Formerly known as "Creepy-chusetts, Strange-chusetts".

Monday, September 2, 2013

Onomichi Landscape: Local Beliefs

Do you recognize the archaic smile this Ksitigarbha fellow has?

Onomichi is a small seaside town in southeast Hiroshima. Yasujiro Ozu shoot ending scenes of Tokyo Story in Onomichi. I want to introduce this fascinating, quaint town with a web of narrow, steep, winding paths to you.  I've been this town countless times, and each time I find new aspects that I didn't see from the previous visit.

Interested? Please take a look at my post: The Landscape of Yasujiro Ozu.

Today, I'll show you some of the local beliefs welded into the everyday community landscape. I'm no expert in cultural anthropology, so I'm just gonna introduce them from an aspect of an ordinary Japanese person.

 A cat deity in a community Shinto alter

Pious folks might think this kitty-cat irreverent, but I think this fellow must be one of the eight million Shinto gods/ goddesses. I'm already a fervent follower of this kitty-cat deity; it's so kawaii! As you might know, kawaii trumps everything in Japan. I might not be joking if I say cuteness is a message from gods.

Oh, there's another kawaii in this picture. Do you see a carving on the below left corner? It looks like a fertility goddess or something, I mean, ahem, the bosom!

This is another style of small community Shinto shrine. To be precise, this alter is in a commercial area unlike the previous kitty-cat shrine which is in a residential area. What's the difference? What are those white porcelain creatures? Are they handling flames or a visualized form of spirits?

Can you guess?

They are foxes. The Inari (稲荷) represents fertility, hence the shrines are associated with agricultural, industrial, and merchant prosperity. Even such a worldly purpose of the belief, we always associate a fox (Kitsune/ 狐) with a trickster or a fearful deity. Some kids, hell even grown-ups think the Inari shrines bit scary.

Me? Sure, I don't mess around with an Inari fox...or be cursed!

This is such a lovely Ksitigarbha (or Jizo/ 地蔵) shrine nearby the Cat Shinto deity. While Shinto is an indigenous Japanese belief, the Jizo belief is from Buddhism. Until those two religions were officially separated by the Meiji government in the late 19th century, they were meld together, forming an indigenous belief system that unique to Japan.

The two religions were separated by the government? You might wonder.

The shrine is just behind of this muti-story well

The Shinto became a symbolic face of the country to form a modern nation (a.k.a. the rise of nationalism) represented by the newly restored Emperor's leadership. The indigenous Shinto belief transformed to State Shinto which, in my opinion, is something very different from the vernacular belief rooted in communities.

This Jizo shrine is dedicated to a water well. I need to ask a local person about the symbolism of this statue but in this context, it must be related to the protection of the well, the lifeline of the community.

Looking thorough the photos I took, I realize the significance of the Jizo belief in this traditional community. The above photo is a conglomerate of Jizos. Again, I am not 100% certain but this looks like for "stray" Jizos. I wonder if they ever roam around by themselves (you never know!) but this must be the final resting place for them; I've seen gravestones stacked like this because they had no surviving (or caring) relatives to take care of them. A sad scene to see. 

I just named this as "Jizo explosion," sounds cool, doesn't it?
What if they were marshmallow bobbing heads?

Do you think those Jizos are cute? Or bit scary? Me...both. It looks like they'll have a meeting during a night, while we are asleep. What would they talk about? I bet it's about the community ranging from gossip, genuine concern, and good news.

All the local beliefs I introduced here functions as the spine of  the community. This is an honest representation of everyday life in Onomichi where a cat can be a deity if you wish so. You'll find your own if you visit Onomichi.

Jeez, you guys are sooooo kawaii!!


  1. Is it proper to scatter a little bit of cat nip for these deities?

    1. Only the A-1 grade, organic, ethically grown catnip hand picked by virgin girls is accepted. Or a thunder of curse manifested as scratches will appear on your skin.