Recently, thanks in part to Netflix, Marie Kondo, whose name in Japanese is Akie Kondo (近藤 麻理恵), has been making waves across the Western world with her patient and practical way of tidying up. What few understand is that many of her practices are based in Shinto (a native Japanese folk religion) and Feng Shui (a practice from Chinese Taoism).
There are two things you need to understand about Shinto and Feng Shui before we continue.
Feng Shui (風水) is a form of Geomancy. Geomancy is the practice of using the energy of the Earth to guide you. A powerful Geomancer will often work to find ley lines, underground water sources, and are said to even be able to locate mineral deposits. By looking for the energy of a place one can decide where best to place items in the home so as not to block this energy.
The actual term she uses is tokimeku (ときめく) and is often translated as “spark” but really means ‘heart beat’ and those of you who are anime/manga fans most often see this term used a ‘doki’ as in doki-doki (ドキドキ) meaning a ‘fluttering heart’. I won’t explain here how Japanese grammar changes the ‘t’ to ‘d’ (and vice versa) based on sentence structure, I could but it would bore you to death and isn’t relevant at this time.
Blocking the natural energy of the Earth can have devastating effects on the energy of the home which in turn effects the energy of the people and the items living within it. Unlike Japan and many European counties, most Western homes come with their major appliances and times such as shelves, light fixtures, and even build in wardrobes already fixed into place without a thought as to the Feng Shui of the location. They cannot be moved to accommodate more energy flow so we often have to make best by simply moving some furniture around making sure we open the windows now and then.
In Japan and Europe most homes come bare – there are no appliances or shelves or wardrobes fixated and you can move them about rather freely or they have a hand in the building of the home and can choose where items would best fit in with the Feng Shui, many homes and buildings are not built without a Shinto or Buddhist Priest nearby to consult with the local spirits and to divine the direction of energy for good Feng Shui.
Shinto (神道) is the native folk religion of Japan and many of its beliefs are reflected throughout all of Japanese culture. One of these is the practice of thanking items before they are thrown away. Marie Kondo demonstrates this by having people hold the item, consider whether they truly need the item, and then thanking it for its service before gently setting it aside. This practice is based on the belief that every item has energy and has the capability of becoming sentient and having its feelings hurt.
Household Tool Yōkai
Tsukumogami (付喪神)are the spirits of the items thrown away without thanks. They often originate with items that people use on a daily basis. They are so common that we often forget just how much we use them and how difficult life would be if we didn’t have them. Items such as shoes, chairs, hats, and the infamous umbrella monster, Kasa-obake (傘おばけ). Umbrellas in Japan are very important especially during the monsoon season. Umbrellas are often a source of romance in Japanese media with young couples sharing their umbrella to keep dry. Many memories become attached to these items only to be discarded easily when they become torn or broken and, without a proper, thank you and good-bye, the gathered energy brings them to life as Tsukumogami.
There is a special house-cleaning ritual called Susu-harai ( 煤払い). ‘Susu’ was the sound a broom made as it was swept against the roof beams to remove soot and dust. The ritual involves cleaning and purifying the house along with removing items that are no longer needed and thanking them for their service before disposing of them all together. Susu-harai is done around the end of December in preparation for the spring. This ritual is especially important to Shinto shrines. You can learn more about Shinto practices in the book by John Nelson, A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine. https://amzn.to/2EPfm6h
If an item is not properly thanked and disposed of there is the chance that it will become a particularly annoying and mischievous type of spirit or yōkai (妖怪) who will then haunt its previous owner, the home, or even the area around the home. It doesn’t cause any real harm so much as it becomes nuisance. However, there are exceptions to everything.
Kasa-obake (傘おばけ) – I’ve already introduced this little yōkai but wanted to share an image. This is the yōkai you often see in comedies or children’s anime because it is quite funny to look at. It is often depicted as hoping around on one leg, slobbering all over everything because the holes in its cape no longer keep the rain from coming through.
Mokumokuren (目目連) – The haunted sliding door. If you mistreat your sliding rice-paper doors, allowing it to tear or not repairing the wood as needed, it might develop a personality of its own. This will include slamming shut when you are trying to walk through, sliding open when the air is too cold or too hot, and growing multiple eyes that will then stare at you when you are trying to relax. If you ever feel as though your walls are watching you, perhaps they are.
Kameosa (瓶長) – This yōkai comes from and old Sake jar, however it actually isn’t malicious at all unless you are a person that enjoys indulging in alcohol a bit much. This haunted jar provides an unlimited supply of Sake and will occasionally sprout legs and arms and dance around happily.
To learn more about Shinto please visit my friend, Olivia Bernkastel, on her website. She is an Associate Priestess of Konkokyo Shinto (金光教) and is originally from Canada but now lives and serves as a Priestess in Japan. http://www.livingwithkami.com/