"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!
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.
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 (岡田孫右衛門), 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 (秋山自雲霊神), 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|