A Houki is a broom traditionally used in Japan for sweeping trash and dust. There are two kinds of houki: zashiki-bouki (room broom) and niwa-bouki (garden broom), depending on where they are to be used.
Zashiki-bouki are generally made from hemp palm fibers and morokoshi ( millet- a kind of grain) fibers . The hemp-palm broom is more widely used in Western Japan and it is made from gathered “oni-ge” (demon hairs) which are extracted from hemp palm bark. The morokoshi plants used to make houki are harvested after growing for one year when they are about 2 meters high. The ears of the millet plants are threshed and dried in the sun for about a week. Then, high quality ears are selected and gathered for making houki.
Besides their obvious practical application as a cleaning tool, houki also figure in various traditional customs associated with the idea of “sweeping away”.
There was a spell in which a houki was stood upside down when a host wished his guest to cut his long stay short and go home. In some areas, a houki was considered a guardian charm for the easy and healthy delivery of a baby. The houki was placed by the bedside of the pregnant woman and, once labor started, a light was attached to the houki and the woman prayed to it. Her belly was then caressed with the houki.
Houki were believed to be sacred and stepping it over or on them was avoided as it would incur divine punishment. Such customs still can be seen today all over Japan.
- Houki (Japanese broom)