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MELTING POT

EDITED BY MARY McNAMARA

Delays. Cost overruns. Injuries. Can construction companies avoid them? Seeking an ounce of prevention, many building firms turn to the ancient Japanese ground-blessing ritual, jichinsai. The ceremony, performed before the ground is broken, is an everyday practice in Japan--and more common here than one might think.

“It’s a cultural ritual, not a religious one,” says the Rev. Alfred Tsuyuki of the Shinto Konko Church in Boyle Heights. A third-generation Japanese-American, trained at Japan’s Konko Theological Seminary and Konko Research Institute, Tsuyuki, 45, is one of a few people in this country who perform ground blessings. In the past 25 years, he has blessed locations such as the Disney Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla., the Mazda plant in Flat Rock, Mich., the Regent Hotel in New York and the Sunshine Pacific high-rise here in Los Angeles.

“Companies sometimes cut costs by forgoing a ground blessing (the suggested donation is anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000),” Tsuyuki says. “But it comes back to them in delays. Even injuries. You must start out on a trust basis with the earth.”

“We perform the ritual every time we start a project,” says Takeshi Okamato, vice president of Sumitomo Construction America Inc. “We have not had one fatal accident in 10 years.”

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Recently, Sumitomo America engaged Tsuyuki to perform a ground blessing at its latest site in Long Beach--the new Science and Technology Building for Woodrow Wilson High School. Dressed in a traditional white Shinto kyoe (hat and robe), Tsuyuki used omiki (sacred rice wine), huckleberry branches, pink and white rice cakes and ohnusa (ricepaper tassels) in the elaborate 30-minute rite. With help from the gathering of executives, school-board members and faculty, Tsuyuki invoked the spirit of the Earth, praying in English and Japanese. “Giving thanks to the good Earth is something we’ve taken for granted for too many years,” Tsuyuki says. “It’s important to take a moment, thank our home for all its uses, and implant in the Earth the spirit which the Earth returns to us.”


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