I really like this post so I decided to report it this year. Next year I’ll update my shrine list!
So a couple of days ago I did a post on Japanese Christmas tradition as a thinly veiled excuse to eat nothing but cake for a couple of days. That was a good decision. My adulting skills are on point! Anywho, I mentioned in that post-Christmas itself was not exactly the major holiday in Japan it is in other parts of the world, but New Year’s, now that’s a celebration!
And what do you think when you say new years in Japan? Cute girls in kimonos and more cake? That sounds awesome. Oh and fireworks, there’s always fireworks at some point. Wait, how did we get derailed again? No, no, no, we think solemn visits to Shinto shrines!
The ritual of visiting shrines or temples in the first days of a new year is called Hatsumōde (初詣). During this usually brief visit, people can take the time to pay their respects, give offerings and ask for favours from particular gods. It’s also a good time to pick up some charms (omamori) and buy a written fortune (omikuji) If you get a prediction of bad luck you can tie it onto a tree on the shrine grounds. Fantastic, that took care of that!
But Shinto is an ancient and sprawling religion, with an enormous pantheon of kamigami, how can you be certain to pick the right shrine? Um well, you should probably do some research. Honestly, Shinto tradition is incredibly deep and ever-changing. It is one of the most calming faiths I’ve had the pleasure to explore and if theology is of any interest at all to you, you should look into it. Just for a taste, this is from the Wikipedia page:
“Ascetic practices, shrine rituals and ceremonies, and Japanese festivals are the most public ways that Shinto devotees celebrate and offer adoration for the kami. Kami are celebrated during their distinct festivals that usually take place at the shrines dedicated to their worship. Many festivals involve believers, who are usually intoxicated, parading, sometimes running, toward the shrine while carrying mikoshi (portable shrines) as the community gathers for the festival ceremony…” emphasis added
Well, guess who’s converting!
Now, how about we completely misinterpreted millennia worth of spiritualism and philosophy and dumb this down so even I can understand it?
So here’s where to go if next year you want to find:
LOVE: Imado Shrine (Asakusa, Tokyo)
This shrine is dedicated to Izanagi and Izanami.
Izanagi is a very popular and well-known kami. He is the father to the great Amaterasu (do you love Okami?) and is considered the father of Japan, literally giving birth to the isles along with many other deities.
Izanami, his wife, is a goddess of both creation and death. (she’s also his sister, let’s not talk about that too much, gods have weird family issues in general…also no one else was around, it was an adam /eve situation…) Tragically, Izanami died in childbirth (she had already given birth to the islands and, just a slew of gods at this point and she was giving birth to **fire**, it didn’t work out).
After her death, Izanagi got really mad and misplaced that anger by killing the child. When he calmed down a bit, he figured he’d just go get her in the underworld (Yomi-no-kuni) But she had eaten food cooked in the furnace of the Underworld, and could no longer return. When Izanagi betrayed his promise not to look at her and saw that she had become monstrous, it was Izanami’s turn to get tiffed and she sent Yakusa no ikazuchi no kami (Raijin) the lightning god, and Yomotsu-shikome (scary fury lady) to chase after him. Izanagi escaped, but the goddess declared to kill a thousand of his people every day. Izanagi retorted that a thousand and five hundred will be born every day. Sounds like a solid long-term plan!
I’m not entirely sure which came first but the story is really very reminiscent of Orpheus in Greek mythology.
Point is, before their little kerfuffle at the end there, and all couples fight you know, Izanagi and Izanami were said to have had a beautiful marriage and to have been lovingly devoted to one another. As such, people who wish to gain blessings in their love lives or marriages will often seek out their favour and guidance.
MONEY: Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine
As you may have guessed, this shrine is dedicated to Benzaiten, one of the seven gods of fortune! She is the goddess of knowledge, art and beauty, especially music, none of which are traditionally associated with money, let’s face it. But Zeniarai Benten, is also a place of worship for Ugafukujin (宇賀福神), and has an extra special feature.
