Hare and Ke (ハレとケ)

The dichotomy of 'hare and ke' is a traditional world-view of Japanese people accompanied by time theory. It was discovered by Kunio YANAGIDA.

In folklore and cultural anthropology, 'hare and ke' mean the following. Hare (noticeably cheerful and formal situations or such places) represents rituals, festivals and annual events that are 'non-ordinary,' while ke represents 'ordinary,' that is everyday life. In addition, when the life of ke does not go well, it is called kegare (withering of Qi).

Food, shelter and clothing, behavior and the types of language used at the time of hare were definitely distinguished from those of ke.


Originally, hare was a concept that referred to specific changes or milestones. The origin of the word hare is 'hare' (fair weather). It is used in expressions such as 'hare no butai' (a situation so important that it happens almost only once in a life time) and 'haregi' (clothes worn at rituals that take place at milestones or specific changes). On the other hand, everyday wear was called 'ke gi,' but it was no longer used as a word after the Meiji period.
In addition, nowadays, simply good weather is called 'hare.'
However, going back to the Edo period, there is a record that indicates that 'hare' was used only for the days that marked a change, when the weather recovered and the clear sky peeked out after many days of rain.

On hare days, food and drinks such as mochi (rice cakes), sekihan (glutinous rice cooked with azuki beans), white rice, fish with the head and the tail, and Japanese rice wine were consumed. These items were not consumed in everyday life. Furthermore, dishes for such occasions were for hare days only, and they were not used on a daily basis.

Hare, Ke and Kegare

Interpretation of the conceptual connection of 'hare and ke' began when Kunio YANAGIDA posed that the distinction between hare and ke was progressing towards ambiguity (for example, special food and drinks that were served only at hare rituals are consumed in ordinary settings), which he used as a rationale for pointing out that folklore was transforming because of modernization. Yanagida compared how 'hare and ke' were distinguished by people several generations before him, to how 'hare and ke' were distinguished by people of Yanagida's generation. He then tried to predict the future trend.

At the beginning, the interpretation of 'hare and ke' did not seem to draw much attention. However, it became widely known within the academic circle after Taro WAKAMORI took notice of it. However, in folklore, it did not tend toward Yanagida's aim, which was the diachronic analysis of understanding the future based on the comparison between the past and the present. For a long time, it leaned toward the synchronic analysis of folklore structure that viewed the dichotomy of 'hare and ke' as an axiom, and there was an exclusive interest in the definition of 'hare' referring to non-ordinary events, which were rituals and festivals.

In the 1970's, largely due to the influence of structuralism, new discussions on 'hare and ke' were triggered. Initiated by Mikiharu ITO's discussion, it reached its peak at the symposium held by Emiko NAMIHIRA, Tokutaro SAKURAI, Kenichi TANIGAWA, Noboru MIYATA and Hirofumi TSUBOI. It was confirmed that it might be necessary to add the concept of kegare (impurity) to the 'hare and ke' relationship, and that there were variations in the interpretation of 'hare,' 'ke,' and 'kegare' (or 'hare' and 'ke') among the debaters.

There are various models for 'hare,' 'ke,' and 'kegare,' such as the cycle model of Sakurai, who suggests that 'kegare' (impurity, withering) is the withering of the energy of ke, which drives everyday life, and that 'kegare' recovers through festivals, which are 'hare.'
There is also the folk model of Namihira, who asserts the importance of the concept of 'impurity' and the rituals for its 'purification, cleansing and atonement,' in contrast to a bias toward the traditional concept of 'sacred and pure.'
However, gaps found in the discussions of 'hare,' 'ke,' and 'kegare' (or 'hare' and 'ke') among the scholars are still unresolved, and to this day, no unified definition has been put forth.

On Funerals

Among various debates that exist, there is a debate, for example, on whether a funeral should be considered hare or kegare. According to conventional wisdom, funerals are unfortunate happenings, and most people would want to separate them from celebrations such as weddings. Therefore, as someone who takes this position, Emiko NAMIHIRA clearly prescribes funerals as kegare.

On the other hand, many folklorists including Sakurai define funerals as hare, based on the point that they are 'non-ordinary,' keeping in mind the folk examples that haregi were worn in mourning and sekihan wsa possibly served at funerals. However, neither theory is sufficient, and neither has been able to fully explain why a funeral is kegare or hare.

In Japan, there has been a distinction between funerals and festivals. However, the original meaning of the Chinese character 'sai' (expressing a festival) represents a funeral. Therefore, there is a theory that says that the manners and customs of Chinese civilization were superposed onto the ancient Japanese values of pure and impure, hence losing a clear distinction.

In Japanese Shintoism, salt is considered to have the power to drive away and cleanse the impure. Therefore, there is a custom of offering salt at the altar as well as using salt in Shinto rituals. In addition, there is an indigenous belief (supposed to have its origin in Shintoism) in Japan that views death as a type of impurity. Therefore, there is a custom of using salt to purify the body after the funeral. This is also widely practiced in Buddhist-style funerals. However, there are Buddhist sects that maintain that Buddhism does not consider death as impure, therefore they do not use salt for purification after the funeral.

Relation to the Dualism of the Sacred and the Profane

Hare and ke can also be argued on the affinity of sociologist Émile Durkheim's Dualism of the Sacred and the Profane, that is, the connection of 'hare = sacred' and 'ke = profane.'
In particular, there is a correlation between the two with respect to how the sacred period and the profane period are distinguished, and how hare and ke are distinguished. However, as with hare and ke, the concept of the sacred and the profane are defined differently depending on the person making the argument. Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention when debating the relationship between reciprocating concepts.