What is this ornament at the front door of private houses in Kyoto?
When you walk around Kyoto, you may see something that looks like a small broom made of straw at the front door of private houses in Kyoto. This is a Chimaki.
Chimaki is steamed sweets wrapped a rice dumpling in a bamboo leaf, or bamboo-sheath, and is wound into a conical or triangular shape.
The tradition of eating chimaki and Kashiwa-mochi during the Boy’s festival (Tango no Sekku) is believed to purge noxious vapors. Kashiwa-mochi is a rice cake that contains sweet bean paste and is wrapped in an oak leaf.
During Tango no Sekku on May 5th, families with a boy(s), display festive dolls in their house and hang Koi-nobori, or carp-shaped streamers outside the house. They do this to wish for success in their lives.
Why do people in Kyoto hang a chimaki at their entrance?
Chimaki in Kyoto is deeply linked with the Gion festival held by the Yasaka Shrine.
Yamahoko are decorated floats with ornaments and are paraded during the Gion festival. Yamahoko floats are decorated at places called kaisho, near each yamahoko neighborhood association. These yamahoko floats are so gorgeous that they are often called, “mobile art museums”.
Chimaki is sold at the Yasaka Shrine and each kaisho during the Gion festival (July 1- July 31 of every year).
The folk story and wish contained in chimaki.
Chimaki is an amulet used for greater purification and cannot be eaten. People in Kyoto hang it at the entrance their house to ward off evil throughout the year. It is replaced with new one every year during the Gion festival, because it doesn’t hold any spiritual meaning after one year.
If you look at the chimaki closely, you’ll notice a paper with “Somin-shorai shison nari(蘇民将来子孫也)” written on it.
Once upon a time, Susanoo no mikoto, the main deity of Yasaka Shrine, disguised himself as a wanderer and asked for a night’s lodging at the house of Somin-shorai. Somin-shorai was a poor man, but he treated Susanoo with warm hospitality. Susanoo no mikoto was very grateful to him and told him that putting a ring of kaya grass at his waist, would protect his descendants forever.
Chinowa (茅の輪) is a ring of kaya grass. Chinowa became chimaki (茅巻き) and it’s shape took the form of the typical amulet hung at the entrance of people’s houses today.
Somin-shorai shison nari (蘇民将来子孫也) as an amulet means, “I am descended from Somin-shorai, so protect me from diseases and disasters.”
Each chimaki has its own individuality as does each yamahoko float. There are various types of chimaki; some decorated with cherry blossoms and Japanese plum blossoms, some that come with a free gift, such as a charm and some with a vow on a horse tablet.
The benefits of chimaki differ from each kaisho. Chimaki from Hosho-yama kaisho is especially famous for the benefit of love.
It’ll be interesting to tour kaisho and chimaki for the benefits that fit your needs.