By David Aspinall
A priest wears huge animal masks including pandas and squids to draw attention to their temple.
At the Aruka Shrine in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan, senior priest Miwako Kojima has come up with a unique way of bringing visitors to her temple.
Painstakingly making them herself by hand, Kojima wears different masks for different occasions, including an Omiyamairi ceremony, which is a child’s first trip to the shrine.
Kojima said: “A lot of people smile by seeing a panda Shinto priest, and I think we’ve enjoyed a good reputation from the beginning.
“I hope many people will start wanting to make a visit to the shrine to see the panda priest.
“Our goal is people will get energy from God and the characters such as the likes of pandas.
“In Shinto the state of feeling dead inside and a loss of energy is considered a bad thing.
“In addition to panda, there are the masks of a red panda, green onion, squid, octopus, shrine maiden, and this year’s zodiac animal, boar.”
ach mask is made by applying acrylic paint, drawing eyes and a mouth with masking tapes and finishing with an anti-shine spray.
Because of the materials, it can get quite hot in there, but Kojima has found an innovative way of keeping her cool during ceremonies.
She said: “I used to feel hot when I needed to keep wearing the mask for a long time in the hot summer.
“Now I tuck a mini fan inside it and keep cool when the weather is hot.”
The Aruka Shrine is listed as being completed in the year 927 AD in the book Engishiki, a book about laws and customs.
Kojima adopted the panda as the shrine’s mascot three years ago, something which is in keeping with the kind and heartiness of the shrine.
Kojima said: “In Shinto, we have no problem with such a mask, as covering the face at the time of rituals at shrines is a traditional custom.
“We do it for Kaminigiwai, an event that brings the joy and crowd in front of God.
“I show up wearing the mask when people come Shichi-Go-San, a traditional rite of passage for three to seven-year-olds in Japan.
“I also do ritual dance in dedication to the god of the shrine and take pictures with the worshippers.”