Cucumber blessingsPosted: July 23, 2013
On July 21-22 at the Kyoto temples of Rengeji and Zenkōji a special ritual called Kyūri-Fūji, literally “cucumber-containment,” is performed in order to prevent summer illnesses. It is said that the cucumber looks like the human form and is thus symbolic of the body, so by transferring your illness into the body of the cucumber, you will be healed. On a special offering paper you write your name, age and the name of the illness, which is then wrapped around the cucumber and offered on the fire altar. After the cucumber has been passed through the sacred flames, you take it home with you and every morning and evening for three days you rub the cucumber on the part of your body that is affected by illness. On the morning of the fourth day, the cucumber is buried in sanctified earth.
There is also a saying in Kyoto that says, “You shouldn’t eat cucumbers in July.” This saying is related to the Gion Matsuri, which centres around the famous Shinto shrine, Yasaka Jinja. The coat-of-arms for Yasaka Jinja is shaped like the cross-section of a cucumber; therefore, for the duration of the festival as a sign of respect, cucumbers are not supposed to be eaten. This custom is particularly observed by geisha because the deities of the Yasaka Jinja are their patron deities.
In other parts of Japan, the Kyūri-Fūji ceremony is accompanied by ritual moxibustion because the Japanese word for moxa is “kyū” which is the start of the word for cucumber, kyūri; moxa is burned in this way in many places around Japan at the height of summer as a protection for good health. The dish, made of plain unglazed earthenware, is called hōraku and is often placed on the graves of ancestors during Obon with a little fire in it to welcome back the spirits of the dead.