Skip to main content

Meet Akiyama, the god of haemorrhoids

"Hello! Can I help you?" the Buddhist priest asked in flawless English.

"Err," I responded intelligently.

"Are you lost?" He sounded perplexed. A reasonable reaction, given that I was in the depths of one of the poorest areas in Taitō, where blue-eyed barbarians are a scarce commodity.

"Umm," I muttered at my brilliant best. How do you tell a priest that you're hunting haemorrhoids? That, as a matter of fact, you've come to meet the god of haemorrhoids?

Yes, gentle reader, of course there's a god of haemorrhoids!

Because Japan.

Honshō-ji, where you can pray for relief from haemorrhoids

Where wôs I? How do you tell a priest that you're pursuing piles without sounding decidedly weird? Never mind the fact that he's the priest at the temple that's supposed to cure the affliction. There are certain things you just don't discuss with strangers, and I'd put any anal anecdotes pretty near the top of my list.

"Your English is very good," I continued wittily. He looked as disgruntled as I usually feel when complimented on my dexterous use of chopsticks. "I'm just visiting temples," I offered as an explanation.

I received a dubious glance.

"It's my hobby. Look, I've got a camera," I babbled.

"There are many temples in this area," he said.

"Yes, I know, I live here. Well, near here. That is, within a two-hour wa … " I trailed off.

"We have many visitors today. It's a public holiday."

"Yes, I noticed." I didn't add that all the visitors had clearly also noticed us. They were staring at this strange apparition – stately black-robed priest and disheveled, pony-tailed, flustered female – with 51% fascination and 49% alarm. "I'm sorry that you have to work on a holiday!" I prattled on. "I hope you can go home, oh, you live here, too, don't you? Well, I mean, I hope it's all over very quickly, I mean, that is, thankyousomuchforyourkindness, must rush, temples to see and shrines to conquer, goodbye!"

I'm not very ept when it comes to social niceties.

Why can you be inept but not ept?

English is silly.

The entrance to Honshō-ji

Anyway. The point of the story is …

Think of me what you will, but I'd gone on a two-hour walk to find a temple that allegedly cures haemorrhoids. Not for myself. I'm a vegetarian; we get plenty of fibre. No, because I love quirky temples, and … a temple for piles? Seriously? Doesn't get quirkier than that!

(I still think my best find is the pubic hair shrine, but never mind that now.)

It's called Honshō-ji (本性寺), and the god of haemorrhoids, who was originally a mere mortal called Okada Magoemon (岡田孫右衛), was buried here.

He was a sake merchant in Edo, and he suffered so horribly from haemorrhoids that he became a priest in an attempt to cure himself. He didn't succeed, and on his deathbed a few years later he vowed to become a god and help others with the same affliction.

His spirit was enshrined at this temple, and soon rumours of miraculous cures spread. Eventually Magoemon, now known as Akiyama Jiun Reijin (秋山自雲霊), was worshipped at several temples in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Most of these have disappeared, but you can still visit Honshō-ji and Magoemon's grave in Kiyokawa in Taitō. (See two photos below.)

Incidentally, there's another haemorrhoids temple in Ikenohata in Ueno, called Sōken-ji (宗賢寺). I didn't go there, because it's really nondescript, but you can see a photo here and its address is 池之端 2-1-15. If you pray at this temple during full moon, you have a better chance to recover. Allegedly.

May I add, at this juncture, that it's a dangerous topic to research, especially when you have a congenital inability to ignore hyperlinks? I got curious about the incidence of haemorrhoids in Japan. Japanese people have an unusually high rate of gastric cancer (source and source) due to their high salt intake as well as the lack of fibre in their diet …

Ah. Yes. The reality of Japan's contemporary eating habits isn't as pretty as the myth. The country's diet is relatively healthy thanks to limited fat, limited sugar and small portions, but whether it truly justifies religious rapture is another matter altogether.

To return to our main theme, I wondered about the incidence of haemorrhoids, given the lack of fibre. I wish I could provide conclusive evidence, but … I have enough metaphorical assholes in my life, and I got tired of medical articles with lots of pictures of the other type. Some images, once seen, cannot easily be erased.

