地獄 jigoku—hell

Hirano is a part of Osaka city that probably doesn’t get a lot of tourists. And that probably should. Modern development has largely passed it by, so it retains a lot of traditional character and has an unbelievable number of interesting shrines and temples in a small area.

This is Kumata Jinja, a shrine that (so we were told) has the oldest wooden shrine building in Japan.

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Hirano isn’t far from where we live, so it was a good choice for a walk on a sunny winter afternoon.

We visited this traditional sweet shop.

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The sweets in the window display are manjuu, very sweet confections in the form of fruits, animals, etc. Their specialty is manjuu in the form of a turtle.

(Some of these photos, including the two above, were taken on a previous visit in October).

This time I bought one in the form of a white rabbit, and one that looked like a turtle. Only after I had bought them did Yuko point out that I could re-enact the tale of the hare and the tortoise.

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Lots of the shops in the narrow streets of Hirano have windows with little displays of historical artefacts.

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The object on the bottom left of the window is the predecessor of the modern electric rice-cooker: 竈 kamado (traditional earthenware oven) and 羽釜 hagama (metal pot for cooking rice).  One of my employer’s first products, 100 years ago, was a gas-fired kamado, a labour-saving improvement on the original solid-fuel type. Even today, the company designs modern kamado and hagama for supply to certain restaurant kitchens.

The window of this café has a display of old-fashioned toys.

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We discovered from one display that the traditional streetscapes of this part of town are not entirely original—it’s partly the result of a restoration effort that, for example, replaced metal roller-shutters with wooden sliding shutters.

This early 20th-century western-style building was once a newsagent, and bears the logo of Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Now the building faces into a covered shopping street.

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Most memorable was our visit to Senkouji Temple, which contains the “door to hell”. At the entrance, we were welcomed by this sign:

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This scary (and hairy) 3-eyed character says “if you tell a lie, I will pluck out your tongue”. As you can see from the picture, this is not an idle threat; he is carrying a large pair of pincers in which is gripped the tongue of some unfortunate (but mendacious) wretch. The words for “door of hell” are wreathed in flames.

In the courtyard, there is an electronic questionnaire, that purports to assess your likelihood of ending up in hell. (If you answer truthfully, that is. If you don’t answer truthfully, presumably a three-eyed demon will be along shortly with his pincers to pluck out your tongue.)

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The questions relate to whether you are considerate or selfish, gluttonous or frugal, patient or short-tempered. I scored in the “4 to 7” (green) range, which is the 2nd-most likely to go to heaven. Which is nice to know.

Thus reassured, I ventured into the door of hell.

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This was a little unnerving, as I found myself face-to-face with Enma-Daiou, the lord of hell himself.

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Below the statue was a gong. In some trepidation, I picked up the stick and struck the gong. This caused a monitor screen to flicker into life, and a booming voice to start telling me about the horrors of hell. For once I was glad of my limited ability to understand Japanese.

On the screen, there was a “hell-movie” consisting of strange impressionistic images representing human souls in torment, accompanied by sounds of wailing.

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On my right, we see the hairy 3-eyed demon guy again, wielding a pincers that seems way too large for the task of amputating a tongue, and even more scary, a woman with (thankfully) hair hanging down over her horrible face. This is Datsue-ba. After you die, she takes off your clothes and weighs them. If you are wearing no clothes, she strips off your skin and weighs that instead. For good measure, she also breaks your fingers and ties your head to your feet. (Thanks Wikipedia for those nightmares!).

I didn’t wait for the booming voice and the screen images to finish. After a couple of minutes I had had enough of hell and went back out into the sunshine. There I found a rock with a hole in it. Supposedly, if you put your head in the hole you hear the pot of hell (what’s the pot of hell?)

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I tried it, but I didn’t really hear anything.

Leaving all such hellish thoughts behind, we resumed our pleasant walk around Hirano.

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Note on the word of the day:

So, what’s all this about hell? Demons, eternal torment, isn’t that more associated with the Christian tradition? Isn’t Buddhism supposed to be all peaceful and meditation and Nirvana and stuff?

All I can say is, religion in Japan is very complicated. Religious belief and practice seems to draw on many traditions and weave them together into a fascinating tapestry, the boundaries between Shinto and various strands of Japanese Buddhism especially hard to discern. There are also many points of seeming convergence with western religious traditions. As an outsider, I have no hope of trying to understand it, only to observe.

In this case, the traditions seem to have originated from Hinduism. Enma, the lord of hell, was the Indian god Yama.

地獄 jigoku literally means “ground prison”,  conveying the idea of being imprisoned underground.

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4 thoughts on “地獄 jigoku—hell

  1. What a coincidence! We visited Senkouji Temple on our bicycle ride on Sunday. We were discussing possible bike rides to do with you and were wondering whether you had been there. Then your blog appeared the very same night! It’s a special place that we have been to a few times. We like the feeling of this temple and all the interesting things to see here. On Sunday there were birds eating fruit in the persimmon trees and many children running around and playing, some with the older style toys. You didn’t mention the underground section so I’ll add a note here just in case you are not aware of it. There is a stairway that goes to an underground mandala. The hand rail is made up of perspex cylinders that contain dirt from each of the 88 temples on Shikoku, so it is a way that people who cannot go to Shikoku can do the pilgrimage. (There are also a number of other temples where it is possible to make this pilgrimage conveniently, in similar ways, including Temple 51 on Shikoku and the cemetery on the top of Mt Shigi.) I took some photographs. Can you suggest an easy way that I can share them with you?

    About the bike ride – we were thinking you might like to to visit some of the big bridges, small ferries and factories in Taisho-ku and the Bay area. A Sunday would probably be suitable. Please contact me by email.
    Dale

    1. Hi Dale,

      That is indeed an amazing coincidence. Thanks for letting me know about the parts we didn’t see. I had no idea about the underground section, or the dirt from the 88 temples. I would like to go back and visit it again.

      By coincidence, we’ve also been quite near Mt Shigi (from the west side) recently – there’s a nice place called Onji at the eastern edge of Yao city, very old-fashioned houses and a nice shrine, and from there you can walk up through the forest to the ridge (and the boundary of Nara prefecture).

      I would be very interested in a bike ride around the bay area.I am fascinated by those huge bridges and a bike ride would be a very good way to appreciate it. I will be in touch.

      Dara

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