Japanese brave icy waters for New Year Shinto ritual at Tokyo shrine to pray for end of pandemic


Dozens of worshippers wearing only loincloths and bathrobes with headbands and facemasks plunged themselves into icy waters as part of a traditional ritual in Tokyo on Sunday, in which they also prayed for an end to the pandemic.

Three women, who donned white robes, and handfuls of men in loincloths chanted, clapped and prayed before bathing in the freezing waters filed with blocks of ice as part of a Shinto ritual at Teppou-zu Inari Shrine. 

Similar scenes took place last year during the annual event, which has been scaled down due to the ongoing situation.

Daring dozens: Worshippers wearing only loincloths, bathrobes and facemasks plunged themselves into icy waters in Tokyo

The traditional Shinto ritual - which involves bathing in icy water - takes place every year at Teppou-zu Inari Shrine in Tokyo

The traditional Shinto ritual – which involves bathing in icy water – takes place every year at Teppou-zu Inari Shrine in Tokyo 

Known as Misogi, the ritual comprises bathers entering icy water and washing the whole body for the purpose of purification

Known as Misogi, the ritual comprises bathers entering icy water and washing the whole body for the purpose of purification 

This year's event has been scaled back compared to early 2020 when a hundred participants took part in the ritual ceremony

This year’s event has been scaled back compared to early 2020 when a hundred participants took part in the ritual ceremony

Donned in white robes, loincloths and masks, participants chanted, clapped and prayed before entering the freezing waters

Donned in white robes, loincloths and masks, participants chanted, clapped and prayed before entering the freezing waters 

The ritual took place during the coldest month of the year in Tokyo, where temperatures average lows of 3 degrees Celsius

The ritual took place during the coldest month of the year in Tokyo, where temperatures average lows of 3 degrees Celsius

A participant splashes icy cold water into his face as part of the Misogi ritual held on Sunday at the Teppou-zu Inari Shrine

A participant splashes icy cold water into his face as part of the Misogi ritual held on Sunday at the Teppou-zu Inari Shrine

This compares to more than a hundred participants in early 2020, before coronavirus became a global crisis.

The ritual took place during the coldest month of the year in Tokyo, where temperatures average between lows of 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) and highs of 49 degrees Fahrenheit (9 degrees Celsius).

Known as Misogi, the ritual comprises washing the whole body for the purposes of purification.

Held on the second Sunday of each year, on this latest occasion the event had the added theme of 'warding off epidemics'

Held on the second Sunday of each year, on this latest occasion the event had the added theme of ‘warding off epidemics’

The wider public was not invited to attend the traditional ritual as Japan  attempts to curb the spread of coronavirus

The wider public was not invited to attend the traditional ritual as Japan  attempts to curb the spread of coronavirus 

The worshippers line up and stop in thoughtful prayer before entering into the the waters filled with large ice blocks

The worshippers line up and stop in thoughtful prayer before entering into the the waters filled with large ice blocks 

Held on the second Sunday of each year, on this latest occasion the event had the added theme of ‘warding off epidemics’.

‘I hope that soon the world and coronavirus pandemic calm down and everyone will be able to move freely,’ said participant Yoshiko Shibada after completing the Misogi ritual. 

Wearing face masks, the participants clasped their hands together and continued to chant and pray in the freezing water

Wearing face masks, the participants clasped their hands together and continued to chant and pray in the freezing water

Men and women took part in the ceremony, which is traditionally held to purify the soul and pray for health in the new year

Men and women took part in the ceremony, which is traditionally held to purify the soul and pray for health in the new year 

The ceremony took place against the stunning background of the centuries-old Teppou-zu Inari Shrine in Tokyo

The ceremony took place against the stunning background of the centuries-old Teppou-zu Inari Shrine in Tokyo

Praying for good health: Dozens of participants took to the freezing water to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic

Praying for good health: Dozens of participants took to the freezing water to pray for an end to the coronavirus pandemic

The participants clench their hands together in front of their stomach and shake them up and down as part of 'spirit shaking'

The participants clench their hands together in front of their stomach and shake them up and down as part of ‘spirit shaking’

The purpose of 'spirit shaking' in the ceremony is said to help participants become more aware of their spirits within

The purpose of ‘spirit shaking’ in the ceremony is said to help participants become more aware of their spirits within

The practice involves reciting prayers and incantations that help dispel any impurities from a person's body and mind

The practice involves reciting prayers and incantations that help dispel any impurities from a person’s body and mind

In recent days, Japan has reintroduced restrictions on bar and restaurant opening times in three areas as it attempts to stem a surge in coronavirus cases linked to US military bases.

