Imi (忌み)

What is imi (忌み or 斎み) ?

To purify ourselves, avoid impurities, and be discreet to deities. Purification.

(By extension) something that is taboo. Taboo. Restraint.

After the Heian period, its examples are contained in the meaning of 2. in most cases.

It is basically to dislike and eliminate the muck (impurity) that has a harmful effect on the living space.

Natural disasters such as typhoon, heavy rain, drought, or earthquake were also considered unclean impure, and were purified and cleared up through a lustral ceremony such as a ground-breaking ceremony.

Imi in Shinto rituals. Fire called imibi is built inside Shrines during Shinto rituals. It is because the nature of fire, 'burning off others' which threatens the world of deities and living space of human beings, is 'impurity', just like general concept of 'uncleanliness' or 'filth'. Therefore fire is called so when it is used this way. Also since fire was considered to carry the muck, measures to use separate ovens were taken. According to Kojiki (The Record of Ancient Matters), Izanami was burned her private part for giving a birth to Kami of fire (Honokagutsuchinokami). She died from this, and went down to yominokuni (realm of the dead).

Used in the words, 'Close fire is also dreadful ', or 'A match may cause a fire' at the present days, fire has been recognized as a dangerous thing. Imibi is sometimes identified with the Olympic torch, but there is no culture to worship flames in Shinto. Originally the 'fire' in Shinto is a muck. Therefore deities preventing it such as Hibuse no kami (god of fire prevention) and Hibuse no mikoto were worshipped. There is also an expression, chinka (to extinguish fire).

There are exceptions, but generally death in Shinto is 'imi' as an impurity (kurofujo, or black impurity). It is believed that deities hate it. Therefore people don't take deceased person's bodies and hold funerals inside shrines or on their premises. They cover household Shinto altar with hanshi (standard-size Japanese writing paper) so it won't reach the deities' eyes. Death (kurofujo, or black impurity), menstrual blood (akafujo, or red impurity), and childbirth (shirofujo, or white impurity) had been considered to be impurities hated by deities and had been avoided. This value was widely changed by the modernization and policy of increasing wealth and military power by Meiji Government.

Being killed in war was shifted from a muck to an honor, and childbirth was shifted from a personal matter to a national project having the slogan of 'Give birth to a lot of children and increase the population'. And to praise women for performing it, a new value opposite the value of impurity came into existence in Shinto. That is the 'State Shinto'. The details of the standard of impurities before Meiji period is written in 'the Engishiki' (an ancient book for codes and procedures on national rites and prayers).

- Expel impurities + Hate. Hate as if to expel impurities.

- Neat + Names. Neat names: real names which became Shinto and Buddhist deities. Real names (which was a taboo for the subjects or lower ranking people to call).

Kichu (ki (忌) + chu (period))
- The period of muck.

During Nara period, Inbe clan (忌部氏, later 斎部氏) administered Shinto rituals in the Imperial court. Although in (忌) also means neat, it is used in negative sense in most cases after Heian period.

[Original Japanese]