Over time bad energy, disgruntled spirits, what-have-you sticks to your person causing well, bad things to occur. For example you can get sick, have a run of bad luck, or just feel icky and down. There are all sorts of ceremonies to freshen you up and get rid of this bad gunky.
One such ceremony is held every June. Half the year is gone and you've probably collected quite a bit of nasty energy without even knowing it. The Powers That Be come around with these little red paper dolls to give to all the houses that belong to a certain Jinja/Shrine area. Here is what one looks like:
The red paper doll is tucked inside the white paper envelop. I've heard them referred to as ningyou gata or hito gata. What you do is grab the little fellow by the head and gently brush him all over your body. He is doing his part by sucking up all your bad energy. Before you pass him over to another family member, you breathe one big exhale, Ha! on him. When everyone is done you write your names on the back, return him to his envelop and take him to the shrine for them to burn and pray over. Thus destroying all that icky gunk that was attached to you and your family. You're clean! But you aren't clean enough.
On the day you're supposed to take him to the Shrine they have a special festival. A giant circle made out of straw is set up and decorated. To further cleanse yourself you walk through it in a specified way -- something like a figure eight but a bit different.
Here are the directions. You don't even have to read Japanese to figure them out. You follow the line with the little arrows. Simple enough. Nonetheless, I totally walked the wrong way, doing weird loops and then back tracking, turning around, and in an effort to erase my mistakes walking backwards the way I came. Meanwhile, the whole time everyone around me, complete strangers, are yelling, "No! Not that way! No! Oh my God!"
Okay, maybe they didn't yell "Oh my God!" But there was a lot of "No"s and quite a bit of giggling behind open hands. When I decided I could blaspheme no more and had better cut my losses, I jumped away from the circle and asked a nearby priest what would happen if I did it all wrong. He raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders and told me he didn't know, no one's ever done it wrong before.
I can't read maps either.