Priests fear traditional custom could lead to infection, provide modern alternative.

When stepping onto the grounds of a Shinto shrine in Japan, one of the first things you’ll notice is a small pavilion called a chozuya, which has a fountain or basin of water at its center. Before going to offer prayers, you’re supposed to stop by the chozuya and use a ladle to rinse your hands and the inside of your mouth. The practice has its roots in traditional Shinto beliefs about the spiritually purifying effects of water, and has been part of Japanese culture for centuries.

However, the current coronavirus outbreak is affecting just about every aspect of life in Japan these days, and at one shrine in west Tokyo, that goes for how the chozuya is being used as well. When Japanese Twitter user @okada37084639 recently stopped by Tamamitsu Shrine and headed for the chozuya, it looked very different from how it ordinarily does.

The fountain of water, which at Tamamitsu usually comes streaming from the dragon statue’s mouth, has been shut off, the ladles removed, and a covering placed over the basin. There’s also a bottle and a sign, which reads:

“To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, we are performing purification of visitors’ hands with this antiseptic solution.”

Because every visitor to a shrine is supposed to rinse their hands when entering the grounds, once you’re done using the ladle you put it back at the edge of the basin for the next visitor to use. The ladles aren’t washed after each and every use, though, and in the current health climate the administrators of Tamamitsu Shrine are worried about the ladles’ handles being a vector for the spread of infection. Rather than leave pious or tradition-conscious visitors with no alternative, though, they’ve instead provided an alternate in the form of hand sanitizer.

While it’s a break with how things are customarily done, online commenters have been impressed with Tamamitsu’s initiative, with reactions such as:

“I really like their attitude about this.”
“This feels like an idea off the traditional idea that sake can also be a spiritual purifier.”
“Wonderful! Religion should always be this open-minded.”
“I think even the gods are smiling about this.”
“I bet a lot of other shrines are going to start doing the same thing.”
“I wish the sanitizer was streaming out of the dragon’s mouth.”

The only downside is that since the sanitizer is for external use only, obviously visitors can’t use it to rinse out their mouths, In practice, though, most modern Japanese shrine visitors skip the mouth-rinsing and only rinse their hands at the chozuya, and so Tamamitsu’s modern reimagining of the custom is still a very clever solution.

Oh, and while the chozuya is typically only used when entering the shrine, if you’re visiting a shrine with sanitizer you might want to stop by again on the way out, especially if you shake the cord to ring the bell when making an offering, draw your omikuji fortune from a box, or touch any other high hand-traffic item while you’re there.

Source: Twitter/@okada37084639 via Livedoor News/J Town Net via Otakomu
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso 
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