Forget about Band-Aid. It's just too … blah. No imagination. No pizzazz.
No. If you have pain, an illness or any physical distress, visit the Niō at Tōgakuji in Tabata. Niō are the wrath-filled, muscular guardians of Buddha, but you won't be able to see this pair's splendid physique – they're covered in strips of red paper, placed on their bodies by other not-perfectly-healthy visitors.
Stop! What's going on?
OK, let me explain. Tōgakuji ...
Actually I'm not sure whether it's Tōgakuji or Tōkakuji; I've seen both romanisations. It's written 東覚寺 in Japanese, and I'd love to hear from Japanese readers/experts what the correct pronunciation is. I'll stick to Tōgakuji for now, since the temple's website uses that spelling.
Tōgakuji is a temple in Tabata, and it's so delightfully quirky that I spent an hour on its rather small premises. It was originally established in Kanda in the 1400s and moved several times before it was relocated to its current position in the 1600s. It was built in honour of Fukurokuju, the deity of wisdom and longevity, but it's famous mostly for two Niō statues, called the Akagami Niō (赤紙仁王) or Red Paper Niō, that stand guard at its gate.
|Akagami Niō (赤紙仁王). Click on the photo to see a bigger version.|
It's not clear when this practice started – perhaps during a plague in old Edo in the 1640s – but worshippers started sticking red paper to the statue's bodies, on the same spot where they experienced pain or any physical discomfort, in the belief that their ailment would disappear. (Red is alleged to ward off evil.) That was 400 years ago. They're still doing it. They’re doing it so enthusiastically that you can barely see the statues underneath the red paper, and it's impossible to see which statue is going "a" and which one is going "un". (Read more about a-un here.) I've included photos of the two paper-covered statues, as well as photos of what the statues actually look like. I spotted the latter on a noticeboard in front of the temple.
More odds and ends
The temple has a dizzying variety of Buddhist deities, Shinto gods, good luck symbols, statues, flowers, ponds, birds … you name it. It also has a garden at the back of the temple, full of further symbols of the so-called Shichifukujin or Seven Lucky Gods, but the garden is only open during the first fortnight of the year. That's because …
The temple is part of the Yanaka Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage, apparently the oldest such pilgrimage in Tokyo. It's believed that such a pilgrimage is especially auspicious when done on, or just after, New Year's Day.
While you're at Tōgakuji, you might as well visit the small Hachiman Shrine behind it. (The road to the shrine is on your right if you stand facing the temple.) Temple and shrine used to be one, until Buddhism and Shinto were forcibly separated in the Meiji Era. The shrine itself is nothing special, but you walk there along a nice shadowy alley, lined by small warehouses where the neighbourhood's mikoshi are stored.
A very special thanks to Minor-san of Minor's Diary for telling me about this temple!
|The main courtyard of the temple, and (below) various statues found at the temple.|
|I recognized this guy: it's Fudō-myōō.|
|This Jizō is for babies and pets.|
|Rokujizō or Six Jizō, presenting the six realms of desire and karmic rebirth|
|This is Ninomiya Sontoku.|
|The path leading to the Tataba Hachiman Shrine, lined with storerooms for mikoshi|
|Tabata Hachiman Shrine behind the temple|
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