All cultures have rituals and festivals intended to ward off bad luck or purify the participants of any bad mojo they might be carrying around. At the end of June each year, the Tosa Shrine in Kochi City (Shikoku island) holds its annual Wanukesama Festival for exactly these purposes. What happens during this Shinto festival?
This was my second time to attend Wanukesama, and both times Kochi’s rainy season (late June to early July) provided the perfect atmosphere for the festival. Colourful umbrellas, all styles of yukata, and lights from food stalls added brightness and colour to the refreshingly rainy evening. The path from the front gate to the main temple was lined with paper lanterns that had been decorated by children at a local daycare centre. Waiting at the end of the path was Tosa Shrine, and in front of the shrine was a large ring of branches.
‘Wa’ (輪) means ring or wheel, ‘nuke’ (抜け) means to go through, and ‘sama’ (様) is a polite suffix for superiors, including gods. As you may have guessed, the Wanukesama festival involves going through a ring to ask the gods for a little help. Walking through the ring will get rid of any bad luck or negative energy you’ve accumulated during the first half of the year, thereby allowing you to live a healthy and happy life for the second half. The ring is three meters in diameter and made of cogon grass, also known as Japanese bloodgrass.
You can’t just walk straight through, there are specific steps you must follow if you want to successfully carry out this mid-year Shinto purification ritual.
Step One: Walk through the front of the ring and turn to the left.
Step Two: Walk through and turn to the right.
Step Three: Walk through and turn to the left, this time coming back to the front and walking straight through the centre.
If you want, you can then proceed to the shrine where you can ring a bell, toss a few coins into the box below, and say a prayer, or you can call it a day and explore the rest of the shrine and the festival.
In addition to walking through the ring, you can also write a wish on a slip of paper, and tie it to a shoot of bamboo, or buy a paper fortune to see what the future might have in store for you.
Later in the evening, there was a short taiko drumming performance by a trio dressed in oni (demon) masks that was also intended to ward off evil spirits and misfortune. The performers were more captivating and energetic than scary, but small children might still prefer to watch from a safe distance.
Wanukesama, like other summer festivals, is packed with food stalls selling a variety of sweets and snacks. From takoyaki (octopus balls) to karate (fried chicken) to taiyaki (Japanese style waffle cookie) and kakigori (shaved ice), there are plenty of traditional Japanese festival foods to try.
Summer in Kochi starts with Wanukesama in June and ends with Shinanesama in August. Once the summer’s only beginning, what better way to start a season packed with fireworks, taiyaki, watermelon, and trips to the beach than with a little cleansing?
You can click here for the shrine’s homepage (in Japanese only).