The restrictions have been brought into effect for a month in Okinawa and parts of Hiroshima and Yamaguchi.

Infections have also been on the rise in larger cities, including Tokyo, which reported 922 new cases on Friday – the highest since mid-September.

Participants prayed for an end to coronavirus, which has begun to surge in cities again across Japan in recent weeks

Participants prayed for an end to coronavirus, which has begun to surge in cities again across Japan in recent weeks

The participants were quite animated as they chanted, clapped and prayed shortly before plunging into the freezing water

The participants were quite animated as they chanted, clapped and prayed shortly before plunging into the freezing water

The worshippers chanted and made the same movements, including this rowing action, as part of the traditional ceremony

The worshippers chanted and made the same movements, including this rowing action, as part of the traditional ceremony

A handful of women worshippers donned in white robes took part in the ceremony, held at the centuries-old shrine in Tokyo

A handful of women worshippers donned in white robes took part in the ceremony, held at the centuries-old shrine in Tokyo

Dozens of participants clasped their hands together and shook them up and down as they took part in the Shinto ceremony

Dozens of participants clasped their hands together and shook them up and down as they took part in the Shinto ceremony

After bathing in the waters, the participants continued to pray for the purification of their spirits and renewed good health

After bathing in the waters, the participants continued to pray for the purification of their spirits and renewed good health

A large block of ice floats in the bathing pool used by dozens of worshippers as part of the purification ceremony on Sunday

A large block of ice floats in the bathing pool used by dozens of worshippers as part of the purification ceremony on Sunday

The worshippers threw their arms into the air as they chanted prayers and incantations to purify their spirits and body

The worshippers threw their arms into the air as they chanted prayers and incantations to purify their spirits and body

Worshippers row their arms back and forth as they take part in the traditional purification ceremony in Tokyo on Sunday

Worshippers row their arms back and forth as they take part in the traditional purification ceremony in Tokyo on Sunday

Participants took part in the annual ceremony, which has been held for decades at Teppou-zu Inari Shrine in Tokyo

Participants took part in the annual ceremony, which has been held for decades at Teppou-zu Inari Shrine in Tokyo

Some of the movements were more similar to exercise than prayer during the centuries-old Misogi ritual held on Sunday

Some of the movements were more similar to exercise than prayer during the centuries-old Misogi ritual held on Sunday

Moment of reflection: This year's ceremony had added poignancy as worshippers prayed to end the coronavirus pandemic

Moment of reflection: This year’s ceremony had added poignancy as worshippers prayed to end the coronavirus pandemic

The worshippers took part in 'spirit shaking', which involves moving the hands and arms up and down rigorously in the water

The worshippers took part in ‘spirit shaking’, which involves moving the hands and arms up and down rigorously in the water

Hands together now: The worshippers focused on prayer as they asked for purification and renewed health in the new year

Hands together now: The worshippers focused on prayer as they asked for purification and renewed health in the new year 

Dipping a toe in the water: The first of participants tentatively feels the temperature of the icy cold water before entering

Dipping a toe in the water: The first of participants tentatively feels the temperature of the icy cold water before entering

Prayer to end coronavirus: This year's ceremony asked for an end to the pandemic as Japan faces a resurgence of the virus

Prayer to end coronavirus: This year’s ceremony asked for an end to the pandemic as Japan faces a resurgence of the virus

Head down in prayer: One participant takes a moment to reflect before taking a bath in the freezing cold waters in Tokyo

Head down in prayer: One participant takes a moment to reflect before taking a bath in the freezing cold waters in Tokyo

One Shinto believer poses with a child following his traditional bath in the freezing waters during the New Year ritual

One Shinto believer poses with a child following his traditional bath in the freezing waters during the New Year ritual

Prayer for good health: The participants wore face coverings and headbands with their loincloths for their traditional bath

Prayer for good health: The participants wore face coverings and headbands with their loincloths for their traditional bath

Dozens of participants followed a ceremony leader at the front and mimicked his chants and movements throughout

Dozens of participants followed a ceremony leader at the front and mimicked his chants and movements throughout

Warming thoughts: The traditional ceremony is intended to purify a person's body, mind and spirit for the new year ahead

Warming thoughts: The traditional ceremony is intended to purify a person’s body, mind and spirit for the new year ahead

The prayers were all the more poignant this year as new infections in Japan surged from 200 to 4,000 daily on average

The prayers were all the more poignant this year as new infections in Japan surged from 200 to 4,000 daily on average

Across Japan, new infections exceeded 4,000 on Thursday, compared with an average of 200 a day last month. 

Omicron has now been identified in 80 per cent of Japan’s 47 prefectures. 

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