Estimates of the prevalence rate in the USA range from 4,4% to 12,8% (source), but it might be lower in Japan thanks to that phenomenon loathed by so many foreigners: the squat toilet. Mind you, squat toilets are becoming increasingly rare, and every single Japanese woman I know prefers a Western toilet with, NB, a Sound Princess (artificial flushing sounds to hide the real sounds) (don't ask). So who knows.

I end with this gem that Google delivered when I was searching for "the prevalence of
haemorrhoids in Japan":
Feb 24, 2014 - 'Hemorrhoids occur more commonly in young and middle-aged adults than in older adults. The prevalence of hemorrhoids increases with age, with a peak in .... Mount Ontake eruption: Volcano eruption in Japan caught on ...

Piles and volcanic eruptions.

Let's end there, shall we? 

Tree detail at Honshō-ji

Higanbana, the flower of the dead, on a pavement in Asakusa

I stopped at Imado Jinja, where you can pray for love, along the way. Read more about the shrine here.

Imado Jinja always has mountains of ema. I guess love is more popular than haemorrhoids.

I also stopped at Matsuchiyama Shōden, the temple of the naughty daikon. 

Jizō at Matsuchiyama Shōden

Higanbana in the riverside park in Asakusa

My favourite phallic symbol

Sky Tree reflected in the HQ of Asahi Beer in Asakusa

View Larger Map

Popular posts from this blog

Higanbana, a flower of loss and longing

I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is Lycoris radiata; in English it's red spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.

It's also referred to as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet, because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers will grow along your…

This is what my language sounds like

A while ago I promised I would do a post about Afrikaans songs. Oh dear. It's more work than I thought it would be, and it's aggravated by the fact that I've lost touch with contemporary culture in South Africa. (Please don't ask me about Die Antwoord. I don't get it. I don't want to get it.) So for now, while I continue my research, I've selected two golden oldies that are very natsukashii (that's a Japanese word for "dear" or "missed") to me. You'll notice the central themes that unite these songs: an abiding love for Africa, as well as loss and longing.
Quick recap: Afrikaans, my mother tongue, is a South African language developed from 17th century Dutch. It has adopted words from Malay, Khoisan and Bantu languages, but 90% of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin. Yes, I understand Dutch (with a bit of effort) and Flemish (easily). Afrikaans has about 6 million native speakers.
Tomorrow we return our focus to Japan. Tonight, son…

South Africa is not a safety country (hallelujah)

I did. Smile. Nonstop. Al die pad dwarsdeur end-uit.

Thunder myths in Japan

Last night we had a magnificent thunderstorm in Tokyo, so today: a post about thunder! I've also discovered that there's a thunder temple in the shitamachi, but I'm going to keep you in suspense. I'll try to get there today, provided it stops drizzling, but it probably justifies its own post. Meantime … Raijin (雷神)
The god of thunder is called Raijin, Kaminari-sama or Raiden-sama, and he loves to eat the belly buttons of children. When there's thunder, parents tell their kids to hide their navels so that Raijin can't kidnap them.
Quakes, thunder, fire and father
Traditionally the Japanese feared four things in ascending order of severity: 地震·雷·火事·親父, jishin (earthquake), kaminari (thunder), kaji (fire), oyaji (father). The father was the most terrifying because in old days he had complete control over his household. (I can hear men sigh with longing, "When did it all go wrong?") I've also seen a slight adaptation:地震·雷·火事·大山風. The first three terrors r…

Yotsuya Kaidan, Japan's favourite ghost story

Kaidan! Ghost stories! You ready?
August is the month of Obon (お盆), a Buddhist festival that honours ancestral spirits, who are believed to return to their birthplaces in this week.  Since otherworldly beings are wandering about, it's also the perfect time for ghost stories or kaidan.
Kaidan (怪談) consists of two kanji: 怪 (kai) meaning "strange, mysterious or bewitching apparition" and 談 (dan) meaning"talk"or "recited narrative". It's a slightly old-fashioned word that conjures up tales from the Edo era, and we're going to start our August Kaidan Series with an old Edo tale of murder, betrayal and revenge that remains the most famous ghost story in Japan.
It's called Yotsuya Kadain (四谷怪談), and it proves that "heavenhas norage like love to hatred turned, norhellafury like a woman scorned".¹ It's roughly based on a real event: a woman called Oiwa² married a man called Tamiya Iuzaemon, but after their divorce, various misfortunes be…

