TsukuBlog

A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Ju-San Mairi (十三参り), a Coming-of-Age Ceremony held for 13 Year Olds- is celebrated mostly in Kyoto AND Ibaraki Prefecture ( at the Matsumurayama KOKU-ZO-DO Temple in Tokai Mura Village)

 

Muramatsuyama Koku-zo- Do in Tokai Mura Village Ibaraki Prefecture is famous for Ju-San Mairi- a coming of age ceremony held for 13 year olds

Muramatsuyama Koku-zo- Do in Tokai Mura Village Ibaraki Prefecture is famous for Ju-San Mairi- a coming of age ceremony held for 13 year olds. If you visit between March 25th and April 5th, you`ll find this Chinowa (straw ring)  set up for worshippers to pass through.

After taking a sit on a local bus in Tsukuba today, I looked up and noticed this Sanskrit letter, the character, that reads TARAKU (in Japanese pronunciation) - the seed syllable for the Buddhism deity of wisdom and memory Koku-zo- Bosatsu (Akasagarbha in Sanskrit). This poster is an anouncement that rites for Ju-san mairi ( a coming of age ceremony for 13 year olds) will be held at Muramatsuyama Koku-zo-do in Tokai-Mura between March 25th and April 5th with THE MAIN DAY BEING APRIL 3RD

After taking a sit on a local bus in Tsukuba today, I looked up and noticed on advertisement featuring this Sanskrit letter, the character that reads TARAKU (in Japanese pronunciation) – the seed syllable for the Buddhist deity of wisdom and memory: Koku-zo- Bosatsu (Akasagarbha in Sanskrit). This poster is anouncing the fact that rites for Ju-san mairi ( a coming of age ceremony for 13 year olds) will be held at Muramatsuyama Koku-zo-do in Tokai-Mura between March 25th and April 5th with THE MAIN DAY BEING APRIL 3RD

By Avi Landau

Most people associate the village of Tokai-Mura, located about half-way up the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture, with its now defunct nuclear power plant, and  the ” little” accident that occurred there, about 20 years ago, in which 2 people died and many more were exposed to excessive doses of radiation which also leaked out into the surrounding area. This can now be seen as a foreshadowing of the disaster which struck in 2011 at the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor No. 1 which is located not very far to this older reactor.

A billboard paid for by an anti-nuclear power group reading: Don`t destroy Tokai Mura - We don`t need nuclear reactors!

A billboard paid for by an anti-nuclear power group reading: Don`t destroy Tokai Mura – We don`t need nuclear reactors!

Memories of that older incident, even with the passage of more than a decade, had hardly faded, when the great quake struck. And then, as word of the radiation leakage began to spread it was like deja vu all over again-  because even BEFORE FUKUSHIMA  there had been people I knew who would never  buy any of Tokai Village`s  delicious produce ( pears, peanuts and dried sweet potatoes), let alone visit there ( as you can imagine, those same people wasted no time in completely escaping from this region in the wake of the nuclear accident of 2011).

 

Back then there was the same controversy about the dangers of contamination that rages today. At that time some called this (and by that I mean avoidance of anything from anywhere near a nuclear accident) a kind of discrimination, but even then, it was difficult to know where to draw the line between prejudice and good sense . Yes, it might be perfectly safe, but by not buying Tokai Mura`s ( or Fukushima`s) potatoes you were hurting the local farmers. And just like at the earthquake ( and running into the present) the Japanese government  most probably did not let the public know the full extent of what happened back in 1999, or  about the lingering effects of that radiation leak (because it was the  government that was promoting the use of nuclear power!).

Koku-zo Bosatsu (Akasagarbha, in Sanskrit) means "Limitless Repository" and is the name of the Buddhist deity of wisdom and memory. More than a carved image like the one seen here, this deity is represented by its Sanskrit seed syllable which is read TARAKU (in Japanese pronunciation) - see the photo near the top. Koku-zo is strongly connected with Shingon Esoteric Buddhism (by far the most popular sect in the Tsukuba area) since it was this deity, in the form of a morning star that convinced the sects founder, the great priest Kukai (Kobo Daishi) to make the dangerous trip to China to further his studies (in the 9th century)

Koku-zo Bosatsu Koku-zo Bosatsu (Akasagarbha, in Sanskrit) means “Limitless Repository” and is the name of the Buddhist deity of wisdom and memory. More than a carved image like the one seen here, this deity is represented by its Sanskrit seed syllable which is read TARAKU (in Japanese pronunciation) – see the photo near the top. Koku-zo is strongly connected with Shingon Esoteric Buddhism (by far the most popular sect in the Tsukuba area) since it was this deity, in the form of a morning star that convinced the sects founder, the great priest Kukai (Kobo Daishi) to make the dangerous trip to China to further his studies (in the 9th century)

There has been, however, at least one reason, that people, especially those from central Ibaraki, might venture to pay a special visit to Tokai Mura- that is to celebrate a thirteen year old boy or girls JU-SAN MAIRI, a rite of passage common in Kyoto and its environs, but almost completely unknown anywhere else (you can do your own survey). This coming of age ceremony is customarily celebrated at  temples dedicated to  KOKU-ZO- (虚空蔵) , a Boddhisatva whose wisdom and goodness are believed to be as vast as the sky (this is a direct translation of the name KOKU-ZO-), and who can bestow generous doses of good fortune, intelligence and  powers of memory upon devotees. Tokai Mura has been home to one such temple, the Muramatsu Koku-zo- do-,  since the year 807, and it has also been long considered one of Japans three great Koku-zos (along with those in Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture and Ise, Mie Prefecture).

