Every year in June and July, shrines around Japan perform an ancient purification rite called Nagoshi no Harae or Chinowa-kuguri. This is originally one of two Shinto rituals referred to as ōharae (“great purification”) held every six months (once in June and once in December) to ward off bad luck and pray for health.
The ritual would not be complete without a large chinowa ring made from chigaya (cogon grass) that visitors must pass through three times to ward off bad luck. The practice of chinowa-kuguri can be traced back to the story of Somin Shorai from The Chronicles of Japan. Despite being poor, Somin Shorai opened up his home to a traveler who was looking for a place to spend the night. This traveler was actually the god Susanoo-no-Mikoto, and he taught Somin Shorai how to make a chinowa. By wearing this lucky charm, he was later able to escape a plague that swept through his village.
At Fukuoka’s famous Hakozaki Shrine, the ōharae is held on June 30 followed by Nagoshi no Harae on the last weekend of July. These rituals are also held at other local shrines including Sumiyoshi Shrine, Atago Shrine, and Torikai Hachimangu. These summer rituals are not associated with a specific shrine, so many shrines perform them. If you happen across a chinowa at your local shrine, be sure to pass through it for good luck.
In Kyoto, the long-standing tradition is to eat a Japanese sweet called minazuki on the day of Nagoshi no Harae to ward off back luck. Drawing on this, some confectioners in Fukuoka offer minazuki for a limited time in the summer. The basic rule is that minazuki must be made from red beans and bracken flour and wrapped in bamboo leaves, but there are many variations on the theme. When minazuki is “in season,” it is fun to try each shop’s unique twist on this traditional sweet.