Google+ Rurousha 流浪者: Imado, the shrine of true love and lucky cats

Friday, 3 February 2012

Imado, the shrine of true love and lucky cats

I got it wrong again. I wrote about Suitengū, the shrine for pregnancy and childbirth, before I wrote about love and marriage. I know that love-marriage-babies isn't necessarily the order in which things happen …

As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. When a couple gets married because the woman is pregnant, it's called dekichatta kekkon (出来ちゃった結婚), i.e. "ready-made marriage" or shotgun marriage. According to the Ministery of Health, Labour and Welfare, 25.3% of all marriages in Japan in 2010 were dekichatta kekkon. I find myself wondering how many of these pregnancies were genuine oopses, and how many were meticulously planned accidents.

Anyway, if you abide by the rules, as Japan is supposed to love to do, you should first meet a nice boy, then get married, then get pregnant. That first step is the most difficult one, and that's why you need help at Imado Jinja (今戸神社) in Asakusa. It not only ensures that you'll find your true love, but it's also the birthplace of Japan's beloved lucky cat, the manekineko. That, at least, is what locals believe. Here’s the legend: Once upon a time, a long time ago, an old woman lived in Imado. She was so poor that she was forced to sell her beloved cat. One night the animal appeared to her in a dream, and told her to make and sell its image in clay. She listened to its advice, sold thousands of cat statues and became very wealthy.

Two large cat statues at Imado Jinja. The male is left, the female right.

As if one lucky cat isn't enough, Imado Jinja offers you two, a male and a female, with えんむすび (enmusubi) written above their figures. A rough English translation would be "love knot" or "partner for life". (There's a Shinto god of marriage who's called Enmusubi-no-kami or 縁結びの神.So then. If you want that fateful encounter that will change your life, toddle off to Imado. If you've already found your beloved, you can visit the shrine together to pray for continuing happiness.

えんむすび, together till death do us part

I went there on a drizzly day in January. Despite the fact that it was a weekday with bad weather, there were plenty of young girls at the shrine, as well as a number of couples. No single men.

I've never seen so many ema at a shrine: hundreds of thousands of personal pleas for love, passion, romance, eternal bliss, a prince on a white horse (or in a red Ferrari). Cinderella is reincarnated daily in the dreams of hundreds of women at Imado.

Thousands and thousands and thousands of ema

My verdict? Cute but not classy, thanks to dozens of plastic cats and ubiquitous Disney images. It's worth a visit, but I prefer the other place that claims to be the origin of the manekineko: Gōtokuji, a Zen temple in Setagaya. You can read my post about Gōtokuji, as well as more information about the lucky cat, here.

Extra paragraph added for history lovers: Imado used to be famous for Imado-ware or Imado-yaki, earthernware pots and figures made during the Edo period. You can read more about it here.

Entrance to Imado Jinja




Ema with cats in wedding clothes

More cat statues

Cute cat watering cans in white ...

... and black.

Happy New Year wish (2012 is the year of the dragon)

Disney characters on a bench

Even the "no smoking" sign is written on a cute heart.

Couples reading ema

28 comments:

  1. Funny, those cats always creep me out a bit, even though they are beloved. Perhaps it;'s because I always think there is more to cats than meets the eye.

    It's interesting that you didn't spot any men at the shrine.

    Love these posts about shrines, by the way, so interesting!

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    1. Interesting that you say that. I think the manekineko is a squintillion times better than Hello Kitty! Now Kitty really freaks me out.

      There were men, as one half of a couple (under duress? grin), but no singletons.

      I'm so glad you enjoy the shrine stories. It's not everybody's cup of green tea! Fortunately for us both Tokyo offers an endless supply of quirky shrines. ^^

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    2. Keep the quirky shrine posts going. I love them. With you postingthem, I'm finding reasons why we should not strike Tokyo off our Japan must visit list in the future.

      And why is Disney characters there?

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    3. I will haunt you into seven reincarnations if you don't come to Tokyo again!

      Disney characters are there because Disney characters are everywhere. If there's a there there, there will be Disney characters. :D

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    4. BTW, you mentioning about 7 reincarnations suddenly made me think about our legend of Mahsuri and her curse that Langkawi (the village she lived) will not prosper for 7 generations. Interestingly, Langkawi is now a booming, duty free island and the 7th generation is a little girl named Wan Aishah. :)

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    5. I love storytelling, and this one has it all: beautiful woman, conniving mother-in-law, innocent death, defiant curse.

      You are herewith given official permission to tell me more Malaysian legends. :D

      Be happy and grow old, Wan Aishah!

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  2. >I've never seen so many ema at a shrine (...)

    Yushima Tenjin during the exam season might come close. Any study-related shrine, for that matter.

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    1. Hallo, csemege! That's a good point! PS: Yushima's plum blossom festival will start very soon! I guess I'll have to pop in again. :)

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  3. Should I take Raimie there, for an advance start in finding true love? xD

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    1. The course of true love never did run smooth, so you might as well give him a head start! ^^

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    2. ahahah... ain't that the truth. Reminds me of how I did the chasing for Raimie's Dad. And his Dad still tease me about it. I guess when you know it's the one for you, you shouldn't sit and let fate alone get you together right?