An old Koku-zo Hall in Oho, Tsukuba. To get a better understanding of how important this deity was to local adherent of the Shingon Sect (which is most of the local people) read Junichi`s Saga`s Susumu`s Saga and Remembrance of Village Days Past (translated by Avi Landau) and available at Amazon. You will be interested to learn that devotees of Koku-zo- never ate eel - as that creature is considered the messenger of the deity.

An old Koku-zo Hall in Oho, Tsukuba. To get a better understanding of how important this deity was to local adherent of the Shingon Sect (which is most of the local people) read Junichi`s Saga`s Susumu`s Saga and Remembrance of Village Days Past* (translated by Avi Landau) and available at Amazon. You will be interested to learn that devotees of Koku-zo- never ate eel – as that creature is considered the messenger of the deity.

Though there are certain rites of passage which are universally celebrated in Japan , of which the Shichi-Go-San in November for children aged 3, 5 and 7, and the Coming Of age Day in January for 20-year olds might be familiar to you, the Ju-San Mairi celebration for 13 year olds which began at Kyoto`s Horinji-Temple in Arashiyama, is still mostly observed in the old capital (Kyoto) and its environs, and then, because of the presence of the two important temples, in parts of Ibaraki and Tochigi Prefectures, way out here in Eastern Japan.

A kimono which according to the label (at New York`s Metropolitan Museum of Art) was made especially for the occassion of a Ju-San Mairi Celebration

In kyoto, most celebrants and their parents visit the Horin-Ji Temple on April 13th, though any time between March 13th and May 13th is acceptable. Girls might be presented their first furisode Kimono, and 13 types of sweets may be purchased and then enjoyed after returning home . While at the temple, families pray for the health and happiness of their children and also for a little of the wisdom and merit of the Koku-zo- Boddhisatva to rub off on them. Another famous tradition at Horin-Ji  is that after the 13 year olds have finished their visit and prayed for wisdom, they should never LOOK BACK as they cross the Togetsu Bridge to leave the shrine. It is said that if they were to doing that, they would lose all the wisdom and merit they had just gained.

The Sanskrit character used to represent the Koku-zo bosatsu

The Sanskrit character used to represent the Koku-zo bosatsu. Once again I`d like to emphasize the fact that this deity is most often represented by this character than by a carved or painted image.

As I have said, you do not have to travel to Kyoto to see or celebrate Ju-San mairi ( though you might prefer to!), as the Matsumurayama Koku-zo-do is only about a 90 minute drive from Tsukuba and easilly accessible by train (using the Joban Line). Though it is customary to visit there between March 25 and April 5, you can find kimono clad celebrants on practically any day of the year.  Here is how to get there-

http://www.taraku.or.jp/sanpai/access.html

And you can have a little tour of the temple grounds at- http://www.taraku.or.jp/shodo/sato.html

The Kuku-zo Hall from a distance

The Kuku-zo Hall from a distance

Though they were once part of the same complex, since the Meiji Restoration and the Movement to Separate Shintoism and Buddhim (SHINBUTSU BUNRI), the Koku-zo Hall and the Muramatsu Daijingu  are now clearly separated from each other. This shrine is very important (Tokugawa Mitsukuni and Nariaki were devotees) -some consider it to be of higher rank than the Kashima Grand Shrine, which is the official Ichi-no-miya (highest ranked shrine) of Ibaraki Prefecture

Though they were once part of the same complex, since the Meiji Restoration and the Movement to Separate Shintoism and Buddhism (SHINBUTSU BUNRI), the Koku-zo Hall and the Muramatsu Daijingu are now clearly separated from each other. This shrine is very important (Tokugawa Mitsukuni and Nariaki were devotees) -some consider it to be of higher rank than the Kashima Grand Shrine, which is the official Ichi-no-miya (highest ranked shrine) of Ibaraki Prefecture

Behind the Koku-zo Hall is this pagoda.

Behind the Koku-zo Hall is this pagoda.

I really wonder why the practice of celebrating coming of age at the age of thirteen is not more widespread in Japan. Not only is that an age where young peoples` bodies and minds start to mature,  but also according to eastern thought, that age represents the beginning of a new cycle of 12, after having gone through all the 12 signs of the Japanese Zodiac for the first time, only to return to the animal (each sign is an animal) of ones birth year. When I posed this question to several  Japanese friends, they all concurred in saying that in contemporary Japan, 13 year-olds are too busy at school to be bothered with such things.

