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The warrior goddess of Ameyoko

There's this thing called real life, which is sometimes more demanding than the virtual version, and I've never been good at multi-tasking. Does that explain my recent disappearance?

The best thing that can be said about January is that I've achieved a new record, and never mind that it's a new record low: only four posts in one month.

Last week the emperor of Twitter, Alexander Shiroki, very politely prodded me: "Morning, Ru! Haven't seen your blog posts for a while ..." Whereupon I solemnly promised that I would write a post just for him, so here it is.

Marishiten Tokudai-ji near Okachimachi Statin

Alex, it's not the post I wanted to write, which would've been titled "So you thought you knew everything about Sensō-ji? Ha! You ain't got a clue!" That one will be written, or rather is already being drafted, but it's going to be one of my multi-generational War and Peace sagas, which means I've chosen a shorter option.

It's still damn interesting, though, methinks.

You know about Ameya-Yokochō, the open-air market located between Ueno Station and Okachimachi Station? Yes, of course you do, since it's one of the most famous shopping streets in Tokyo. I used to love this gritty, run-down, cheerfully brash area, but its character is changing: craft shops have been replaced by stores selling cheap crap, and locals are outnumbered by not-exactly-well-mannered tourists. I find myself circling around it rather than cutting through it when I walk to my university or Ueno Park or Yanaka.


However, it still packs a few surprises, and one of them is the temple in its heart. Did you know there's a place of worship in the middle of this unashamedly commercial 儲かりまっか shopping district?

[儲かりまっか, kari makka, "are you making any money?" is a traditional Osaka greeting that is singularly appropriate in Ameyoko.]

It's called Marishiten Tokudai-ji (摩利支天徳大寺), and it's dedicated to a deity that used to be revered by warriors, but nowadays has taken a back seat while Jizō, Kannon and Benzaiten enjoy centre stage.


Looking down at the shopping area in front of the temple

The street below the temple, just outside the entrance

If you look closely, you'll see a blue Keihin-Tōhoku Line train in the background.
Okachimachi Station is to the right in this photo.

Marishiten is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word Marici, a Buddhist goddess whose name means "light" or "mirage". Marici was regarded as a deification of mirages, and – in Japan, after being introduced in the ninth century – was invoked by warriors to escape the notice of their enemies.

From Mark Schumacher's website (link):
Minamoto Yoritomo, one of Japan’s most lauded military geniuses and the first shōgun of the Kamakura era (1185-1332), reportedly had an idol of Marishiten made to protect him in battle. This idol is now said to be housed at the Kantsū-ji Temple in Shinjuku. The famous military leader Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shōgun of the Edo period (1615-1868), carried a small wooden Marishiten charm at all times. The grave of the 47 rōnin at Sengaku-ji is guarded by an effigy of Marishiten. 

Marishiten is often depicted as travelling on a wild boar. She's said to protect you against danger from all misfortune and evil, robbers and natural disasters. She also cures possession by spirits, relieves difficult deliveries and helps in resolving differences. Her cult peaked in the Edo era, when she was also worshipped as a goddess of wealth and prosperity among the merchant class, but her popularity declined after the dismantling of the feudal system and the abolishment of the samurai class.

She's now been replaced by Benzaiten as the main deity for … oh … everything: music, learning, eloquence, wealth, longevity and protection from natural disasters.

Tokudai-ji is about 600 years old; when it was originally constructed, this part of Ueno was densely wooded. Nowadays you'll find the building near Okachimachi Station in the heart of Ameyoko: pay your respects, ask for protection against natural disasters (currently the main benefit bestowed by the temple) and then scarper down the stairs to buy KitKats, fresh seafood or cheap T-shirts with dubious English slogans.

You can pray to Marishiten, a statue of Nichiren or the "wife love Jizō" (妻恋地蔵 tsumakoi). It frustrates me endlessly that I haven't been able to determine the latter's exact meaning. This is where you pray that your wife will love you? Unlikely. (Let's be realistic: you don't want love, you want a housekeeper.) [I'm in one of my cynical phases. Deal with it.] It's where you pray that you'll be a good obedient dutiful wife? Possible.

Does anybody know?

Nichiren, Jizō and the loving wife


Tsumakoi Jizō, the "wife love Jizō".

Anyway, next time you visit this "most Asian of street markets in Tokyo" (as travel guides wax lyrical), pop into the temple of the ancient warrior goddess and ask for her protection. There will always be another disaster.

A message for Alex: I hope Marishiten will bestow her warrior's blessings on the people of the Ukraine.

A message for everybody else: Real life and a very demanding work schedule will remain my priorities over the next few months, but I'll be around. Occasionally. Maybe.

Koma-inu guarding the temple, above and below

Smaug the dragon

Two Smaugs

Ru loves roofs.

Ru loves roofs very much.

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