If you visited Shinto shrines during summer or winter, you probably noticed these large straw circles, about 2 meters diameter, placed like in this photo from the Ohtori Shrine, Asakusa, Tokyo. This is an old Shinto tradition, with roots in a very old Japanese legend:
Somin Shōrai was a good man who once hosted for a night, in his house, the Kami (Shinto god) of the sea and storms, Susanoo-no-Mikoto. As a reward, Kami taught him how to protect his family against an epidemic that was affecting the village: by wearing around the waist a ring made of reeds.
This ritual takes place twice a year, on the last days of the sixth month of the lunar calendar (which is in June or July) and of the twelfth month (in December). Large rings made of reeds called chinowa, decorated with shide, are installed in front of the shrines, and the passing through chinowa signifies purification and protection against misfortune.
Yesterday’s Japan Photo: