One highlight of the construction process was the raising of the uppermost beam. It was a cause for celebration. True, the job was not entirely finished. A thousand details needed attending to over the following months, but the structure was finally a building. The roof was not yet fully enclosed, but it was a roof, and the spirits could reside beneath it. This is the meaning and purpose of the ridge beam raising ceremony (Figs. 242-249). The old spirits that dwell on the property—be they ricefield spirits or forest spirits—are kindly asked to vacate the premises and are given numerous inducements to do so in the form of food and gifts. The spirits of heaven then lower the ridge beam, suitably adorned, into place. These new deities do not take up residence as yet. That would occur at the formal enshrinement ceremony after everything was really finished. But the building was now a temple.

Figure 242 A carpenter arranging flowers on an altar in preparation for the ridge beam raising ceremony.

Figure 243 The ridge beam is symbolically dangled from heaven by three long strips of colored cloth.

Figure 244 For ceremonies such as this, the Master Carpenter has a ceremonial role similar to that of a cleric.

Figure 245 Special talismans are made and temporarily installed, such as this karimata arrow pointing to heaven.

Given that in Japan there is a peaceful coexistence between indigenous Shintō deities and their imported Buddhist counterparts from China, the ridge beam raising combines practices from both faiths. The carpenters, accordingly, dressed in the vestments of Shintō priests for the day, led by the master in appeasing the Shintō spirits of the earth and wind with songs and gifts. Buddhist priests, meanwhile, read the sutras and made offerings of incense. Then, at the climactic moment, each priest held one end of a long, colored banner, symbolically dangling the ridge beam from heaven, while carpenters above tapped the beam into place with ritual tools made specifically for the occasion. All then retired to an adjoining hall for a celebratory feast, including copious quantities of sake served for once by the masters to the lowly.

Nowhere, perhaps, can the Japanese carpenter’s enthusiasm be felt as keenly as at these celebrations, which rarely occur more than once in a year. Here the mood is jubilant and thankful: everyone concerned congratulating themselves and each other on exacting work well done, and thankful to all—gods, men, and fate—who have provided the opportunity to do work worthy of human beings, worthy of trained craftsmen, and to take part in the sheer joy of building.

Figure 246 Nishioka, as head carpenter, led the ceremony on the roof while the Buddhist monks waited below. The apprentices wielded ceremonial mallets to “tap” the ridge beam into place.

Figure 247 The offerings included sake, vegetables, rice cakes, and bitter oranges, as well as exquisitely decorated ceremonial tools.

Figure 248 The ceremony concluded, casks of sake were broken open, square wooden cups filled, and the meal began. It was a rare occasion in which the Master served those under him, expressing his gratitude.

Figure 249 The celebration continued for several hours, punctuated by songs, speeches, and the occasional sound of a thoroughly satisfied carpenter slipping inebriated from his chair and hitting the earthen floor with a thud.