Green River Star -

By AMANDA BENSON
Sweetwater County Historical Museum 

A shell at the Sweetwater County Museum?

 

Among the collection of artifacts housed at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum is a large shell horn.

With a red and black wooden mouthpiece installed on one side and tied with a dark red cord, the shell's inclusion in a small Wyoming museum's collection may seem odd to some.

The shell horn is known as a horagai and it originates from Japan. The horn is constructed from a triton shell and red cord wrapped around from the mouthpiece and shell is known as the kainō. Tassels at each end of the cord hang from the center knots.

Horagai are still used today in Japan, usually for Buddhist purposes. The yamabushi, also known as mountain priests, use these horns to signal their presence and movements in the Japanese mountains. Also, at Todai-ji Temple in Nara, horagai are used in the omizutori ritual, or the water drawing ritual. The ceremony is two weeks long and performed to cleanse people of their sins and to usher in spring. By the time the ritual is complete the cherry blossoms have started to bloom.

Historically, horagai were used by samurai as a signaling device to tell troops to attack, withdraw, or change tactics. Samurai would sometimes deter and confuse enemies by signaling one kind of movement and mean something different.

So what does this horn have to do with Sweetwater County? This horagai was originally owned by Green River resident Edith Sunda's father, Morijiro. He brought it with him when he immigrated to the United States in 1915. Two years later he married his wife, Toku, at Seattle Buddhist Church in Seattle's International District. Toku emigrated from Japan as a picture bride.

The Sunadas first made Superior their home, where Morijiro worked for the Union Pacific coal mines. They lived in Layton, Utah, for a while before moving back to Wyoming and settled in Green River in 1919. A year later, on July 4, 1920, Morijiro opened up a laundry business and managed it until his passing in 1938. Toku kept the business running until she decided to sell it.

According to Edith, her father would blow the horn to tell his children when it was time to eat.

Edith held on to this piece of her father's history and graciously passed it on to the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in 2004 to be preserved for posterity.

The horagai is on display at the museum, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

 

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