Susuharai “Soot Sweeping” Ritual and Hanging of the Shimenawa at Matsumoto Castle

Culture / Culture Art / Events
Fri, Dec 29, 2017
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Susuharai

Yesterday, Matsumoto Castle held its annual end-of-the-year Susuharai event, a ritual performed in order to purify the castle of the year’s worth of dirt and soot and prepare it for the New Year. This custom originates from a religious ritual that dates back hundreds of years in which people cleaned their houses to welcome in the god of the New Year.

The susuharai team posing with their brooms in front of Taikomon Gate
The susuharai team posing with their brooms in front of Taikomon Gate

Starting in the morning, several workers dressed in bright orange coveralls take 4-meter long (12 feet!) bamboo broom in hand and sweep off the walls of the Taikomon Gate, Kuromon Gate, and the lower part of the castle tower. At some points, they even climb partially up the stone foundation of the tower in order to reach a few more meters up (I couldn’t get photos of this but you can see a couple photos on the Matsumoto Castle website here by scrolling down to the Susuharai event).

The super long susuharai brooms
The super long susuharai brooms

There are also other workers who actually go out on the castle’s roof and wipe the roof tiles. Lets hope that no one falls in the moat…

Workers wiping off the roof tiles of the castle tower
Workers wiping off the roof tiles of the castle tower

Besides sprucing up the castle, a sacred interwoven, straw rope called a shimenawa is also hung across each of the gates and the main entrance to the castle tower. The shimenawa represents the barrier between our world and the world of the gods, and the rope prevents any evil from entering. These are same kind of ropes that you’ll find year-round at Shinto shrines, but around New Year’s shimenawa are also hung up at homes and businesses.

The shimenawa across the castle tower entrance
The shimenawa across the castle tower entrance

The shimenawa hung up at Matsumoto Castle are huge—several meters in length and I imagine quite heavy. I watched them hang one of the ropes across the Taikomon Gate and it took five or six people to complete the task.

Preparing to lift the shimenawa up to hang
Preparing to lift the shimenawa up to hang
Success!
Success!

If you missed Susuharai this year, the event happen on the same date, December 28, every year at Matsumoto Castle!

Matsumoto Castle's main gate adorned with a shimenawa and kadomatsu
Matsumoto Castle’s main gate adorned with a shimenawa and kadomatsu
A sparkling Matsumoto Castle all ready for the New Year ;)
A sparkling Matsumoto Castle all ready for the New Year 😉