Friday, January 5, 2018

Teacher of Fortune

For the past couple of years I've posted my New Years' "shrine visit" on Facebook, checking in at Omaha's Joslyn Art Museum.  I'd learned enough about Japan from anime to know this is a big deal culturally, but I wasn't here yet, so I figured an art museum was a pretty good substitute for me.  But those days are over - at 3:17 pm January 2nd I was catching the Keikyu line back to Yokohama, and the question wasn't if I would be dropping in on a shrine in the coming days...it was which shrine to visit.  The answer was actually a holdover from last Spring.  The day before Five joined me in Kyoto I got it into my head that I'd like to visit a shrine or temple for each of Japan's Seven Gods of Fortune (Noragami was my #1 anime still back then).  That didn't actually happen because I got lazy and decided I'd go to the Karuta temple instead, but the idea was still in the back of my head, so when I saw the Shichifukujin Meguri mentioned on one of my websites in December, I decided the time had finally come to pay my respects to Bishamon et al.

One of the wonderful things about Japan is its syncretic nature.  In other countries, incoming religious beliefs snuff out their predecessors, but here they just get assimilated into the whole.  This means that there are a LOT of gods running around Japan, and many of them aren't even Japanese...in fact, only one of the Seven is native.  The rest are imports from India and China.  How this idea of a lucky seven came about, I'm not sure - that hasn't been covered by any of the anime I've watched, so if you really want to know, you can look it up.  But really, if you had thousands of gods in your belief system, why wouldn't you designate 7 (shichi in Japanese, with fuku meaning luck and jin for person) to be the most lucky?
There are at least three designated courses for the Shichifukujin Meguri in Tokyo.  I went for the shortest, which coincidentally took me back to Ningyocho.  I thought that was pretty fitting since one of my contingency plans involves launching a line of cosplay plush dolls, and I also liked the fact that all the stops were at shrines, rather than temples.  The Wow-J article in which I read about it suggested starting at Koami Jinja, which was dedicated to Fukurokuju and Benzaiten.  I marked the shrines on Google maps before I went out, and set out from Ningyocho Station wending down one-way streets, so I was expecting a small shrine, and that is what I found.  What I was not expecting was the long-ass line winding around the corner and then half a block further.  It was a little past ten when I joined the queue, and it just got longer from that point.  Part of me wanted to give up - I did not want to spend all day standing in lines - but I figured I didn't have much better to do with my day, so instead I started thinking about what I should wish for at each shrine.

See, each of the Seven has a specific bailiwick, so it seemed like I should break a general wish for good luck down and ask for what I wanted with the guy or gal most likely to make it happen.  Since Benzaiten has her own shrine a little later, I focused on Fukurokuju at Koami Jinja.  As a Fukujin he has a lot of overlap with the others, and apparently at one time he was replaced by another female deity, but his domain is largely about longevity.  When I got to the front of the line and threw in my coin, I had decided I didn't really need a long life - owing to my Mormon lifestyle I'm already ridiculously healthy - but I interpreted youth as a part of longevity, and the beauty that society generally ascribes to being young, and wished for those.
I stayed long enough to pick up an ema and find out that they wouldn't put my stamps in my sketchbook - there's a stamp rally thing you can do, but you have to buy the proper shrine-approved board thing, which kind of pissed me off, but I'm trying to be all philosophical and see this as an opportunity to get artistic.  From there it took about five minutes to walk to Cha No Ki Jinja, the shrine of Hotei.  Hotei is kind of awesome - he's fat and sassy, as befitting the Fukujin responsible for children, diviners, and barmen.  His special province is popularity, and even though I spent the last few years in Mongolia saying otherwise, you really can't have too many friends, so that's what I asked him for.  I was glad the line wasn't as long here, but it was such a small shrine that they didn't have ema, so my artistic plans didn't get any help from Hotei.
Which is just as well, because my next visit was to Benzaiten, patron goddess of artists, writers, dancers, and musicians, which kind of makes me her target audience.  This was another long line, through which I occupied myself wondering about Suiten-Gu.  It was a beautiful shrine, but it looked fairly new and was on a kind of pedestal building.  Eventually I was pushed to the front and got to ring the bell and ask for support in my artistic pursuits.
Basically catty-corner from Suiten-Gu was Matsushima Jinja, abode of Daikokuten.  There was a little line for this little shrine, so it didn't take long before I was throwing in a coin to ask for wisdom in using my wealth, since he specifically watches over prosperity.  While I was waiting, I had the chance to ponder the fact that I hadn't done ablutions at any of the shrines.  This may be a mark against me (probably not as big a mark as the fact that I was unprepared and only had 1 yen coins in my wallet, when any Noragami fan can tell you 5 yen is the traditional offering...) but it.  Was.  Chilly.  Not American Midwest WTF-who-says-climate-change-is-an-urban-myth?-cold, but cold enough to be getting the fuck on with, and I had no desire to run fresh spring water over my hands, under the circumstances.

