A Ceremony to Send Insects Off --"Mushi Okuri"

Stories related to candles, fire, lights and darkness

"Mushi Okuri" (literally, "sending insects off") is a traditional ceremony to expel insects and pray for the year's bumper crops. It is an old tradition, but still observed in some places across Japan in early summer. In this issue, we would like to introduce the ceremony that has been practiced for about 300 years in the Hitoyama area of Tonosho-cho, Shodo-shima, Setonaikai, or the Inland Sea.

The ceremony is held on the eleventh day from the summer solstice (called "han-gesho" in Japanese), right after the rice planting work is finished.

At dusk, adults and children in the area participate in a 1.5-kilometer torchlight procession that starts at the local shrine "Rikyu-Hachiman" and ends at the Horai Bridge. The procession moves slowly through footpaths between rice fields. The torchlight in the rice fields makes a beautiful atmosphere.

On July 2, 2009, about 150 residents joined the ceremony.

It started with making a special fire for the torches. At Tammonji Temple, one of the 88 temples in Shodo-shima, a candle was lit with a solar lens. The candle was carried into the hall of the temple where people said a prayer for the bumper crops. Then a service was held for the insects to be expelled.

After the service, the torchlight procession started. People were given fire for their handmade torches called "hote" (literally, "fire hand"), and headed to the rice paddy fields.

Keiho Fujimoto, chief priest of the Tamonji Temple, said, "In the past, the ceremony was to get rid of insects, but nowadays it is not. It is a traditional ceremony mainly for children. Elderly residents in the area teach children how to make torches. Local people also enjoy participating in the procession."

In the past, the procession was relayed to the next villages, pushing the insects out to the sea. Currently, however, the ceremony is observed only in the Hitoyama area. The procession ends at the Horai Bridge of the Dempo River, which runs into the Inland Sea. The torches are placed in the river and the ceremony ends.

Pests cause serious problems for farmers. The ceremony, which is not only held to expel insects, but also to hold a service for them, reminds us that people live with the nature --insects are a part of nature.

There are other traditional ceremonies and events held around the area. For example, at Rikyu-Hachiman Shrine, village "kabuki" performances are held every May. Neighborhoods around the shrine take turns organizing the kabuki stage. When the farmers organize a kabuki performance, it is great local entertainment.

On the islands of the Inland Sea, a large art festival is planned from July to October 2010. Mushi Okuri and village kabuki will be over by then, but if you have a chance to visit the area, please go and enjoy it.


(Yuko Kishikami)

October 17, 2009