja from 5.30-22.30 (July 19-26) ¥300

Summer in Kyoto is hot, hot and humid!  At this time of year all one wants to do is wade through cold water.  Well, that’s just what you get to do in the Mitarashi Festival at Shimogamo Shrine.  Considering that it promises a disease-free year, particularly for legs, then it’s easy to understand why the festival is so popular.

All dolled up to wade in the purifying water

All dolled up to wade in the purifying water

Purification is Shinto’s raison d’etre, and the festival can be seen as a mini-misogi (cold water austerity).  The idea is that it removes impurities and restores you to full vitality.  In Shinto terms it’s a cleansing of your soul-mirror so that it shines brightly once more.

The water comes out of an underground stream, which is why it’s icy cold (painfully so!) and very invigorating.  Participants pay Y300 for which they get a candle to wade with upstream and set before Mitarashi Shrine, dedicated to a purification kami.  Thousands pass through the stream over the four days, with yukata and trousers hitched up for the knee-high water.

Afterwards you get to drink a cup of the purifying water.  The idea is that the spiritually charged water will infuse you with the strength of the kami.  Following this one walks past a display of black stones taken from the bottom of the stream, which are said to be a special deterrent for disease demons – particularly the one that causes temper tantrums in children!

In front of the shrine the newly furnished enmusubi shrine attracts groups of yukata girls, and amongst the stalls set up for the occasion are the popular Mitarashi dango (dumplings said to resemble bubbles gushing up out of the water).

Shimogamo Jinja is a World Heritage Site and Kyoto’s premier ‘power spot’.  Here is a rare chance to see it lit up in spectacular fashion and in festive mode.  This year the festival has been extended from three days to be a week-long affair, so that unlike the crowded Gion Festival this is on a more manageable scale.  There’s little doubt about it: Mitarashi is the coolest festival in town!

(For a report on the 2014 festival, see here.)

Crowds place their candle in stands before the shrine

Crowds place their candle in stands before the shrine

Afterwards there's a chance to imbibe the sacred water, so that purification is both internal and external

Afterwards there’s a chance to imbibe the sacred water, so that purification is both internal and external

Like other Shinto festivals, a spiritual core lies among all the jollity

Like other Shinto festivals, a spiritual core lies among all the jollity

Special foot ema are provided, on which one writes one's name and age before supplicating the water deity

Special foot ema are provided, on which one writes one’s name and age before supplicating the water deity

Some take advantage of the occasion to pray for a new partner at the shrine’s increasingly popular ‘enmusubi shrine’, where two branches of the sacred tree have merged into one

Cleansing the leg protectors before offering them up to the river kami

Cleansing the leg protectors before offering them up to the river kami

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Aesthetic display of seasonal offerings

Sacred river stones that protect children against the supposed blight of 'kan-mushi'

Selecting a sacred river stone that protects children against the blight of ‘kan-mushi’

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Mitarashi at Shimogamo — 2 Comments

  1. Note : leftist mangaka Tezuka Osamu describes Yatagarasu as a two legged golden glowing falcon, and Kinki-Kunsho as a golden kite.

    But… there are a lot of problems in Tezuka’s theory in Phoenix Dawn.

    Like the absence of Sanshu no Jingi or any explanation about how this belief arose if they don’t even exist in Tezuka’s universe.

    And like who is worshipping who… ? Is Tezuka’s Ninigi’s god Takami-Musubi-no-Kami ? What about the Izumo tribes and the others, are they the Kunitsukami and cie ? Then, what about the Yamatai-koku, if it is not the state funded by Jinmu-Tennô ? Who is Himiko’s god… ? Is she worshiping the Kunitsukami ? It doesn’t make sense if she and Susanoo are the Amatsukami. So who is Himiko’s god(s) ? The Amatsukami ? Why would Jinmu-Tennô destroy a culture worshipping the same god as his ? And what about the Ujigami, said to be the religion basic before the 17 Article Constitution ? Is Himiko worshiping Toyouke-Omikami ? But why Himiko is being associated / fused with the Sun deity, Amaterasu Omikami, while everyone sees a clear distinction between them ?

    And why are both Yamatai-koku and Jinmu’s people from the Yayoi culture (while Kumasô are clearly not) ?

    And if Jimmu crossed from Mongolia, why is he not mentioned in China’s history and why did he adopt Yayoi culture and clothing style seen as more primitive than Chinese’s products, especially if those Yayoi culture was not their tradition ? It’s not like the Chinese said “Oh ! A golden kite, the guy might be blessed by the gods, so instead of putting it in a zoo, let’s just grant him free travel, but not our culture’s product like silk and clothing and rice farming…” Beside, silk and rice are link with the Great Gods Amaterasu and Toyouke. Beside, Susanoo was probably a rain god (ie. the god of the sky’s sea). And they are seen as having a sun deity, so how was it fused with Himiko before being worship by the Imperial Dynasty as their ancestor, Amaterasu-Sume-O-Kami ?!

    And why is the Phoenix such an insanely heartless jerk ?

    Can’t the bird even help someone in trouble by asking some humans to send help ?! I mean, sometimes humans help flies, ant and spiders to get away, and they don’t ask for money or to be amused in exchange! And he can’t even drop a “thanks” to Jimmu-Tennô after being saved and spared! Is that bird really an intelligent being?! Would it kill him to be polite? Remember the size of a bird’s brain, it’s just so tiny! It seems some birds even evolve to be nothing but mindless killers!

    Sorry for such a useless rant. Just angry thinking people worship Tezuka despite such a biased work.

    • Thank you for drawing attention to Tezuka Ozamu’s work. I’m not familiar with the story you write about, but am interested now in reading it…

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