To understand Japan, know the shrines. Japan is a land of shrines… There are so many shrines a number of books are dedicated to them. In particular, Rearranging the Landscape of the Gods is on my reading list. An excerpt from the first page:
Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples remain the mainstay of Japan’s cultural, historical and devotional spaces. For example, there are over 4000 shrines and temples in the Shinto Sect of the Buddhist religion alone.
Some of the odder few shrines that are off the beaten path:
- The Breast Shrine — The kami here is Chichigamisama, the kami of breasts and women come here to pray for plenty of breastmilk and safe delivery of children.
- The Hemorrhoid Shrine — According to ancient Japanese tradition, anyone who visits the shrine and carries out the complete ritual will be cured of the condition of hemorrhoids. The ritual involves first bathing naked in a local river. Then visit the Kunigami shrine where an altar with a holy stone egg stands. They hover their backside over the egg while saying a special prayer. They then must consume a meal of boiled eggs at a nearby temple. This will prevent or cure the affliction.
- The Divorce Temple — Until the end of the Edo Period, the temple served as a shelter for women who suffered abuse by their husbands and sought a divorce. An official divorce could be attained by staying at the temple for three years.
The great variety of temples is only surpassed by the apparent wealth of temples in Japan. Most are surrounded by plush gardens, delightful expressions of stone, water, wood and greenery. It’s sometimes impossible to tell where the temple grounds end and nature begins.
The temples and shrines fit an intimate part of the Japanese culture, along with the food, the language and the land. If you take time to learn the Japanese attitudes towards them, it will enhance your visiting pleasure.
- Rearranging the Landscape of the Gods
- Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion
- The Nakasendo
- Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, Lafcaido Hearn, 1885
- A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley and Dairoku Kikuchi