Monday, 11 May 2015

Homeward Bound (Part 1)

I apologize for the length of time between posts. These last few weeks have been busy to say the least. School is getting back into full swing with the beginning of the new school year and I am getting ready to move into my new home in Kikuyo Town. This will mark another major life experience and a new stage of growth in my life here in Japan.

I never thought that I would be a land owner in a foreign country when I started this journey, but here I am with 116 坪 Tsubo (383.5 square meters or 458.6 square yards) in Japan. I know that this may seem a little off topic for this blog, but I would like to share with you the stages of building and try to explain some of the interesting customs involved with building a house in Kumamoto, Japan. We will make our move into our new home in June and therefore, I titled this post "Homeward Bound."
(The Land as it looked at the beginning of building, 2014)

The process of building a house turned out to be a very long one which began with trying to find land. The photo above is the land we decided on. It is located about 20 to 30 minutes from down town with great access in an area that is really building up and developing now. There is a train station about a 10 minute walk, with elementary and junior high schools within walking distance as well and very close to the airport.
I know this is not a very large property by North American standards, but by Japanese standards it is about 2 properties worth of land. I will not bore you by writing about all of the paper work and the countless stamping of 印鑑 Inkan that has been involved. I will start by introducing the first of three ceremonies that has taken place since building began.

地鎮祭 Ji Chin Sai

On Jan. 17th there was a special ceremony to bless and protect the land and building. This ceremony is called 地鎮祭 Ji Chin Sai. (the alter can be seen in the photo to the right) This is a 神道 Shinto ceremony where the Shinto Priest says a series of prayers to ward off evil energy and calm the 神 Kami of the land and surrounding area. If we look at the characters of Ji Chin Sai separately we can get a better understanding of what they mean when grouped together and therein attain a better understanding of what the ceremony entails. 地 Chi or Ji literally means the ground or the land. 鎮 Chin as used in 鎮圧する Chin-atsu suru means to subdue or in the case of 鎮火 Chin-ka means to bring under control. 祭 Sai or Matsu-ri in this case is translated as Ceremony, but is more commonly used to represent a festival or celebration.
Salt is also scattered at the four corners of the property to purify and protect it (Pictured Below). "In ancient Japan, salt was considered an important commodity, because of the laborious and time-consuming process it took to make. The Japanese integrated the use of salt in their rituals, traditions and customs which are still practiced today. Often used as an offering to the gods, it is a symbol of holiness, purification, and to keep bad luck away" (Hones, 2012). 
 During the ceremony, we also make offerings of 榊 Sakaki branches. These are the branches that are displayed on the 神棚 Kamidana, Ceremonial Alter usually found on the 正面 Shoumen, Front wall of traditional dojo (for more information on these please take a look at the Traditional Karate-do Dojo Layout Part 1 and Part 2 as well as お正月 in 熊本 which have been posted previously) and split a ceremonial mound of soil (Pictured Below, Left). After the ceremony is concluded, the new landowners are offered food including fish, vegetables, and fruit which the Priest brings from the Shrine. There is only one condition; the fish cannot be fried. It must be eaten as sashimi, sushi, or boiled in a soup. You can see these offerings in the photo at the top of this page.
According to the Yamasa organization, the Jichinsai ceremony is a ritual intended to calm the 神 kami, god of the earth whenever a new building or other construction begins. It was/is believed that without going through the protocol of requesting permission from the earth kami, any building constructed would anger the kami and lead to its destruction. Another purpose is to pray that the actual construction proceeds without any incidents.  © 
The day was cold and the winds were strong that day, but the ceremony was completed without incident. The next ceremony that I will share with you in the next post will be the 棟上げ Mune-age, a roof raising ceremony.

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