In normal times, when visiting a Japanese temple or shrine complex, the first thing you would be expected to do would be to wash your hands at the water basin located near the entrance.
This process is part of an ancient ritual known as chōzu, in which worshippers will use a wooden ladle known as ‘hishaku’ to pour water over their left hand, right hand, mouth and finally over the handle of the ladle itself. The act represents the purification of the body and mind, and once completed, the individual is able to advance to the main hall where they can make their prayers.
Usually, the chōzubachi (water basins) would be full of fresh flowing water, and a collection of hishaku would be readily available for the act of chōzu. However, many shrines and temples have decided to remove the hishaku from the chōzubachi or to turn off their water supplies, for fear that the shared use of the water ladles may be contributing to the spread of the ongoing coronavirus. This worry is understandable, as the infection can be spread through indirect contact of objects used by those infected.
The pause in use of chōzubachi and hishaku was originally intended to be only a temporary change, but by taking a look at the risk factors involved with returning things to the way they once were, it’s more conceivable to believe that the act of chōzu will have to adapt to a ‘new normal’ or risk becoming obsolete in a world that cares more about individual safety, than a ritual which involves sharing water with strangers.
Though the future of chōzu is uncertain, shrine manufacturing and carpenter company Tomiya Honten, has made it their mission to ensure the ritual doesn’t disappear into the past, with their collection of personal hishaku.