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