This shrine houses a blessed spring and if you wash your money in it (literally wash your coins and bills with water…I don’t know if it works on bank cards…) Ugafukujin will reward you by multiplying it. So you know, withdraw everything you have before going.
I couldn’t find why Ugafukujin gets so psyched about clean money…wait is this a money laundering euphemism? Oh man, I’m slow. I should go ask the Wizard for a brain instead.
A BRAIN : Nagara Tenjin Shrine
If you watched Noragami, or know a little bit about Japanese history, you already know that Tenjin is the Shinto kami of scholarship, worshipped by anxious students all over Japan, just before exams.
But before he was a god, Tenjin was Sugawara no Michizane, a mild-mannered politician and poet who, after gaining quite a bit of power, fell victim to a conspiracy by members of the rival Fujiwara family, and was demoted and exiled to Kyushu. He died in exile in the year 903. Immediately afterwards, the capital city was struck by heavy rain and lightning, and many of the leading Fujiwara died, while fires caused by lightning and floods destroyed many of their residences.
The court of the emperor drew the conclusion that the disturbances were caused by Michizane’s angry spirit, and, to placate it, the emperor restored all Michizane’s offices, burned the official order of exile, and ordered that the poet be worshipped under the name Tenjin, which means sky deity. A shrine was established at Kitano; it was immediately raised to the first rank of official shrines, supported directly by the government. (via Wikipedia)
Now, that’s how you get deified as a scholar and poet. You rain revenge upon your enemies from beyond the grave. Having had a very healthy terror of most of my professors, this rings true.
LUCK: Kanda Myojin
Oh yeah – Kanda Shrine! Right next to Akihabara, this is a place to find my people (i.e. people who really like electronics…) The shrine even sells blessings especially for your tech! It’s also dedicated to Daikokuten, Ebisu, and Taira no Masakado. Daikokuten and Ebisu, are part of the Seven Gods of Fortune, making this shrine a great place to go pray for some good luck and prosperity in business, while Taira no Masakado is said to bring good luck for victory to worshippers.
Ebisu is the first-born child of Izanagi and Izanami and is said to have been born without bones, but eventually overcame his handicaps to become the great Ebisu (“The Laughing God”). He is considered the god of fishermen and luck.
Ebisu is frequently paired with Daikokuten, (they are occasionally considered father and son or master and apprentice). Also, these two are often joined by Fukurokuju as the “Three Gods of Good Fortune”.
If you’re trying to reconcile this with everything you’ve learned for Noragami, let’s just say there might be some discrepancies may occur.
HEALTH: Koganji (Togenuki Jizo)
Unlike the previous destinations, Koganji is a temple dedicated to Japanese Buddhist doctrine rather than Shinto and is therefore geared towards the Jizo Bodhisattva (Daigan Jizō Bosatsu). For those of you who might be curious, a Bodhisattva is somewhat akin to a Saint and in Buddhism is said to be a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings. So obviously, this is who you want to see to relieve any ouchies.
Not only that but you got options. “Togenuki” means thorn remover and the story goes that a housemaid having accidentally swallowed a thorn, as one does, was given a piece of paper with the image of the deity Jizo on it to eat. When she did, she miraculously spat out the thorn. You can now get exactly such a piece of paper to rub on any spot that hurts or even eat it, for instant relief.
But what about those of you who have deadly paper allergies? Don’t worry, you don’t have to live with the pain. There is also a statue in front of the temple of “Arai Kannon” or “washing deity.”, I love this for some reason. You would think that the god would be the one doing the washing but well that wouldn’t be too godly now would it? Instead, if you clean and polish with a cloth the same part of the Arai Kannon statue as where you’re hurt, you will wash the pain away!
This also works with my house, but you have to clean the whole house. It’s worth it if you can’t get to Japan.
CATS: Gotokuji Temple
A picture is worth 1000 words, so here are a million cats:
Man, I want to do a shrine tour. I would love to go visit one this new year’s instead of my traditional Canadian celebration i.e. dig myself out of the house somehow and pickaxe through the ice around the car, then collapse after the 4 hours of shovelling.
Do you guys have any New Year celebration plans? Can I come?