Ceremony for a New Japanese House

This past week I was invited to attend a ceremony commemorating the construction of a new house.  Houses are pretty important in Japan.  Traditionally, families tend to stay on the same land for generations.  With today’s technology, houses are also expected to last a long time.  The construction of a new house, then is an important occasion for the family, community, and even the construction crew responsible for its creation.  When the concrete settles, an event is held to make offerings to the kami to ask for the durability, safety, and security for the new home.  The events I observed took place in three parts.

Offerings to the Gods

Traditionally, only men are allowed to ascend to the top of the house to make offerings, and then usually only the three representatives from household, community, and the construction crew.  I was kindly invited up to take pictures and record the event.  The three men brought a large bento box (traditional lunch box) with foods normally served to the Japanese gods and ancestors (kami).  These are the same foods served at ohaka during New Years and obon.

Sticks of incense, a five yen coin, salt, and a bit of food were laid out by each of the three men, then sake was poured over them.  They drank just enough of the sake to ‘purify the mouth’ then prayed for the safety of the building.  Afterward they ate a bit of the food.

Offerings to the Community

Since a new house is so important, the family generally wants to give a large offering.  The food in the bento is a symbolic offering, so there are many left overs.  At some point over the years, a tradition grew up where local children would come and gather below a new house.  After the ceremony the food was packaged up and tossed down to the crowd, where the children would try to catch the food.  Today, in addition to the special offering food, they also prepare treats and snacks and include them in the offering to the community children.

After tossing all the food down, the men then gave a further offering of salt, sake, and prayer at each corner of the building.

More for the Community

Finally, with the ceremonies complete, the children, community members, the construction crew and more were invited to celebrate with the new homeowners.  The family provided food and drink for everyone to enjoy and celebrate together late into the evening.

Feeding so many people must have been expensive, but return in goodwill, closer community ties, and as a further offering to kami was well worth it.  At such large events a soup of some kind is a usual main course since it is the easiest way to feed a lot of people.  This time, they made yagijiru (goat soup).  Yagi is a common protein on small Okinawan islands since beef is so much more expensive.  While cooking the tough meat they added pressed sugar cane to the broth for a time  to help soften the meat.

In the end, thanks to the ceremony, the family should be able to look forward to many years of comfort in their new house, along with the good will and thanks of the community for the effort and expense they put into the offerings at the ceremony.