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Home » 6. Belief and Practice » Divination and Supplication
"Rice-gruel divination" is a type of "divination for the coming year" (toshiura) that was formerly held around the 15th of the first lunar month of the year, koshōgatsu (literally, "little New Year's Day"), which follows ōshōgatsu on the first day of the lunar year. Today, it is generally performed on January 15. The objective of kayu'ura is to divine the weather, harvest, or other aspects of the year to come. The ceremony takes various forms. A practice found nationwide involves stirring cooked rice gruel (kayu) with a branch of willow or other wood with a slit at one end (this stick is variously called a kayubō, kayubashi Ȥ, and so on), then divining the future by the number of rice grains attached to the stick's slit. In another method, twelve slim "cylinders" (tsutsu) of bamboo, reed, or other material are placed with rice or azuki beans in a pot and removed when the rice or beans are done cooking; after splitting open each cylinder with a knife, that year's harvest is determined by the number of rice grains or beans within the cylinders, with each of these cylinders representing a month of the year. To predict the harvest of individual agricultural crops, the number of bamboo cylinders placed in the rice gruel corresponds to different crop types rather than months of the year. A former practice is said to have based divination on the mold that spontaneously formed on rice gruel that had been left for several days.

       This use of rice gruel for annual divination is thought to have derived from a belief in its supernatural power to exorcise evil spirits. Until the Meiji period, rice-gruel divination was found throughout Japan and is believed to have been a communal ritual conducted by rural communities, the head family of clans, and other groups, but it is very rarely encountered in modern times. Vestiges of this practice can still be seen at shrines in the "rice-gruel divination ceremony" (Kayu'ura shinji) or "cylinder divination ceremony" (Tsutsu'ura shinji) and, even today, some shrines announce the results of such divination ceremonies by posting them at their altar or distributing them in print.

Tsutsugayu ceremony (Photo courtesy of Kanasana Shrine)

— Suzuki Kentarō
Rice gruel divination at Itakiso jinja

Wakayama Prefecture

©Fujii Hiroaki

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