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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Meet Akiyama, the god of haemorrhoids

"Hello! Can I help you?" the Buddhist priest asked in flawless English.

"Err," I responded intelligently.

"Are you lost?" He sounded perplexed. A reasonable reaction, given that I was in the depths of one of the poorest areas in Taitō, where blue-eyed barbarians are a scarce commodity.

"Umm," I muttered at my brilliant best. How do you tell a priest that you're hunting haemorrhoids? That, as a matter of fact, you've come to meet the god of haemorrhoids?

Yes, gentle reader, of course there's a god of haemorrhoids!

Because Japan.

Honshō-ji, where you can pray for relief from haemorrhoids

Where wôs I? How do you tell a priest that you're pursuing piles without sounding decidedly weird? Never mind the fact that he's the priest at the temple that's supposed to cure the affliction. There are certain things you just don't discuss with strangers, and I'd put any anal anecdotes pretty near the top of my list.

"Your English is very good," I continued wittily. He looked as disgruntled as I usually feel when complimented on my dexterous use of chopsticks. "I'm just visiting temples," I offered as an explanation.

I received a dubious glance.

"It's my hobby. Look, I've got a camera," I babbled.

"There are many temples in this area," he said.

"Yes, I know, I live here. Well, near here. That is, within a two-hour wa … " I trailed off.

"We have many visitors today. It's a public holiday."

"Yes, I noticed." I didn't add that all the visitors had clearly also noticed us. They were staring at this strange apparition – stately black-robed priest and disheveled, pony-tailed, flustered female – with 51% fascination and 49% alarm. "I'm sorry that you have to work on a holiday!" I prattled on. "I hope you can go home, oh, you live here, too, don't you? Well, I mean, I hope it's all over very quickly, I mean, that is, thankyousomuchforyourkindness, must rush, temples to see and shrines to conquer, goodbye!"

I'm not very ept when it comes to social niceties.

Why can you be inept but not ept?

English is silly.

The entrance to Honshō-ji

Anyway. The point of the story is …

Think of me what you will, but I'd gone on a two-hour walk to find a temple that allegedly cures haemorrhoids. Not for myself. I'm a vegetarian; we get plenty of fibre. No, because I love quirky temples, and … a temple for piles? Seriously? Doesn't get quirkier than that!

(I still think my best find is the pubic hair shrine, but never mind that now.)

It's called Honshō-ji (本性寺), and the god of haemorrhoids, who was originally a mere mortal called Okada Magoemon (岡田孫右衛), was buried here.

He was a sake merchant in Edo, and he suffered so horribly from haemorrhoids that he became a priest in an attempt to cure himself. He didn't succeed, and on his deathbed a few years later he vowed to become a god and help others with the same affliction.

His spirit was enshrined at this temple, and soon rumours of miraculous cures spread. Eventually Magoemon, now known as Akiyama Jiun Reijin (秋山自雲霊), was worshipped at several temples in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Most of these have disappeared, but you can still visit Honshō-ji and Magoemon's grave in Kiyokawa in Taitō. (See two photos below.)

Incidentally, there's another haemorrhoids temple in Ikenohata in Ueno, called Sōken-ji (宗賢寺). I didn't go there, because it's really nondescript, but you can see a photo here and its address is 池之端 2-1-15. If you pray at this temple during full moon, you have a better chance to recover. Allegedly.

May I add, at this juncture, that it's a dangerous topic to research, especially when you have a congenital inability to ignore hyperlinks? I got curious about the incidence of haemorrhoids in Japan. Japanese people have an unusually high rate of gastric cancer (source and source) due to their high salt intake as well as the lack of fibre in their diet …

Ah. Yes. The reality of Japan's contemporary eating habits isn't as pretty as the myth. The country's diet is relatively healthy thanks to limited fat, limited sugar and small portions, but whether it truly justifies religious rapture is another matter altogether.

To return to our main theme, I wondered about the incidence of haemorrhoids, given the lack of fibre. I wish I could provide conclusive evidence, but … I have enough metaphorical assholes in my life, and I got tired of medical articles with lots of pictures of the other type. Some images, once seen, cannot easily be erased.