In fact, the idea left me so chilled that I decided to warm up by stopping for lunch at Coco Curry.  If you are thinking I also chose Ningyocho's Shichifukujin Meguri because I knew the closest branch of my favorite Japanese restaurant chain, well, you're not wrong.  But one thing I've taken with me from Mongolia is the belief that New Years' is not time to start a diet - if you want to be prosperous and happy all year long, don't start by counting calories.  There's always next week for that.

After my first taste of curry for 2018, I walked a couple of blocks to get to Bishamonten's place, Suehiro Jinja.  No matter how many times I see the traditional version of the God of fortune in wars and battles, with his fierce eyebrows and goatee, Bisha will always be a smokin' hot blonde badass femme fatale to me, and so it seemed apropos to me that the war I'd ask for her help with would be my battle of the bulge.

As I stood in line to make my request (photo bombing the girls taking selfies in front of me, which got a huge laugh out of one of them when she looked at the pictures) I realized there was a tengu manning the stamp table.  As I watched, he put on a hooded mask with a lion's face and proceeded to dance for us.  Even with the cold, standing there listening to the music as he did his lucky lion dance while petitioners shook the bells and clapped at the shrine made me want to stay in Japan forever.  Maybe that should have been one of my wishes.
Instead, when I arrived at Kasama Inari Jinja I asked Jurojin for good health, particularly when it comes to my feet.  He is also a God of longevity, but without good health long life would actually be a curse, so I figured it works. 
Finally I came to Ebisu, the only purely Japanese Fukujin and god of wealth in business.  As mentioned before, one of my contingency plans involves selling my plushies, so I thought if there was anyone to petition for help in that (besides my Dark Lord and Master) it would be Ebisu.  When I got to Sugimori Jinja I was surprised to see it was white - I don't think I've ever seen a white shrine, so that was kind of cool.  There was actually another shrine on the circuit, a second Ebisu shrine a few blocks away, but I was out of coins and ready to be out of the cold again, so I decided not to show favoritism...at least not to Ebisu.  Since Benzaiten is the patron of artists, I figured it just made sense to drop 10 yen at her shrine.

Although I loved spending time at these little shrines, I confess I was tempted to complete a different meguri, one that had bells to collect along with stamps...but I figure there's always next year for that, and maybe then I will make my wishes on behalf of others.  Since then 2018 has been relatively quiet.  I've spent a lot of time trying to stay warm in my apartment while watching Gintama, and a little sitting in restaurants drinking free refills and letting them keep me warm (in fact, my game plan for today involves breakfast at Denny's as soon as I finish this post).  Although normally I shun the idea of resolutions, I do want to be healthier, and I have to make better use of my money than I did the last few months...but there's always next week.  Apparently the Japanese believe in shunning housework and cooking for the first few days of the new year, and hell, when in Rome...

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