The Mainichi answers questions readers may have about a traditional Shinto summer purification rite that they may have spotted at their local shrine.
Question: There is something called "chinowa kuguri" at the nearby shrine, and it seems to involve a big hoop of grass. What is it?
Answer: "Chinowa kuguri," the tradition of walking through and around a large grass "chinowa" hoop in a figure eight, is a part of summer purification rites called "nagoshi no harae," which are meant to cleanse any impurities from the first half of the year and pray for sound health through the second half of the year. The big chinowa comes from Japanese legend, which says that attaching a small ring of grass to one's hip wards off disease and evil. The giant chinowa that appear at shrines are made of long wild grass and have a diameter of several meters.
For the chinowa kuguri purification rite, you must first go through the grass hoop and circle around the left side of the hoop. Then step through the hoop a second time, turning right and rounding it again before entering the hoop a third time and rounding it on the left side to make a figure eight. After doing that, you write your name on a "hitogata," a slip of paper shaped like a person. After blowing on it to transfer all your bad luck onto the paper, you present it as an offering to the shrine or let it float away in a river to complete the ceremonial purification.
During the season of summer purification rites in Kyoto, there is also a custom of eating "minazuki," a traditional Japanese sweet made from a triangularly-cut "uiro," a kind of steamed rice cake made from rice flower and sugar, that is topped with red beans. It is believed that the triangular shape represents ice to fend off the summer heat and the red beans have the power to ward off evil spirits. (Answer by Kenichi Isono, Kyoto Bureau)