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Views Insider’s Guide to Shintō Shrines
“Shimenawa”: The Sacred Rope

Toya Manabu [Profile]


The rope tied around a shrine space, or across its entrance, to mark its sacred nature is called the shimenawa. Traditionally woven from hemp, but nowadays more frequently rice or wheat straw, this rope and its shide paper streamers is a common part of New Year decorations as well.

The shimenawa is a special rope tied around or across an object or space to denote its sanctity or purity. Tassels usually hang from the rope at intervals. Suspended streamers known as shide, made from washi (Japanese paper) and folded into zigzag shapes, are another common feature of shimenawa. Shimenawa that are suspended across a space are usually thicker in the center and taper toward the ends, while those tied around a sacred object are generally of a consistent thickness. A shimenawa invariably hangs beneath the eaves of the haiden, and one is frequently affixed to the torii as well, making it one of the first things one sees when visiting a shrine. Shimenawa also encircle sacred trees (shinboku). In Japanese homes, one often sees a shimenawa in front of the household shrine, and it forms the base of the shimekazari, a New Year decoration hung above the front door to welcome the kami of the new year into one’s home.

Traditionally, shimenawa were woven from hemp, but legal restrictions on the cultivation of that plant have led to shortages, and rice straw and wheat straw are more common nowadays.

Izumo Taisha Shrine, Izumo, Shimane Prefecture

Kumano Taisha Shrine, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture

(Banner photo: Shimenawa at Izumo Taisha Shrine in Shimane Prefecture)

▼Further reading
Your Virtual Guide to the Shintō Shrine (Series Top) Izumo Taisha Shrine: The Ancient Meeting Place of the Gods (Photos) Foreign Tourists Flock to the Gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine
Japan’s Religious Ambivalence: The Shaping and Dismantling of a National Polity The Japanese World View: Three Keys to Understanding Kami: The Evolution of Japan’s Native Gods
  • [2016.07.12]

Writer and Shintō priest. Born in Saitama Prefecture. Graduated from the Department of Shintō Studies at Kokugakuin University. Author of Shintō nyūmon (Introduction to Shintō), Fuji-san, 2200-nen no himitsu (Mount Fuji’s 2,200-year Secrets), and other works.

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Other articles in this report
  • Shintō’s Sacred Forests and Japanese EnvironmentalismToya Manabu explores the historical and spiritual connections between Shintō shrines, the sacred forests that surround them, and environmentalism in Japan.
  • Nature Worship in Old ShintōBefore Shintō came to be practiced in constructed shrines, it was centered on the direct worship of nature itself. Toya Manabu surveys the various objects of worship that formed the original focus of Shintō belief.
  • “Shōzoku”: The Shintō VestmentsThe clothing worn by priests and priestesses at Shintō shrines is unlike anything you will see elsewhere in Japan. Here we describe the styles of traditional vestments that are part of the Shintō experience.
  • “Shamusho”: The Shrine OfficeWhen not engaging in religious rites, priests and shrine personnel may rest in the shamusho, or shrine office. Here visitors can also obtain talismans to protect their homes and selves with the blessing of the shrine’s kami.
  • “Shintai, Shinboku”: The Divine Object or TreeAt the heart of the shrine, never viewed by visitors, is the shintai, the “divine body” of the kami. At some shrines this is an object, like a jewel or sword; at others, it is a natural feature like a mountain or shinboku, a divine tree.

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