Living With Kami: All About Konkokyo and Shinto

Discover all about Konkokyo and Shinto; and other spiritual practices in Japan! Learn what it's like to follow “Kami no Michi” – Way of the Kami – day to day. A blog dedicated to sharing information, teaching about practices and various ceremonies, and about daily living of primarily Konkokyo and Jinja Shinto, as well as Buddhism, Onmyoudou, Shugendo, and other spiritualities which originate from Japan.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Sacred Items Series: Kagura suzu

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

In Japanese spiritual practices, such as Shinto, Jinja Shinto, Konkokyo, Onmyoudou, and more - there are various sacred and ritual items used.
You may have seen photos of them, or if you are lucky, have been able to see them in person at a shrine, temple, or other place of worship.

Have you ever wondered what the meanings, or origins of them were? Or their purpose? Well, look no further! With these series of articles, I hope to help educate all about these sacred items.

So let’s get started! The first entry I will do is about Kagura suzu


 

 


 

Item name: Kagura Suzu
English translation: Deity Entertainment (Kagura) Bells (Suzu)
Japanese original: 神楽鈴  
 神楽(けぐら, Kagura, Deity-Entertainment)鈴  (すず, Suzu, Bells)

 


 

This is Kagura suzu. They are a special ritual tool. They are not used in home worship, or at the kamidana. Usually, they are being used by a priest during ceremony - especially shrines which enshrine Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, or most commonly, by miko (Original: 巫女 English: shrine maidens) during offering the Kagura ritual dance. Hence, why they are “Kagura bells”.

Kagura, Kagura suzu, and miko are all very deeply connected to Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, which is why as mentioned they are often used in ceremony at her shrines dedicated to her, or shrines that enshrine her as a secondary kami.

 

 

Taki Katei
Ame no Uzume
Japan (1866) 

Source

 


 

Origin of Kagura Suzu: The Myth 

For the spiritual origin of the bells, we have to go back to the myths. 
In the Kojiki, there is a myth that the sun kami/goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, hid in the cave Ama no Iwato and by doing so brought darkness to the world, after her brother Susanoo no Mikoto did many horrible things to her. The other kami were stuck as to what they should do. Eventually, a plan was hatched and Ame no Uzume no Mikoto was called to the task to cheer up all the other kami who were despairing from the incident.

So what did she do? Ame no Uzume no Mikoto overturned a washtub, got on top of it, then took a branch of the sakaki tree in one hand, and began to dance ecstatically, even famously revealing herself to the amusement of the other kami. With all the cheering and laughing, Amaterasu Omikami was too curious as to why they were celebrating without her. When she peeked, another deity of strength, Ame no Tajikarao, pulled her out from the cave, restoring light to the world. It was all thanks to Ame no Uzume no Mikoto’s cheerful dance and the happiness she brought.

 

 

Source

 


 

Key aspects: the branch and the dance

This dance Ame no Uzume no Mikoto did is the origin of the Kagura dance, as well as the role of miko,  the women who perform this offering dance at shrines to this day. It should be noted she is also the guardian deity of miko.

As well, her taking the branch in her hand during the dance is the original, ancient form of the bells, now used in Kagura.

It is said the reason why Ame no Uzume no Mikoto took a branch was influence from Jomon era rituals in Japan.

In the Early to Late Jomon era (4000 BCE to 300 BCE), the Jomon shamans were also said to use sakaki branches, or sometimes juniper branches (which are still used in some Shinto ceremonies to this day), in rituals to call to the deities. 

If we look at the shape of the Kagura suzu, it is modeled after a branch - the bells being the leaves, or seeds on the branch. 

 

 


But why change it to bells? Why not keep the branch?

Well, the sound a branch would make with it’s leaves, it becomes enhanced sound as bells. As well, in Shinto tradition, bells also have a long history as an item which calls to the kami - such as the bell one can ring to pray in front of a shrine before clapping.

 In this sense, the Kagura suzu  fulfill the role of the item it was originally based off of to call the kami, in an enhanced way, and as well becomes a ritual instrument for the kagura offering dance.

 

 

Source

 


 



Anatomy of Kagura Suzu


The basic shape and size of Kagura suzu is explained by the branch of sakaki or juniper, but how about the colors, and other aspects?

15 Bells: 3 at the top, 5 in the middle, 7 at the bottom

Every Kagura suzu has 15 bells, no matter it’s size. It always has 3 bells at the top, 5 in the middle, and 7 in the bottom. These numbers may seem familiar, if one knows about Shichigosan, or 7-5-3 ceremony for children. These numbers for Shichigosan, as well as Kagura suzu, come from influence of East Asian numerology, which states odd numbers, especially 3, 5, and 7, are very auspicious/lucky numbers.

