Sat, Aug 15, 2020

From Nara: Pinning hopes on paper-shade lanterns at Kasuga Taisha grand shrine

SPECIAL FEATURE: Praying for an end to COVID-19 (Part II)

Wishes in four kanji characters such as eki byo tai san (plague back away) are written down in ink on paper shades for lanterns that will decorate the corridors of the main hall at Kasuga Taisha. (The Yomiuri Shimbun)

“There was a massive epidemic during the Nara period and a great many people lost their lives. We have been praying since. When the people of this country are in the midst of a crisis, we pray. That’s what shrines are for,” says Hirotada Kasannoin, 57, the chief priest at Kasuga Taisha.

The grand shrine in Nara performs about 2,200 Shinto rituals every year, with a large attendance or small. Every ritual since the end of January this year, has been about wishing in prayer for the plague to go away.

This year, the grand shrine had no choice but to hold the annual Chugen Mantoro lantern festival without the presence of worshippers. By tradition, the 3,000 or so lanterns on the premises would be lit up every year on Aug. 14-15 wishing for good health. However, this year, the shrine decided to light up only the 1,000 hanging lanterns in the corridors of the main hall, as well as a number of paper-shade lanterns bearing inscriptions in ink such as ekibyo taisan (plague back away). On Aug. 15, the shrine live streamed the festival for the first time this year.

“Our ancestors, too, had fought the plague and overcome hardships. Beyond that, there is a bright future. We hope the lanterns will help soothe your minds,” says the chief priest.

From the Aug. 14 evening edition of The Yomiuri Shimbun (Osaka)

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