Rare Shinto Shrine-Closing Ceremony

As I introduced the other day, a small Shinto shrine about a hundred yards from my place here in Kyoto shut down because its main benefactor had passed away, so they had a ceremony to ask the shrine's spirit(s) to return to whence they came. Apparently, such ceremonies are exceedingly rare.

Some shrines like the nearby Heian Shrine are huge multi-acre affairs, but most are much smaller. There are literally thousands of shrines in Kyoto, with the median size probably about the size of the one that shut down: about the area of a single parking space.

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70 -200mm f/2.8 @ 135mm — 1 / 1250 sec, f/4.5, ISO 640 — map & image data — nearby photos Shinto Priest with the altar and offerings in the background -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 135mm — 1/1250 sec, f/4.5, ISO 640 — map & image datanearby photos
Shinto Priest
with the altar and offerings in the background
Nikon D200 + 1.7× TC + Nikkor 70 -200mm f/2.8 @ 340mm — 1 / 1250 sec, f/4.8, ISO 800 — map & image data — nearby photos Ritual Offerings -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + 1.7× TC + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 340mm — 1/1250 sec, f/4.8, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Ritual Offerings
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70 -200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1 / 1000 sec, f/5, ISO 800 — map & image data — nearby photos Ritual Offerings II -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1/1000 sec, f/5, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Ritual Offerings II

As part of the ceremony, the name/age/gender of local folk were written on sticks that were then burned. The idea is that the smoke goes along with the departing spirit, imparting wishes for good health to those whose names are included.


Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 116mm — 1/640 sec, f/5, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Start of the Burn

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1/640 sec, f/5, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Burn II

While the sticks burned, the priest chanted something that I assumed was a prayer of some sort.

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70 -200mm f/2.8 @ 155mm — 1 / 3200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800 — map & image data — nearby photos Chanting a Prayer -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 155mm — 1/3200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Chanting a Prayer

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1/4000 sec, f/3.5, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Burn III

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 17mm — 1/2000 sec, f/3.5, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Entrance Area

It was difficult to take pictures because the shrine was very small, and the road in front was quite narrow and tended to be filled with people both standing and passing through. In taking the wide-angle shot above, my heels were hanging precariously off the edge of the road over the Shirakawa river.


Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 17mm — 1/640 sec, f/3.5, ISO 400 — map & image datanearby photos
The Whole Thing

The priest is standing under the entrance gates, with the “altar” (I'm not sure what it's really called, but it looks quite similar to the tabernacle in a Catholic church) a bit to the back, and that's it. I don't know what will become of the location, but as I said, size-wise, it's just large enough to park one care comfortably.


Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 110mm — 1/2000 sec, f/3.5, ISO 400 — map & image datanearby photos
Burn IV

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1/500 sec, f/3.5, ISO 400 — map & image datanearby photos
Burn V

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1/200 sec, f/3.5, ISO 400 — map & image datanearby photos
Burn VI

Once that was done, the priest actually opened up the altar/tabernacle thing. It apparently hadn't been opened in a very long time, because someone needed to fetch a screwdriver so he could pry it open.

Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70 -200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1 / 125 sec, f/3.5, ISO 800 — map & image data — nearby photos Inside the Shrine -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2007 Jeffrey Eric Francis Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1/125 sec, f/3.5, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Inside the Shrine

Beside whatever was expected inside, he also found wasps, so someone ran for some bug spray....


Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm — 1/1000 sec, f/3.5, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Not a Planned Part of the Ceremony

Once that was taken care of, he removed everything from inside, and the ceremony was over.


Nikon D200 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1/160 sec, f/3.5, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
The End

Despite the rather unappealing look of the surroundings in the “The Whole Thing” photo above, it's actually a nice area. The path the shrine is on parallels a small stream, and there are a lot of nice things about the area (traditional houses, quaint bridges, cherry trees), and as such, it gets quite a bit of foot traffic. While the ceremony was going on, lots of people would pause as they went by, and if they happened to have a quizzical look, I'd tell them that it was a ceremony to close down the shrine. Invariably, the first words from their mouth was “oh, that's too bad!”

It was only after it was over that I chatted with some others there about why the shrine was closing. I knew that the man had been ill, but didn't know he had passed away, so that was quite sad. I wanted to say something to his wife who was there, but my Japanese is not at all good enough that I could be sure not to phrase something inappropriately, so I just quietly left. Half an hour later, I was at Sunday mass, at which time I said my own little prayer for the man and his family.


All 4 comments so far, oldest first...

I wonder how much per year to support a mini-shrine like that? And what will they do with the now spiritless pieces-parts. Garage Sale? Or does Craig’s list have a “shrine ” section in the “for sale” area? (2000 yen OBO, one gently used shrine; compact, screaming orange, currently insect free. Minor smoke damage. Great place for your as yet homeless spirit. )

— comment by Marcina on November 15th, 2007 at 5:24am JST (10 years ago) comment permalink

Very interesting post.

And, not to be pedantic, but it’s an “altar.” “Alter” means “change.”

Oops, thanks, fixed (in all six places). I’m surprised that my mom didn’t point that out 10 seconds after I posted it….. —Jeffrey

— comment by Zak on November 16th, 2007 at 4:03pm JST (10 years ago) comment permalink

it’s probably just a trick of the light and angle but if you look close you can make out half a faint face in the mirror

— comment by mr a on April 24th, 2008 at 12:04am JST (9 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

A geat set of photos and story. I had not given any thought to what happened to a Shinto shrine. I have a Shinto shrine in my home – love the architecture – with the mirror/foxes/offering containers for water. Nice photo of the wasps on the porcelain foxes. Thanks for the story!

Jerry of San Francisco

— comment by Jerry of San Francisco on May 22nd, 2008 at 8:11am JST (9 years, 7 months ago) comment permalink
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