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Shrines that ensure generous breasts

If I say generous, I'm not talking about size, but about production capacity. To put it slightly differently, these shrines won't turn you into an AV idol, but they will make your baby very happy.

(Incidentally, there's no link whatsoever between breast size and successful lactation. If that were true, there would be a lot of very hungry babies in Japan. More about that later.) [There's one specific shrine that will "bust you up", so keep reading.]

When I learned that you can pray at certain shrines and temples for lots of breast milk, my first response was indifference, since I'm not exactly the target market. Then my curiosity got the better of me, and once I discovered that ginkgo trees play a role in this drama, I was off on my usual tangent: Why? How come? What's the story?

Ema at Susanoo Jinja

My breast quest first took me to Anyō-ji (安養寺) in Ōta-ku. According to a local legend, this temple got its reputation thanks to the Empress Kōmyō, who suffered from a lack of milk after giving birth to the son of Emperor Shōmu. Then she had a dream in which she saw herself praying at this temple, which was allegedly established in 710 by the Buddhist priest Gyōgi. She visited the temple, the drought stopped and the prince grew up strong and healthy. The empress was so grateful that she donated funds to Anyō-ji, which planted a ginkgo in her honour. It's said that if you pray to this tree, your milk will be sufficient.

The current temple is really nothing special, and it's in an area that's not particularly interesting (to me). It reminds me of the wisdom "there's no there there".


Anyō-ji. That's the milk-stimulating ginkgo on the right.

Anyō-ji's ginkgo

My second visit was to a shrine in an area that horrifies my eikaiwa students and would have many a tourist flee in terror to a genteel French restaurant, yet it captivates me: Minami-Senju. It's working class, run-down, unashamedly shitamachi. It also has a warm heart, a tough spirit and a fascinating history. I can't explain it, but I feel more at home amongst this area's down-and-out than between Daikanyama's lunching ladies.

The shrine is called Susanoo Jinja (素盞雄神社). It's a beautiful building with lots of interesting sub-shrines, but I made a beeline (boobline?) for a centuries-old ginkgo tree called the "child-rearing ginkgo" (子育て銀杏 kosodate ginkgo) where you can pray for bountiful lactation as well as healthy babies.

Susanoo Jinja's main shrine, with the child-rearing ginkgo to the right

The child-rearing ginkgo at Susanoo Jinja

These downward-growing roots are called chichi-ichō
or hanging breasts in Japanese.

Have you noticed the common link? Ginkgo trees! There's a third ginkgo in Tokyo that's famous for boobs and babies and all that stuff: an ancient tree, rumoured to be two thousand years old, at Ōkunitama Jinja in Fuchū. It's said that if you touch the tree and then touch your breasts with the same hand, the tree will help you to produce milk. This specific tree has also become known for its "basuto appu" (バストアップ) powers, in other words, it can "raise up" your breasts. There's no information about the tree's booby benefits at the shrine itself, but it's mentioned in a few Japanese guides to shrines and their blessings.

The ancient ginkgo at Ōkunitama Jinja

Ōkunitama Jinja's ginkgo

The main shrine at Ōkunitama Jinja

Why this association between a ginkgo and breast milk? It's probably based on old Chinese herbalist beliefs that ginkgo extract encourages milk flow and soothes mastitis (inflammation of the breasts). While I was researching this post, I learned that a herb that stimulates lactation is called a galactogogue. Yikes. That sounds like a teacher of astronomy to me.

My own pet theory? A ginkgo's downward-growing shoots, which are called chichi-ichō (乳銀杏) or hanging breasts in Japanese, apparently remind people of bosoms. I guess it's natural that it would then be concluded that a tree with bazookas could help to improve a woman's assets. Personally I don't understand the association between the shoots and boobs, since such flabby flaps can only be found on old crones. What's more, these so-called ginkgo breasts look like other (very male) attachments to me.

The leaves of the ginkgo at Anyō-ji. Promise. I didn't take photos of just a random tree.

Anyway, there you have it: if you want a happy baby, go to Anyō-ji or Susanoo Jinja; if you want to point skywards, go to Ōkunitama.

I'm not sure how well-known the latter is, but I suspect today's young ladies would rather rely on the heavily padded, underwired and beribboned bras that seem to be the rage in Japan. I hate them. I may be a candidate for Ōkunitama's ginkgo myself, but I loathe a bra that feels like a harness. Light support, ladies, that's all we need. Why go for these push-up contraptions that make you look as if you have two pimples just under your clavicles? It's obvious that it's all padding and zero adiposity.

Obvious? Yes. Look, people, when I'm teaching at my eikaiwa, I'm stuck in a small room with a female student. I'm standing at the whiteboard; she sitting or she's leaning forward on the desk. I can't not see. OK?

I wish I knew why Japan has such a obsession with breasts. It's common all over the world, but it seems particularly intense in Japan. Why? You want what you don't have?

When I lived in South Africa, I thought I was pathetically endowed. Then I arrived in Japan, and I realized gleefully that I'm not merely normal, I'm positively voluptuous! Let me state for the record that I'm either an A-cup or a B-cup, depending on the make of the bra, but I come from a country where bras go up to a J-cup. J! Thank heavens I'm small: imagine hiking with frontal protuberances bigger than your rucksack!

I'm not going to digress into a pseudo-academic discussion about Japan and boobs, but if you're interested, I recommend:

Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics by Laura Miller (specifically Chapter 3, Mammary Mania)

Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics and Censorship in Japan by Anne Allison

Women and the Media: Diverse Perspectives edited by Theresa Carilli and Jane Campbell (specifically Chapter 4, Cuteness: The Sexual Commodification of Women in the Japanese Media)

The Tama River behind Anyō-ji

Near Anyō-ji

The flashes of pink in a street near Anyō-ji attracted my attention.

Dragon at Susanoo Jinja

Susanoo Jinja's main shrine

The child-rearing ginkgo at Susanoo Jinja

Approaching Ōkunitama Jinja

Getting closer to Ōkunitama's main shrine

Finally, for the sheer hell of it, an ad from Nando's South Africa. It's a fast-food franchise famous for its irreverent ads, and in this particular one they're making fun of dumb blondes. Incidentally, that "o!" sound that the blonde makes? It's a very Afrikaans sound. I do that, too, when I'm surprised. Just like that (but without the impressive décolletage).

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