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Three Kyoto customs to ensure good health through the long hot summer

Time flies. Half the year has already gone by. Since ancient times people have obsessed with staying healthy.
In Kyoto, there are many traditional customs to maintain good health. Let's look at three early summer customs
that you can do to stay healthy all year round. We called them Minazuki, Chinowa and Chimaki.

Minazuki, an early summer Japanese sweet treat that looks like a brilliant gem

Minazuki is a steamed triangle-shaped cake made from rice flour, sugar and water with sweetened boiled fluffy red beans
are on top. A long time ago, aristocrats of the Imperial Court ate ice in June to get some relief brutal summer heat
and it is believed that local confectioners were inspired to make a sweet based on this custom.
The red beans on top represent a talisman against evil and the steamed cake looks like a nugget of ice.
To purge the body of unhealthy humours, people in Kyoto eat Minazuki at halfway point of the year and
then pray to protect their health for the rest of the year.

In June, I always look for Minazuki in store display windows.
It makes me feel cool and refreshed. It is a sweet that brings you the spirit of the season
and you can feel the beginning of summer.


Our family buys Minazuki from the confectionary shop called Kyokado-toshiyasu.
They are purveyors of sweets to a sect of famous grand tea master called Mushanokoji-senke.
They make a variety of sweets that are an integral part of the traditional tea ceremony.
The owner of the shop told us a story about the shop and how Minazuki is made.
Finely ground rice flour, kudzu or arrowroot and sugar is blended in exact proportions
according to a secret recipe to make the traditional sweet. They use finer rice flour of Joyoko flour
instead of normal rice flour to ensure softer and chewier texture.
Minazuki is supposed to be eaten on June 30 every year. The store only sells Minazuki from June 28 to the 30th.
Make sure to order the sweet beforehand and visit the shop to pick up your Minazuki.


Pass through a Chinowa, the gateway to good health
Another custom you enjoy in June to protect your health is the Chinowakuguri
in which you pass through a Chinowa, giant ring made of thatch built on the grounds of most Kyoto shrines.
The visitors must walk through a giant thatched ring in a ritual figure eight pattern to guarantee the sacred protection
for the health. The ritual gateway is fashioned from holly rope used at a shrine.


Jonangu Shrine, located in south Kyoto is over 1,200 years old and it is dedicated to the god
who protect travelers along the road. The shrine sets up a giant Chinowa ring, 5 meter in diameter,
in the precincts of the shrine in early July. After the priest performs a purification ritual,
pilgrims can then drive their cars, trucks or buses through the ring while they pray to ensure their safety on the road.
Visit the shrine if you have a chance to come to Kyoto by car.


The origin of Chimaki
The third custom we look at is Chimaki. Chimaki is a long and thin rice cake wrapped with a bamboo leaf
which we usually eat on Children's day in May. However, if you talk about Chimaki in summer in Kyoto,
it is an amulet offering good health and protecting the bearer against evil.
You can get "Kyoto" Chimaki at the Gion festival, one of the Kyoto's three biggest festivals and
it looks almost the same as the rice cake Chimaki but you don't eat it.

The origin of Chinoawa, straw ring and Kyoto Chimaki come from the same myth.
One of the deities of Kyoto's Yasaka Shrine in human form was looking for a place to stay during a trip
and a person named "Somin Shorai" welcomed the god and gave him an accommodation.
The god gave him a small straw ring talisman as a token of his appreciation and told Shorai to wear it
to protect his family and their descendants.
The name "Chimaki" comes from the sound "Chi" which can mean straw and "maki" or wind.
These two words were combined and we call the amulet "Chimaki".


A lot of people in Kyoto consider themselves descendants of Somin Shorai,
so they hang Chimaki on the front door of their houses to ensure good health and ward off bad luck.
At the big summer festival, Gion festival, there are more than 30 festival sacred carts assembles on the streets
and they parade through the center of the city.
Almost all the carts have their own Chimaki and people and companies in the area have matching Chimaki and
the custom is passed down generation to generation.
Chimaki on our front doors connect us to the sacred cart which represent our district.

You can find beautiful Chimaki while you walk around the city.
They are hung on the front doors of residences and businesses not only during the festival period, but all year round.

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