Everyday Scenes 3

One of the greatest enjoyments that I get when taking walks (or going on hikes) is to encounter jizo (affectionately called ojizo san). I can't
really put my finger on it, but there is something about ojizo san that
gravitates me. Whenever I see them along roadsides, I do my best to stop and take a closer look at it, trying to get as much info as possible by reading the engravings on them. It always gives me pleasure to imagine how people lived and the wishes they made through the newly sculpted ojizo san.

Jizo, probably the most popular Buddhist saint in Japan, is believed to aid and benefit all suffering beings and has been an object of popular veneration from the Heian period (794-1185). It is customarily found in the form of a stone statue on roadsides and portrayed as a monk with the jewel (called hoju) in the left hand and the staff (called shakujo) in the right. Often red bibs are put on jizo because of the common belief that jizo act as the guardian of children's safety.

At temples and shrines, you often see tables with lots of numbers written on them (see the pictures). That's probably the list of "yakudoshi"(critical or unlucky ages). According to Japanese folklore, people at the ages of yakudoshi are prone to experience misfortune and calamities. Although there are local and historical variations, the common saying is that for men the ages 25, 42 and 61, and for women 19, 33, 39,are deemed critical years. Among these, ages 42 for men and 33 for women are called taiyaku (most unlucky) and are considered to be the riskiest of all yakudoshi. Also, the year before yakudoshi is called maeyaku, while the year after is called atoyaku, and precaustion is advised for these years.

To avoid bad luck, lots of people go to shrines and temples to be "exorcised". (I had that done when I was 25!) It's all superstition, of course. BUT it MAY not be so farfetched as to be simply dismissed as ridiculous because many people do seem to go through some kind of physiological transition or experience deterioration in their health around yakudoshi ages. I really don't know if all this is valid or not. You be the judge! Incidentally, the numbers 42 and 33 are phonetically unlucky numbers as well. The number 42 can be read "shini", which is homophonous with the word "death", and 33, when prounounced as "sanzan", means "miserable".

On sunny days, especially during the winter, if you walk through a
neighborhood or look at passing buildings while riding a train you'll see futons(Japanese bedding) hanging outside. Many, many futons... each part looks like a small patch in a large patchwork quilt. (Did you ever wonder if anyone has been hit by a falling futon?) Futons are aired in the sunshine regularly to prevent any microscopic pests (such as dust mites) and mildew from forming.They are also beaten with long sticks for the same reason. Futons don't need to be aired every day, but some people do - it depends on the individual. Japanese society, the younger generation in particular, has become very westernized.(I would say western-style beds are more common now among young people than futons are) The traditional futon, though, still remains popular because it's easy to store and doesn't have to take up space - a precious commodity in Japan.

The most famous cat in Japan - except for, of course, Hello Kitty - is probably Manekineko. At the entrance (or inside) of restaurants, bars, shops and other businesses that rely on heavy customer traffic you sometimes see a porcelain figure in the shape of a sitting cat with one paw raised as if making the customary Japanese gesture used in beckoning people. That cat is the manekineko (beckoning cat) and believed to bring fortune and happiness.

Manekineko displayed, along with imitation food samples at the entrance of a Japanese food restaurant.

Wide variety of manekineko are available in the JUN Online Catalgoue, please take a look.

There are a couple of theories on the origin of manekineko, but the one that's most common is the cat owned by a monk of a temple called Gotokuji in what is now Setagaya ward in Tokyo. The monk loved the cat. It was the apple of his eye. Even though he was having an extremely difficult time making ends meet because of a lack of temple members (supporters), he made sure that the cat was fed. Whether or not the cat was aware of the destitution was anybody's guess,but one day, when the sky was clouding over, the cat started beckoning into the temple a party led by a powerful lord on its way back from a hunting excursion. Just as soon as the party walked into the temple, it started pouring down outside. Pleased about escaping the thunderstorm and listening to the monks preach, the lord promised to put the temple under his patronage. Ever since then the temple thrived. The word got out and people started making dolls in the figure of thebeckoning cat.

Pictures of Gotokuji

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