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Shimenawa 注連縄 the Sacred Rope in Shintoism

fukai nihon shimenawa

The  Shimenawa 注連縄 is the Sacred Rope used in Shinto rites. You can often find it in temples, above the main entrances, or to outline a place or something sacred, such as large trees. Let's find out what it is and let's learn more about this important element of the Shinto religion.
In your travels or seeing photos from Japan, im sure you have notice often a braided rope that is always present in sacred places as shrine, lands, structures or trees.

Made up of hemp and / or rice straw strings, they can be of different sizes, This sacred rope are known for be of a few centimeters large, up to very large, even a few meters. They are still hand-worked by local communities, which are always trying to bring young people closer to this tradition for get it not lost.


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The origins of this particular element are not very clear, some refer to legends, such as the one that would see the first use of the shimenawa fall into myth. It is said that it was used to prevent that the goddess Amaterasu returning to the cave where she had hidden. Or another legend tells that the divinity of Izumo told to the people of the city to form a rope, intertwining it with rice straw, and spread it along the main road for prevent that the disease afflicted the people from advancing.

The "sacred rope" can take different forms, let's see which are the most used and important ones. The daikonshime 大 根 締 め (number 1 in the image below) where both ends become thinner; the koboushime ゴ ボ ウ 締 め (image number 2 below) where only one end of taper, and the wakazari 飾 り which as the name implies consists of a piece of rope knotted to form a circle. The latter is hardly used, the first two are the main ones you will find.




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The meaning of the rope may vary depending on where it is located or the use made of it, in any case it remains a powerful object in the Shinto religion. For example when you see it around a tree or a rock it means that it is a Yorishiro 依 り 代, an object that can attract spirits or Kami.


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The shimenawa is also used by sumo wrestlers. The highest grade that a sumo wrestler can reach is indicated by the word Yokozuna よ こ づ な 横 綱, and wears a shimenawa, because the Japanese believe that the same sumo wrestler is a living Yorishiro inhabited by a spirit.


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What is your experience? what do you think? I am sure that many have always wondered what those "ropes" were that we find wherever there is something sacred. It is interesting to go deep into a culture, get to know it better and understand what it is about, so that the next time you see them you will know why they are there. 


Traditions, Shimenawa, Mauro Piacentini

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