The princess who loved insects

Edit added 8 May 2013: This post receives so many keyword search hits for "The Princess Who Loved Insects" that I've published an updated post (with extra information) that focuses on the book. Click here to read it.)

Blogging has been an interesting experiment. I initially started two blogs, Rurousha for personal musings and Sanpokatagata for factual stories accompanied by photos. I've now decided I'll do all stories on this blog, regardless of the content, and turn Sanpo into a supplementary photo blog. I'm not sure it's a good idea, since I'm not a good photographer at all, but let's see how it goes.
It occurred to me that "nomad" is not the ideal name for my blog. I don't wander anymore; I want to live in Japan forever and ever amen till death do us part. Then I remembered that I've already stayed in six different apartments in Tokyo and although most of my income is derived from one company, I've been based in three diff…

Bush clover, the flower of autumn

It's a modest plant, easy to overlook, yet it used to be Japan's most beloved flower.

Bush clover (ハギ, hagi) is mentioned in 141* poems in the Manyōshū (万葉集, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), Japan's first anthology of poetry, compiled in the 8th century. That far exceeds the 119 poems about the second-most popular flower, plum blossoms. The latter was revered as an exotic import from China; the former was praised for its rustic simplicity.

Bush clover grows about 3 m in height and has long, slender branches that droop across paths. The branches represent feminine elegance, but it's also a symbol of vigour thanks to its ability to produce young shoots from old stock. It flowers in September, when summer's heat lingers, but it's believed that if you can see dew drops on the plant's small green leaves, you know that autumn is near.

Nowadays the flower attracts little attention. There aren't any good bush clover viewing spots in Tokyo that I know of, apart…

Swing yourself into good luck at Ana Hachiman-gū

I'm not superstitious. I firmly believe that chocolate ensures mental health and books bring eternal happiness, and that's why I gather as much of both as I can, but that's science, not superstition. Don't you dare argue with me.
That doesn't mean I don't find superstitions interesting. Anything that humankind applies to explain what it doesn’t understand yet – or should that be to understand what it can't explain yet? – any fire that the talking ape lights in an attempt to keep the darkness at bay interests me, be it religion, mythology, superstition or folktales.
Why are we always asking why? That's what I want to know. Anyway.
When I heard about a shrine in Waseda that has a "return of spring = change in fortune = swing from the negative to the positive" festival, complete with charms and whatnot, plus a quirky combination of astronomy and astrology, I toddled along.
It's held at Ana Hachiman-gū (穴八幡宮), and it’s called Ichiyō Raifuku (…

Edo wind chimes: air con for your soul

Have you noticed that Japan has a thing about bells?
Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link).
From which one could correctly deduce that peace is ever transient.
Now, before I get sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells, yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin(風鈴).

I would not to mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go:
The oldest wind chimes found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits.

The bridges across the Sumida River

The Sumida River covers a distance of 27 km from Kita-ku to Tokyo Bay, but its most interesting section is – of course! – the one that runs through the shitamachi.
Today, in the second part of my Sumida series, I'll cover the lower section from Shirahigebashi to Eitaibashi. I originally included extra information about the river's main shrines, for example a shrine that's dedicated to the river god himself, but the post got so long that you would've fallen asleep halfway through. Let's focus on the bridges, and then I'll interrupt my series with an extra post about the gods.
This section has the most interesting bridges, several of which were constructed by Kawasaki Steel Construction (currently Kawasaki Heavy Industries) after older bridges collapsed in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. The company rebuilt a total of 25 bridges using 16 000 tonnes of steel after that quake, including Shirahigebashi, Kiyosubashi and Eitaibashi. The Sumida bridges became famo…