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A shrine to help you leave your lover

Do you know Paul Simon's song "Fifty ways to leave your lover"? It was written just after his divorce from his first wife, and it's about a mistress's humorous advice to a husband on how to end a relationship:

You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don't need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

I'm now going to tell you about the 51st way, the Japanese way: you go to a so-called enkiri shrine (縁切り神社). That first kanji, en, is a Buddhist concept that refers to fate, bonds, relationships; the second kanji, kiri, means to cut. So you visit the gods and you ask them to cut the bond between your husband and his mistress, or between your husband and his domineering mother, or between your daughter and her good-for-nothing boyfriend.

Ema at Enkiri Enoki, asking for emotional bonds to be cut

I could be completely wrong, but I suspect most visitors to these shrines – as with the love shrines – are women. Do you agree?

The most famous "cutting bonds" shrine in Japan is probably Yasui Konpira-gū in Kyoto, but Tokyo has a quaint alternative called Enkiri Enoki (縁切榎), in other words, the hackberry that cuts bonds.¹ I grinned when I read what the tree is called in English: just hack those emotional bonds to pieces! Go for it! Release the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on!²

Enkiri Enoki

The tree is in Itabashi on an intersection that bears the name of the shrine. It's the third tree to stand here. The first one was burnt in the great Shin-Yoshiwara Fire of 1911; the second tree was almost destroyed by worshippers cutting off its bark (it's believed that if you boil and drink the bark, it strengthens your prayers); the current tree was cut and cultivated from the second tree in the 1960s.

A section of the original tree has been preserved and can still be seen at the shrine:


The current tree is protected by a barricade to prevent more bark tea quaffing:


What's the origin of this story? Here we go:

Ito Shinroku (伊藤身禄) was an oil merchant who moved from Ise to Edo to start a new life in the early Edo period. He prospered, was successful and had a happy family life, but when he reached the age of 63 in 1733, he decided to give up his business and spend the rest of his life meditating at Sengen Jinja on Fuji-san.

His wife and children – not willing to part with him – followed him when he set off on his journey. When they arrived in Itabashi, they rested in the shade of an enoki tree. Then Ito got up, instructed his family to return to Edo without him, since he wanted nothing to do with them, and departed on his quest.

The story spread, and it was believed that the enoki tree was responsible for the separation of Ito and his family. Eventually happily married couples started avoiding the tree, but those who wanted to cut emotional ties asked the tree for its help.


Enkiri Enoki from the opposite corner. It's a very small shrine.


Ema

I often publish close-ups of ema (the wooden tablets on which worshippers write their wishes), but this time I'm not going to do it. There's little chance that the writers or their "loved" ones would read this blog, but let's play it safe and protect their privacy. I was both touched by the desperation and shocked by the vindictiveness of some of these prayers. "I hate Yumi." "I want to divorce my wife." "I pray that my boss will have bad luck." "I want my daughter's dependence on her parents to end."



Itabashi

This area is famous for other reasons: it's where Kondō Isami (近藤 ) was executed. He was the commander of the controversial Shinsengumi, the special police force that was formed to protect the shōgun and restore order to Kyoto in the name of the Bakufu during the Bakumatsu period.

It was also the site of the notorious Itabashi Moraigo Incident. Quick explanation: before abortion was legalized³ after World War II, women had three options with an unwanted or illegitimate child: raise it, give it up for adoption (貰い子, moraigo) or … if you were too poor to feed it or the child wasn't strong or beautiful enough to give away … you killed it. It's been alleged that more than forty children were killed by tenement residents in this area, but it's equally possible that the story was exaggerated by an Asahi newspaper reporter, Misumi Hiroshi (三角 ), for the sake of his career.

Whatever the truth may be, this area has had a turbulent past and that tree, oh, the stories that tree could tell!

Notes

1) The tree is an enoki (, Chinese hackberry, Celtis sinensis), not to be confused with the hinoki (, Japanese cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa).

2) The quote is from Shakespeare's Othello (Act 3, Scene 3, lines 165–171).

3) I added this footnote on 6 March for clarity. Abortion isn't legal per se, but only under certain conditions. There are so many loopholes, though (for example, it can be done for "economic reasons"), that basically anything goes. If you're interesting in reading more, I recommend this article by the Osaka Prefectural Center for Youth and Gender Equality.

References

Wikipedia (links provided) and the book Legends of Edo (お江戸の都市伝説).

The shrine at Enkiri Enoki

Offerings of salt (it has a purifying function) is often left at shrines.


Omikuji left at the enoki



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