My friend, Erica Fago Smith, told me that these are called shimenawa, made of rice straw & used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion. Usually hanging on Torii's, found at Shinto shrines & sacred landmarks. Also used to ward off evil. Variation used in sumo by grand champs (Yokozuna) to show rank.

Another friend, Anne Freimuth Statland, described her memory of these when she was a little kid; "It had a mikan and, maybe a piece of charcoal wrapped in a leaf hanging below it."

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