In Hawaii, when land is developed or a new home or other building erected, a blessing is held. For public buildings and businesses, in order to cover all the religious bases in Hawaii, there are often multiple blessings at one ceremony. A Hawaiian priest will chant a prayer and sprinkle water using a ti leaf. A Christian minister will offer prayers too (often the Christian minister is also the Hawaiian priest), and a Buddhist minister will say a few words as well. The last not asking for a blessing in the future, so much as acknowledging the blessings we already have already received and asking those present to be mindful and grateful in the future.
I had a friend and fellow real estate broker on Maui, Cliff, who went flying with me once, along with a mutual architect friend, to photograph some property in Kona, on the Island of Hawaii. Kona is an hour's flight by light plane over water from Maui. Although Cliff is of Japanese heritage, he has Hawaiian ways, and I will never forget my surprise when he showed up at the airport with a calabash (wooden bowl) full of water, and some ti leaves, and proceeded to "bless" the wings of my airplane with water for a safe flight! Well, perhaps appropriate, as I had named the plane "Manu Mele", Hawaiian for "song bird". Whether it was due to the efforts of my excellent mechanic and my own piloting skill, or Cliff's blessing and the Hawaiian gods, the flight was uneventful. It made Cliff feel more comfortable in any case and it is worth a lot to a pilot to have his/her passengers at ease.
In Japan, when a house is to be built, a Shinto priest is called to perform a ceremony. Such was the case just a couple of days ago, right across the street from our house. I had gone outside for something or other, and noticed a priest on the lot across from us setting up a kind of alter. The owners of the lot, some of their family members, and their builder were there as well. It was interesting timing, as just the other day, having passed Buddhist priest on our street where new homes were under construction, I had asked K if it was customary to bless a new house here, and she had explained a bit of the tradition.
Over the 14 months I've been in Japan, the people who own that lot have brought in fill dirt (sand really), built a low retaining wall, and planted the perimeter with some trees. We have been expecting a home to built soon and apparently that time has come.
Unsure of the protocol, rather than ask directly myself if I could take a picture and risk getting off on the wrong foot with a new neighbor, I came back in the house and asked K to seek permission for me. She wasn't sure either, but permission was cheerfully granted.
Not wanting to intrude, we stayed on the street and I just took a few pictures.
The Shinto ritual for this is a request for permission from the kami (gods) to build a house on their land, purify it, and protect the future inhabitants from disasters.
Let me say at the outset that this post only represents my own limited understanding of what took place and I don't guarantee that my interpretation of the meaning is entirely accurate.
Under the watchful eyes of Momo, looking on from our driveway, the priest set up four bamboo poles in a square at the center of the lot. A portable shrine, or alter, was set within this square, upon which offerings of rice cake, sake, and fruit were placed. A mound of soil was made to one side. A twine, or rope, called shimenawa, was strung between the bamboo poles at about eye level. Shimenawa is used to designate the presence of spirits - "kami". This was adorned with folded pieces of white paper called gohei, which are representative of an ancient Shinto myth. In the myth, the sun goddess got mad one day and shut herself up in a cave, plunging the world into darkness. Lesser gods convinced the goddess of mirth, Uzume, to do a dance and showed tree branches covered in jewels and silk. The sun goddess could not resist the sight of this and light was restored. I assume from that myth that the gohei papers are to attract the attention of the kami, so they will come to enjoy the sake and rice cake and grant the requests.
The priest went to one corner of the lot and put a bamboo stake in the ground. This was also adorned with gohei. Gohei were placed at various intervals around where the house was to be built.
Returning to the shrine, the priest then chanted a "prayer", clapping his hands twice (to alert the kami that he was there) and bowing deeply at times as he chanted. Having taken my photos, I retreated to our house, but the chanting and activities went on through the afternoon.
When I went out again to have a look in the late afternoon, there were several more bamboo stakes in the ground with shimenawa strung between them, and a bamboo stake had also been pounded into the small mound of earth.
Bamboo grows quickly and straight, so it has come to represent vitality. It was also used to make bows and arrows with which "evil" could be fought, so is thought to have holy properties.
While the robes of Shinto priests are similar to many of those worn by Buddhist priests in Japan, I've always admired their "cool" looking hats and shoes. Sorry if they don't show up well in this post. Perhaps another time I'll post a better photo of a Shinto priest.
I don't know how long or how often I will be living in Japan, so it was a treat for me to have a close up look at this tradition.