I’ve been reading a lot lately about Shinto, the native Japanese religion which involves the veneration ancestors and of gods or spirits known as kami.
Itako are exclusively-blind women who channel ancestors and kami and perform exorcisms. Once a somewhat-attractive option for blind women who had little hope of earning a living otherwise, there are now only about 20 left; modern Japanese schools teach the blind right alongside everyone else, and blind people can still compete well in the job market, so nobody’s jumping on the Itako bandwagon anymore. Other reasons may be that training for the job involves getting drenched constantly with buckets of ice-cold water, or that some of the things they have to do to get their ritual tools are kind of unseemly, like burying a dog up to its neck and letting it starve to death while staring at a pile of food he can’t reach (the dog’s skull is then used in rituals). Once a year all the remaining Itako meet and perform ceremonies at Mt. Osore (literally ‘Mount Fear’), an active volcano which is thought to be the gate to hell.
A shintai is an object in which a kami manifests. The most famous are the legendary sword, jewel, and mirror comprising the imperial regalia of Japan. Shintai are ritually covered with cloths and boxes which are never removed, so over the years the coverings tend to pile up and, for some of the older ones, nobody even knows what they are anymore. They could open it up and look anytime they like, but they don’t (a practice which my wife says “seems very Japanese”). The reigning sumo yokozuna is seen as a living shintai, which is why they wear those lightning-bolt strips commonly seen at Shinto shrines.
That’s yokozuna Asashoryu, originally from Mongolia. The man’s a human bulldozer. Also seems like a really cool guy (check out the National Geographic documentary Inside Sumo). Among other endearing traits, Asashoryu never goes into a sumo ring without a pre-fight repast of HORSE BLOOD AND RAW TURTLE.