Men clad in traditional loin attire and women dressed in white robes clapped and intoned before proceeding into an ice water bath during a Shinto ritual at a Tokyo shrine on Sunday to redeem the soul and pray for the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Only a few people took part in the annual ceremony at Teppou-Zu Inari Shrine, scaled-down this year due to the pandemic, compared to over a hundred in early 2020. Observers were not allowed at the event.
Following warming-up exercises and chantings under a clear sky with extreme temperatures at 5.1 degrees Celsius (41.18 Fahrenheit), the nine male and three female participants stepped into a bath loaded with cold water and huge ice blocks. “I prayed that the coronavirus comes to an end as soon as possible,” said 65-year-old Shinji Ooi, who is the leader of the Shrine’s ‘Yayoikai’ parishioner group, after the ceremony. The shrine added the idea of “warding off epidemics” to the annual event, which is conducted on the second Sunday of each year and is now in its 66th year.
Some participants at the Shinto ritual made the water colder, participant Naoaki Yamaguchi said to Reuters.“Normally we have more participants and it makes the water temperature a little bit warmer. But this year, there were just twelve people, so it (the cold) was crazy,” the 47-year-old said.
Japan has strived to contain a recent rush of coronavirus cases, with Tokyo reporting 1,494 new cases on Sunday. The government announced a state of emergency for Tokyo and three neighboring areas on Thursday, comprising about 30% of the country’s population, in an effort to control the spread.