Oharae (the great purification) is an event of removing calamity held on June 30 and December 31. This is an event to remove committed sins and stains, and Oharae held in June and Oharae held in December are called Nagoshi no Oharae (great purification ceremony) and Toshikoshi no harae (Annual Shinto ritual of purification), respectively. Oharae held in June is also called Nagoshi shinji, Minazukibarae (summer purification rites held at shrines on the last day of the sixth lunar month).
夏越' is also written as '名越.'
Oharae as an event
Oharae was designated by the Taiho Code in 701 as a formal annual court event. On this day, imperial princes, ministers, and other governmental officials in the capital (miyako) gathered at the square in front of the Suzaku-mon Gate and read Oharae no kotoba (Words of the Great Purification) to purify people's sins and stains. When there was no habit of or water available for washing closes everyday, this event had significance for the prevention of plagues by the semiannual replacement before summer when bacteria were likely to be developed. In the next 100 years since then, this event was conducted tremendously. This event was stopped around the time of the Onin War, but was started again in the Edo period (1691) and gradually spread.
The edict of Dajokan (Grand Council of state) issued in 1871 by the New Meiji Government prohibited the names 'Nagoshi shinji' and 'Minazukibarae' and ordered the revival of the traditional ceremony 'Oharae' of the 'Taiho Code,' and the ceremony started being conducted by shrines across the country. The names 'Nagoshi shinji' and 'Minazukibarae' were partly revived after the war, up to the present date.
In Nagoshi shinji, 'Chigaya no wakuguri' (Chinowa kuguri, passing through a ring of miscanthus) is performed in many shrines. Shrine parishioners pass three times with a pigeon-toed gait, clockwise, counterclockwise, and clockwise again, through a hoop made of kaya grass (plants of the sedge family) to purify stains. According to 'Somin Shorai' (Japanese old story and the folk religion originating in the story) in "Bingo no Kuni Fudoki" (unknown or lost writing) quoted in "Shaku Nihongi" (annotated text of the Nihon Shoki) (Kanekata URABE, the mid Kamakura period), a kaya grass ring was worn on the waist to avoid disasters, and it was believed that the strong vitality of kaya grass had the mysterious power of preventing disasters. The communal worship that tanzaku (long, narrow card) cards on which a wish is written are hung up on small bamboos provided on the right and left sides of the kaya grass hoop and the bamboos are thrown into a river on the Tanabata festival corresponds to the event in which kakizome (New Year's writing, resolution) is burnt in the Dondon-yaki (a Shinto blessing of objects that have been a part of a celebration but are now debris consuming by fire from the 14th to the 16th of the lunar New Year) to improve writing.
In Kyoto, there is a habit of eating the Japanese confectionery called 'Minazuki' in the Nagoshi no harae. Minazuki is a confectionery prepared by placing azuki beans on white Uiro (a sort of sweetened steamed cake made of rice powder) and then cutting it into triangular shapes. It is said that azuki beans on Minazuki have the meaning of warding off evil spirits, and the triangular shape expresses ice beating the heat away.
In the Kochi Prefecture, the Nagoshi no harae is called 'wanuke sama,' and festivals are held in many shrines. Chinowa kuguri, which is the most important ceremony, is certainly performed, and Shrine's approaches are lined with many street stalls to coincide with the ceremony, which basically makes it a festival. Since this is held in the rainy season, the weather is generally not so fine, but this is a special feature for the arrival of summer following the end of 'wanuke sama.