      We'll make a date with you, our official Japan matchmaker once we are set for Japan. ^0^

      BTW, when are you leaving for SA?

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    3. p.s. Dancing lessons for the advanced in age by Bohumil Hrabal sounds like real fun. ;p

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    4. Fate is a lazy bum. It needs to be kick-started. :D

      I haven't decided about SA yet. Originally I planned February, now it looks like March. It has to be before April, when the new university year starts. The ticket is so expensive. Cheapest (and with worst transfers) is ¥160 000. ☆⌒(>。≪)

      "Dancing lessons" is great. The entire book is written as one sentence. I thought it might distract/confuse/irritate, but it doesn't! It's an old man who's telling an endless stream of laugh-out-loud stories to a group of young ladies, and you can see the twinkle in his eyes in every word. Profound, no. Delightful, yes. ^^

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  4. I thought they were just regular Maneki-neko but now I know different. And that is a whole lot of ema they have hanging out there. Either they haven't taken down the ema for a long period of time or the people of Tokyo are desperate to fall in love! I guess it's the perfect season for it, right before Valentine's :-)

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    1. I checked the dates on some of the ema. (Not all! I would still be there!) The oldest I saw was June 2011. How often are ema taken down at most shrines? Every few months? Anybody knows?

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    2. I've heard that some shrines or temples have special ceremonies to take down the ema at the end of the year. But since there was one from 2011, it may be different here ;D

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    3. When they finally decide to burn Imado's ema, it will be a heck of a bonfire ...

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  5. It seems that dekichatta kekkon has been on the rise over the last decade in Japan and you often see a lot of the celebrities getting married like this :)

    Japan Australia

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    1. You're right! When I hear of a celebrity marriage, I automatically assume the woman's pregnant! ;)

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  6. I thought the ema were burned at New Year? Seems like not. Maybe that's a Shinto thing, or a sect thing or a regional thing, or just the priest's whim thing.


    +I find myself wondering how many of these pregnancies were genuine oopses, and how many were meticulously planned accidents.+

    Indeed! At least half of the 10 or so weddings I have been to here have been dekichatta - reminds me of reading a book on Victorian mores in England that talked about working class men not wanting a "pig in a poke" and that dekichatta kekkon was very common. Japan seems to have much less virginity mystique than most cultures.

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    1. I've never seen ema older than six months or thereabouts, but this clearly requires more Googling. How did we cope before Google?! I vaguely recall library index cards ...

      I can only hope that female virginity will lose its "sales value" in all countries. Silly obsession! :-(

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  7. Insightful and timely post for the month of Feb, Rurousha. Didn't know there's a male and a female version.

    Come Monday night, the 15th and last day of Chinese New Year, it'll be a night of mandarin orange tossing for single ladies (men too) with the hope of hitching a good life-partner. That's a belief from the olden days in China and still being practised today - even here in Malaysia. These days with technology, oranges also bear tel number and/or email address. Oh well.. whatever works.

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    1. I often feel like throwing things at men, but usually not oranges and never with any romantic intentions! :D

      I love the way old customs continue with a modern touch, like the contact details ... just in case Lady Luck slips up! ;)

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  8. I love Asakusa. It's so nice to read your posts because there seems to be a zillions places in the shitamachi that I haven't seen yet! But I think I will wait until it gets a little warmer.

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    1. Likewise, Tokyo Ern, likewise! I find myself sticking Post-its all over my map books when I read your posts! :D

      PS: It's freezing, isn't it, but I'll have to brave the cold for the plum blossom festivals at Kameido and Yushima! Both festivals start next week.

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  9. I am so glad to know the legend of maneki neko now! Thanks for sharing this and your other insights into old Tokyo. Question: Do you think Hello Kitty plays off the same cute-cat-young-love theme? Those cat images remind me of Hello Kitty...
    Personally, I like the cats from T.S. Eliot's poem later adapted into the musical: creepy, mysterious, sad creatures.

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    1. You've made me remember a Hello Kitty explanation I wrote a looong time ago to my friends in SA, who were baffled by her popularity. I've unearthed my scribbles, thanks to Google's Desktop. (As I keep asking myself every day, what did we do before Google?!)

      When I researched Hello Kitty, I found some very interesting discussions about the cult of cute. OK, I'll edit it a bit and post it!

      Meantime, this might amuse you:

      http://www.kittyhell.com/

      PS: Macavity is my favourite! ^^

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    2. Me again. I'm currently drafting a post about kabuki, and men playing women and women playing men (I dragged the Takarazuka Revue into the picture as well). Now Hello Kitty has hijacked my attention completely! ^^ That's what happens if you're not eternally vigilant in Japan: real art morphs into cute!

      ☆~(ゝ。∂)

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