Protecting the protector お地蔵を守る北陸

Jizo shrine (2)

As seen from this example from Toyama, a stone roadside shrine has been completely covered with a straw matting and a plastic blue sheet to protect it from snow during the winter months.

Whereas in many parts of Japan the roadside statues of the Buddhist saint named “Jizo” is left open to the elements, the people of the Hokuriku region (Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures) express their strong devotional ties to Buddhism by wrapping up the Jizo statues and shrines.

Jizo shrine

On the drive leading up to a farmhouse sits an old, moss covered stone shrine enshrining a stone statue of Jizo. The usually exposed front is covered with straw matting to protect the inside statue from the winter snow. This will be removed with the change of the seasons.

Jizo shrine (closeup)

A closeup of the above photo. Even care is taken to ensure that Jizo is able to see out of the shrine by cutting a small window in the protective covering. Perhaps this is evidence of the local people’s strong affection for Jizo.

 

Setsubun 節分

On February 3rd in homes throughout Japan, family members will walk through the rooms of their home throwing beans (mamemaki) in a purifying ritual. While tossing the beans family members will shout  oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi (demons out, good luck in) as if to bring about fortuitous luck in the upcoming year. It is common for one person to

mame (Small)

A bag of beans. While in some parts of Japan the beans used are soybeans, in the Tohoku region peanuts are commonly used. Pictured here is a bag of soybeans.

play the role of the oni (demon) in this ritual. Often the father of the household is relegated to this job. During this period of seasonal change, like others, was believed to have been a time when evil spirits and monsters gathered, and caused plagues and other disasters. Family members will also eat an amount of beans in accordance with their individual ages sometimes adding one. The addition of one bean may be a symbolic assurance of living another year or may reflect kazoedoshi (a traditional method of counting age in which the one year is counted for time in the womb). Beans are eaten so as to ward off evil and increase resistance to illness.

 

oni

When purchasing beans at a store, a paper mask of an oni (demon) is provided as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does the fox say? 近所に狐

What does the fox say? Not a lot actually. When a young fox appeared in our neighborhood this past year, despite being wild, it was not particularly alarmed by the presence of humans. So much in fact, that it didn’t budge when children and parents burst out of the local elementary school gymnasium after the children’s performance had finished.

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Perhaps the fox’s arrival was a response to the flattening of local forested mountains in the creation of large-scale solar panel farms.

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In one sense, the fox’s arrival was reassuring though, because earlier last spring as I was doing my morning jog two phantom shapes crossed in front of me. Their speed, mixed with my surprise, as well as a hazy, early morning twilight, left some uncertainty in my own mind as to what I had seen.  It was a sort of dreamy experience. But now I am pretty confident that I had seen what I had seen.