Estimates of the prevalence rate in the USA range from 4,4% to 12,8% (source), but it might be lower in Japan thanks to that phenomenon loathed by so many foreigners: the squat toilet. Mind you, squat toilets are becoming increasingly rare, and every single Japanese woman I know prefers a Western toilet with, NB, a Sound Princess (artificial flushing sounds to hide the real sounds) (don't ask). So who knows.

I end with this gem that Google delivered when I was searching for "the prevalence of
haemorrhoids in Japan":
Feb 24, 2014 - 'Hemorrhoids occur more commonly in young and middle-aged adults than in older adults. The prevalence of hemorrhoids increases with age, with a peak in .... Mount Ontake eruption: Volcano eruption in Japan caught on ...

Piles and volcanic eruptions.

Let's end there, shall we? 

Tree detail at Honshō-ji

Higanbana, the flower of the dead, on a pavement in Asakusa

I stopped at Imado Jinja, where you can pray for love, along the way. Read more about the shrine here.

Imado Jinja always has mountains of ema. I guess love is more popular than haemorrhoids.

I also stopped at Matsuchiyama Shōden, the temple of the naughty daikon. 

Jizō at Matsuchiyama Shōden

Higanbana in the riverside park in Asakusa

My favourite phallic symbol

Sky Tree reflected in the HQ of Asahi Beer in Asakusa

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Thursday, 25 September 2014

The enchanted red forest of Sokō-in

In September 2011 I had my first close encounter with the flower of the dead, also known as higanbana or red spider lily. In September 2012 I wrote a post about higanbana (red spider lily) entitled "flower of loss and longing". In September 2013, while the red flowers bloomed at graves, my mother passed away. In September 2014 I went for a walk in yet another enchanted red forest, partly for myself, partly for my mother. She loved flowers.

The higanbana forest at Sokō-in in Matsudo, Chiba

I was too busy to go as far as what is arguably the best higanbana spot in Japan, Kinchakuda in Saitama, but Sokō-in (祖光院), a temple in Matsudo in Chiba, provides a more than adequate alternative.

I've written so many posts about higanbana that there isn't much more to say, and Sokō-in itself is a small temple that doesn’t offer any tempting historical titbits; just its small but magnificent forest.

The flowers are already past full bloom, but you could still catch their last gasp.

Take the Joban Line from Ueno, change at Matsudo to the Shin-Keisei Line and get off at Tokiwadaira Station. The temple is an easy ten-minute walk (at normal speed) from the station (five minutes at a Ru gallop).

The temple itself is ... well ...

If I may paraphrase Cormac McCarthy, it's a country for old men ...

Two of the seven lucky gods: Ebisu (left) and Daikokuten

I forgot to check who this is. Could be Daikokuten (bag of rice, mice), or simply a cute Buddha.

I will always associate this beautiful flower with graves.

Eyelashes or whiskers? You decide.

First time I see a pink higanbana. (You also get white and yellow varieties.)

This house in Tokiwadaira had a beautiful green curtain of morning glories.

Morning glory or asagao in Japanese

Bonus Sky Tree and red sunrise

Personal note

I'm still on semi-hiatus. I've also disabled comments, mostly due to continuing problems with spambots, but also because I don't have enough time to respond to everybody … and I think it's rather rude to ignore comments. I'll continue blogging sporadically, but within parameters controlled by my current work schedule. Thank you, as always, for visiting; and my sincerest apologies for this one-sided communication!

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Friday, 5 September 2014


Dear everyone

I'm going to put this blog on hiatus for a while due to a demanding work schedule. I will probably maintain a presence on Google+, but Blogger and Twitter will have to take a break, and I won't be able to visit your blogs as I used to do.

Continue writing, be happy, eat chocolate every day! I'm not going to launch into a goodbye-and-thanks speech, because the nomad will probably come traipsing over your horizon one day when you don't expect it, and we'll go for a walk through those red torii ...