 Gold was a precious material and color used for an important or beautiful item, and red for the handle is a color that brings good health, and wards off illnesses and other negative energy - giving the image of vibrancy and energy.

 

 

The crest: Hanabishi and Kiku

It may be hard to tell in the above photo, but at the base is various flower designs - most notably at the very center a Kiku (Chrysanthemum) and Hanabishi crest. 

In Japan, crests, emblems or “mon”  (紋) have been used to identify clan and families since the ancient era to this day. Both the Kiku crest (Chysanthemum), and  Hanabishi crest, are associated with the Imperial line, and thus, Amaterasu Omikami. The Kiku crest is relatively more modern (from the 13th century) and not always used for Amaterasu Omikami -  but the Hanabishi is more ancient, and deeply connected to her since then, and her shrines. 

The Hanabishi originated from Empress Jingu -  it was first present on her tatenashi armor (tatenashi means "shieldless". On a normal armor, there was a tiny shield to cover the heart and front shoulder, but her tatenashi armor didn't have it). The Hanabishi on her armor is the oldest example and origin of the crest, so it has been associated with the Imperial line, and subsequently, Amaterasu Omikami since then. 

If you are familiar with the Takeda clan most famously from the Sengoku period, they used the Hanabishi, and their famous diamond crest was based off of the Hanabishi as well. This is because the Tatenashi armor was passed down to the clan from Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (descendant of Emperor Seiwa), the progenitor of the Takeda clan. 

 

 

Left to right: Hanabishi, Takeda, Imperial Chrysanthemum (Kiku)

But - this begs the question: why is a crest so close to  Amaterasu Omikami on bells that are so tied to Ame no Uzume no Mikoto?

Usually, every shrine has their own crest, tied to the kami enshrined, or the family who established the shrine. However, in Jinja Shinto, all shrines are under the jurisdiction of The Association of Shinto Shrines (Jinja Honcho). 

They are required to offer Jingutaima (An Ofuda, or vessel in which the kami can alight during prayer, for Amaterasu Omikami) for a suggested donation, in which parishioners can recieve to worship Amaterasu Omikami at home. By this, all Jinja Shinto shrines are inherently connected to Amaterasu Omikami, and must pay the highest respects and reverence to her. 

Because of this connection, and because it would be difficult to custom order Kagura suzu with a specific shrine’s crest, all modern Kagura suzu have the two crests associated with Amaterasu Omikami, and her main shrine, Ise Jingu, so they can be usable across all Jinja Shinto shrines and ceremonies.

 

 

 

 


 

The Silk Ribbons: Purple, White, Red, Yellow, and Green

Attached to Kagura suzu, you will see a colourful stream following elegantly behind. Why is this attached - and what do these colours mean?

Always made from silk ( a precious material ), these are the Five Sacred Colours in Shinto. You will see these colours appear many times in sacred items in Shinto and other Japanese spiritual practices. They represent:

  • The Five Aspects of the Soul
  • The Five Directions

In other words, it symbolically represents that the power of these Kagura suzu touches all aspects of our soul, and resounds throughout the Universe.

But - which color and meaning is which?

Purple: North Direction. It corresponds to Aramitama, the rough or violent, aggressive aspect of our souls.

White: West Direction. It corresponds to the Nigimitama, the kind, gentle, goodness of our souls.

Red: South Direction. It corresponds to the Sachimitama, one of the two  aspects of the soul that gives blessings. (the other is Kushimitama)

Yellow: Solar Center (think of solar system). Origin of Life. It corresponds to the core, our soul in and of itself. 

Green: East Direction. It corresponds to Kushimitama,  one of the two aspects of the soul that gives blessings. (the other is Sachimitama)

 

 

 

 

 


 

And there you have it! I hope you have enjoyed reading and learning about Kagura suzu. Please look forward to more information about sacred items in the future! And if you have any questions, please feel free to email livingwithkami@gmail.com

Last modified on
Hello! I am Olivia. Nice to meet you. I am an ordained Konkokyo priestess since October 22nd, 2015. My hometown is Toronto, Ontario, Canada, but I'm currently working as an associate minister/priestess and miko at the Konkokyo Yokosuka Kyoukai in Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan. During my training, I went to various shrines and temples, and regions all around Japan, and I want to share all the spiritual knowledge I was able to learn with many others all around the world. I hope to help others as much as I can!

Comments

Additional information