The Muramatsu Jingu is a branch of the Ise Grand Shrine and dedicated to Amatersu, the Sun Goddess, and according to Shinto Myth, the ancestor of the emperor. The Mito Clan, were great supporters of the emperors return to a central position in Japanese life and politics and that is why they generously supported and often worshipped at this shrine.

The Muramatsu Jingu is a branch of the Ise Grand Shrine and dedicated to Amatersu, the Sun Goddess, and according to Shinto Myth, the ancestor of the emperor. The Mito Clan, were great supporters of the emperors return to a central position in Japanese life and politics and that is why they generously supported and often worshipped at this shrine.

A monument commemorating the fact that President Bill Clinton, upon a visit to Mito to make a speech, was presented with an amulet blessed by the Muramatsu Jingu

A monument commemorating the fact that President Bill Clinton, upon a visit to Mito to make a speech, was presented with an amulet blessed by the Muramatsu Jingu

Still, right here in Ibaraki, you have a chance to witness  this rare custom being observed. After (or before) visiting the Muramatsuyama Koku-zo-Do, you can check out Tokai Mura`s other top attractions- The Atomic Sciences Museum , and the tastelessly named museum (in light of the accidents of `99 and 2011)- Atom World!

A wooden horse - an unusual traditional folk-craft availble at the Muramatsuyama Koku-zo Temple. It is a three dimensional votive tablet (E-ma). You will often see flat votive tablets at shrines and temples with wishes written on them hanging on special racks. E-ma actually means HORSE PICTURES (as real horses were offered to shrines in ancient times) These toy horses are an interesting reminder of that old custom (as are the  E-ma tablets)

A wooden horse – an unusual traditional folk-craft availble at the Muramatsuyama Koku-zo Temple. It is a three dimensional votive tablet (E-ma). You will often see flat votive tablets at shrines and temples with wishes written on them hanging on special racks. E-ma actually means HORSE PICTURES (as real horses were offered to shrines in ancient times) These toy horses are an interesting reminder of that old custom (as are the E-ma tablets). If it didn`t cost 3,000 yen I would have bought one!

Another unusual souvenir available at the temple - a Treasure Ship (TAKARA BUNE)

Another unusual souvenir available at the temple – a Treasure Ship (TAKARA BUNE). I will have to investigate the origins of this particular design – curious indeed! (3,000 yen at the shrine office)

I have written about other Coming of age Ceremonies at- http://blog.alientimes.org/2009/01/tsukubas-coming-of-age-ceremony-seijin-shiki-proceeds-almost-without-incident/

and- http://blog.alientimes.org/2008/10/japans-traditional-celebrations-of-longevity/

A small hall dedicated to Koku-zo Bosatsu which I passed today in Kami O-shima, on Tsukuba`s northern limit

Just north of the Muramatsuyama Koku-zo Hall is a park with this light-house and fine views of the sea - and the old nuclear reactor.

Just north of the Muramatsuyama Koku-zo Hall is a park with this light-house and fine views of the sea – and the old nuclear reactor.

* Remembrance of Village Days Past 



One Comment

  • Avi Landau says:

    Here is a folk tale on the origin of the Muramatsuyama Koku-zo Temple. I have found the same story in several collections of Ibaraki folk-lore.

    THE SPARLING DRIFTWOOD

    More than a thousand years ago it was, when a shabbily dressed wandering priest arrived in the village of Muramatsu. Greatly taken by the beautiful setting- a white sandy shore sandwiched between the sea and a verdant pine forest, refreshing to both the body and the mind, the priest decided to carry out his spiritual training there. A local fisherman and his wife made it possible by letting him sleep at their hut while he stayed. Their kindness showed him that not only was the place scenically beautiful, but beautiful in spirit, as well.
    After some time had passed something happened. A mysterious piece of driftwood was discovered floating in the sea – it seemed to give off a wondrous light. It caused a big commotion when it washed up on shore. Talking among themselves, the villagers decided to go call the priest who was staying at the fisherman`s hut. They`could ask him what the piece of wood was.
    The priest arrived at the beach and gazed at the wood for a while. Then suddenly, he dropped down on his knees and put his palms together in prayer.
    He then said, “This is no ordinary piece of wood. It is quite precious indeed! In fact, it is asking me to form an image from it.”
    The priest worked intensely for many days. The villagers were greatly impressed. It was as if both he and the wood were glowing. When he finally completed the image, he announced that everyone should be pleased since it was Koku-zo Bosatsu that had come them. If they prayed to the image, he explained, they would be given wisdom and happiness. Especially when children reach the age of 13, they can come to Koku-zo for driving away the bad energies of an unlucky age (YAKU YOKE) and praying for good fortune, as well.
    And with that he went back to the fisherman`s hut and gave his most heartfelt thanks to the kind couple, wishing them long years of happiness. He then took his leave and parted the village forever.

    Later the villagers realized that the priest was none other than Kukai (Kobo Daishi) the propogater of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism – and someone who in his youth had prayed to Koku-zo for an improved memory – one to better study for his exams with!