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Three letters

Dear customer

Your Skype Credit will become inactive in 7 days. You don't seem to have used any of your Skype Credit in a while. It becomes inactive if you haven't used it in 180 days. But don't worry - once it becomes inactive, you can reactivate it whenever you're ready to use it. Simply sign into your account online and follow the option to Reactivate credit.
- Call any phone (landline or mobile) - even if the call lasts for just one second.
- Send an SMS message direct from Skype.
- Purchase a personal Skype Number, subscription or voice messages using your Skype Credit.

Best regards,


Dear Skype

I'm aware of the fact that I no longer use my account. Unfortunately I can't reactivate the only reason why I ever had one: to call my mother. It's her birthday today. Or rather, it would have been her birthday if she'd been at home in Kleinmond, waiting for my call.

Would you like me to call her retirement home and hang up as soon as reception answers? That should take one second?

Kind regards,
Your customer


Dear Mom

I prefer British English, but I've always used the American mom instead of the British mum. Not sure why, but I've never changed my spelling. I'm stubborn that way. "You get it from your father," you always said.

Happy birthday, Mom. I'm sending you out-of-season cherry blossoms because they were your favourite Japanese flower. You had dozens of my cherry blossom photos on your wall. Remember?

I miss you.

Your youngest daughter

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The real-life shrines of Sailor Moon, Part 2

This is an update of a Sailor Moon post I wrote two years ago. I'm resurrecting it, because as all true fans would know, a new series called Sailor Moon Crystal was released last month. (I've repeated some of my original content, but I've included new photos.)

I quote from Den of Geek: "Sailor Moon Crystal is the long awaited reboot of the Sailor Moon anime franchise. The 26-episode series is a retelling of the Dark Kingdom arc, the first and most iconic storyline of the metaseries, in which Sailor Moon and the four Guardian Senshi (Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Venus) fight the evil forces of Queen Beryl, who seeks to claim the Earth in the name of her master, the powerful demonic entity known as Metalia."

I'm not going to do an in-depth analysis of the series, since I'm not a manga expert at all, but I can share the real-life locations that play such a big part in this massive hit. (I've read only one manga in my entire life, and if you know me well, you'll know why: SHERLOCK ピンク色の研究, Sherlock Study in Pink, published by Kadokawa.)

The entrance to Hikawa Jinja in Azabu-Juban

Here's some additional background: 美少女戦士セーラームーン (Bishōjo Senshi Sērā Mūn) is the story of "Usagi Tsukino, an ordinary, ditzy, 14-year-old girl" who is actually a special warrior whose destiny is to save Earth and later the entire galaxy.

It was written by Takeuchi Naoko, and both the manga and subsequent anime were major hits. Wikipedia says its media franchise is one of the most successful Japan has ever had, reaching a total of $1,5 billion in merchandise sales during the first three years.

One of the main characters is Sailor Mars, also known as Rei Hino, who's a schoolgirl and a Shinto princess at Hikawa Jinja. The manga shrine was modelled on a real shrine called Hikawa Jinja (氷川神社) in Azabu-Jūban; the anime shrine was modelled on another Hikawa Jinja in Akasaka. Both are branch shrines of the main Hikawa Jinja in Ōmiya, Saitama.

The shrine is written 火川 in the manga, but it's 氷川 in real life. Interesting difference:  is fire,  is ice, both can be pronounced hi. The kanji , kawa, is river. Sailor Mars's element is fire, hence that change.

My favourite character in the series – apart from the cat, that is – is Haruka, or Sailor Uranus: we not only share an astrological planet, but she's also more boyish (or androgynous, if you prefer), stubborn and aggressive. I like that.

Let's go for a visit to Sailor Moon's real-life shrines.

Hikawa Jinja Azabu-Juban:

Hikawa Jinja Akasaka:

Compare the photo above with the photo below. They were taken a few years apart. Somebody decided
to take mercy on the koma-inu, who was clearly getting a branch-induced migraine.

Sacred ginkgo

Smaller Inari shrine at Hikawa Jinja Akasaka

Compare the closed and open mouths of the koma-inu above and below.
I wrote an explanation here.

Above and below: side entrance and detail at Hikawa Jinja in Akasaka

Hikawa Jinja Ōmiya:

You walk through this torii if you approach the shrine from a neighbouring park.


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