The shimenawa is an icon within the Japanese imagination. It is an instrument used within Shintoism that consists of a rice straw string that has zigzag strips of paper known as shide. It is used to mark the boundary between the spiritual and the earthly, and can be found in bows torii or around objects sacred like stones or trees.

They can also be found at the entrances of shrines, temples, or places of rites. There are several combinations of kanji to write this word, such as 一五三 (1, 5, 3);七五 三 (7, 5, 3); which are based on the number of strings used to interlace them, or 締 縄 and 標 縄, which are used to express that the string “restricts” or “marks” something.

When a shimenawa It is hung at the entrance of a shrine, the rope is usually hung with the thickest point on the right. In ancient times, the shimenawa it was used as a symbol of ownership or exclusive possession, and the character 標 was frequently inscribed, which means “trademark.” A shimenawa it can be as light as a feather or weigh more than a ton. He shimenawa The largest one hangs at the entrance to Izumo Taisha, Japan’s oldest shrine. It is located on the island of Honshu on the western coast, facing the Sea of ​​Japan.

In addition to being used for temples, it is also used in fighting sumo. Traditionally, the highest rank in sumo is called ozeki, and only the most skilled fighter was allowed to wear the yokozuna a special ornament that they wore on their uniform. This is because sumo has a historical connection to Shinto rituals. Even when the dohyo (sumo ring) lies unused, is surrounded with a shimenawa to indicate that it is a sacred place.


In addition to the historical explanation, there are some mythical explanations about its origin. The first has to do with the legend of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. After being humiliated by her brother Susanō, hides in a cavern and is tempted out by Uzume’s dance. Then the cavern is blocked with a rock and tied with a rope to prevent Amaterasu from returning.

Another story tells that Susanō ordered the townspeople to build a chinowa, a ring woven from rice stalks that are passed over a person’s body to purify it. In another story it is said that Susanō as a thank you to a man taught him how to weave a rope to purify himself and ward off disease.

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