This sounds like a bad Japanese fraternity prank. People who believe they are cursed take a bucket of live carp and a bottle of rice wine to a river where they pour the sake into the carp and then toss them into the water where they swim away – albeit not in a straight line – thus freeing them of the curse. According to Shinto tradition, this so-called “Carp Releasing Exorcism” really works and has been an annual event in the city of Tonami since 1816. That could change after animal rights activists saw the ceremony on TV and decided casting spirits out of humans by pouring spirits into fish was animal abuse.
Before you raid the aquarium and open a bottle of cheap sake, be advised that the Carp Releasing Exorcism only works for one type of curse. According to a popular Japanese superstition called “yakudoshi,” certain ages are considered unlucky. For men, it’s 25, 42 and 61 while for women it’s 19, 33 and 37, with 42 and 33 being the unluckiest respectively. To protect those entering a bad year, a festival is held annually at certain Shinto shrines on January 18-19 where a Shinto priest prays while waving a wooden wand called a haraegushi over the person to drive out the bad luck spirit.
Except in Tonami. Sometime in the past, Shinto priests there added an extra twist to strengthen the exorcism. Since alcohol is supposed to purify and carp are believed to be gods of the river, the cursed men and women carry the fish and bottles of nihonshu (sake) in a procession to the water’s edge. The women hold the carp while the men pour in the booze. The guys then grab the fish and release them in the river. If all goes well, the evil spirits and age-related curses are gone.
But not the curse of the animal rights activists. A popular Japanese morning show cleverly called the Morning Show did a pre-exorcism special this year and got tons of complaints – most likely from people not approaching an unlucky age. The show contacted the organizers who said they don’t plan to stop the Carp Releasing Exorcism because it works and a dam downstream never contains any dead or drunk fish afterwards. They also contacted a fish expert who said the alcohol most likely exits out the fish’s gills and never hits its stomach – being out of water probably does more harm to it.
For now, it appears Tonami’s annual Carp Releasing Exorcisms will continue while supporters yell “People are too uptight these days” and critics respond with charges of “carp harassment.”
What do you think? How old are you?