Doyō no Ushi no Hi Prayer Meeting｜土用の丑祈祷会
The midsummer Day of the Ox, Doyō no Ushi no Hi, is a day when many Japanese people choose to eat eel, based on a tradition that started in the Edo period. But summer tradition isn’t all about eel, you know! On this day, Sanbō-ji temple in northwestern Kyoto also holds a series of rituals said to bring participants good health, prosperous business, and the ability to beat the Kyoto heat!
When you arrive at the temple, you’ll be shown to a reception area where you can select which of the three available rituals you would like to participate in. Sanbō-ji offers a cucumber sealing ritual, a ceramic moxibustion prayer, and the “hydrangea service”, a Buddhist ceremony designed to bring prosperity to a business. Once you’ve selected the rituals and filled out the appropriate forms, you’ll make your offering and be shown into the temple’s main hall for a seat with whatever items you need in hand. From 9:00 to 12:00 services are performed every thirty minutes, so when it’s time you’ll be seated in front of one of the temple alters, where the rituals will be conducted one after the other.
First up is the cucumber sealing service (kyūri fūji), meant to protect participants from bad luck and the sorts of illness that crop up in the hot summer season. In order to mark the cucumber as your own, you’ll need to fill out a piece of paper with your age, your gender, and your name. Be careful with the age portion of the form, as it requires your kazoedoshi, a way of counting age where babies are thought to be one year old at birth and a year is then added each New Year. If your birthday has come already this year, add one to your age, and if it has not yet come add two! (For example, if your birthday is in November and you are 29 years old, you’ll need to write 31 as your age on the form.) Keep your labeled cucumber with you when you sit in front of the altar, and during the service a monk will visit your seat and transfer your bad luck to a small piece of paper, which they will then seal into the cucumber. If you have access to a plot of land you can take the cucumber home and bury it, but most people offer the cucumber up to the temple to take care of.
The event that attracts most people is the ceramic moxhibustion prayer (hōroku kyūkitō). Said to bless participants with protection against headaches, palsy, and heat stroke, this ritual involves having a hōroku (a ceramic parching pan) placed on one’s head. This hōroku has a protective incantation written on it, and three piles of mogusa (moxi, dried mugwort) are placed on top. Once the moxi is lit, the monks chant sutras and “cut” any ties to malign spirits using the “nine syllables mantra” (kuji in), as smoke curls heavy in the air.
Business owners or salespeople might also be interested in the “hydrangea service” (ajisai kitō), a Buddhist ritual said to invite financial prosperity. If this sounds attractive, fill out the form before the ritual, and you will be given two hydrangea flowers to be passed to the monks in the hall. A blessing will be performed on the hydrangea during the service, and when the flowers are returned to you, they will come with a crimson charm. Tie the charm to one of the flowers and hang it in your place of business or the entrance to your home. It is said that just how the leaves of the hydrangea never fall even as time passes, so will your luck never fail!
After the services are all complete, don’t forget to stop by the temple’s guest hall on the way out. Fresh and delicious treats called kurogoma ohagi are prepared for this day, and the black sesame-coated sweet rice balls are a refreshing snack on this Midsummer Day.
Things to See/Do
Day of the Ox in July
Saturday, July 27th, 2019
Cucumber Sealing Ritual (Kyūri Fūji): ¥1,000
Hydrangea Service for Prosperous Business (Ajisai Kitō): ¥2,000
Ceramic Moxibustion Prayer (Hōroku Kyūkitō): ¥2,000