I visited Suwa Taisha

and learnt what it takes to make a holy rope

One of the pleasures of living in Japan is being able to enjoy the ancient and endless variety of cultural traditions of the local people. Where I live in central Nagano, near Lake Suwa, is no exception. It is the location of one of Japan’s oldest and most important Shinto shrines, Suwa Taisha (Grand Shrine). Traditions associated with Suwa Taisha run very deep, and today I stumbled upon one which I hadn’t been aware of until now.
I happened to be taking some visitors from overseas to see the shrine and when I parked my car I noticed that one corner of the car park was closed off and a group of about a dozen men seemed to be working on something while they were being filmed. On closer inspection they were making something out of rice straw. On inquiring I found out that they were making the beautiful and massive ornamental rope called 'shimenawa' that hangs on the front of the main entrance building. They are believed to ward off bad spirits. The shimenawa on this shrine is about half a meter thick and about 4 meters long. They said it would take them a month to make the shimenawa, which they were doing entirely by hand, as it has been done for over 1,200 years. But they did need a thick instruction folder to figure how to do it!
Suwa Taisha is famous for the 'Onbashira Festival', held every 6 years, whereby huge logs are dragged and “ridden” down the mountains and then placed on all four corners of the shrine. The new shimenawa will be put in place in time for the next Onbashira Festival which will be held in April-May 2016 and should be well worth the visit. I’m looking forward to participating in it!
Access: Suwa Taisha is accessible from Shimo-Suwa and Chino stations on the JR Matsumoto Line and is just over 2 hours and 20 minutes by train from Shinjuku.

by Phil

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