Kiyomizu – the name means “pure water” – is perhaps the most famous and beautiful complex of temples in Kyoto. Throughout its history, it has been renowned for the wide platform that juts out over an 18-meter drop; and for people jumping off it. There is an expression:
Which translates as: “to jump off the Kiyomizu platform.” The meaning is similar to take the plunge; to throw caution to the wind. People used to believe that if they jumped off the platform and survived, their wishes would come true. According to Wikipedia, 234 people took the plunge during the Edo era; and the survival rate was and excellent 85.4%.
Wikipedia further states that no nails were used in the building of the entire structure.
On the eastern extreme of the Kiyomizu complex stands a small shrine called Jisshu. It is dedicated to the God of Love Okuninushi. Young women go there to pray for good fortune in love; to meet Mr Right. Very popular with female visitors are the so-called “Love Stones”, two stones placed far apart – if a girl can walk successfully from one to another with her eyes closed, things will work out well in her love life.
Standing in prominent place in the shrine is a great cedar tree, called the Prayer Cedar. Visitors, again mostly women, come from all over Japan to stand before it and pray for love and a happy marriage. But there is a dark side to that cedar tree. If you look closely at the trunk, people say, you can see small holes made by hammered-in nails.
Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d
Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d
There is an enduring tradition of women whose love has turned to hatred making voodoo-like dolls out of straw to represent the man who is the object of their hate. Taking them into the shrine in the dead of night to that cedar tree. Dressed in white. Hammering them to the trunk, with curses against the man on their lips. According to the tradition, it takes seven days for the curse to take effect. And for the man to die.
The straw doll is called wara ningyo in Japanese. The tradition says that the ritual is not confined to that specific shrine, but is widespread among the cedar groves of shrines throughout Japan. And in the mountains, too. I have heard many stories of wara ningyo being found by hikers along trails in Kobe’s Mt. Rokko range.
In the dead of night…
According to the Chinese system of reckoning time, each two hours has one corresponding animal. The hours between one and three in the morning are called after the ox. These hours, according to tradition, are most effective for curses. Evil is abroad and most productive between one o’clock and three in the morning.
And so there exists the expression Ushi-no-kokumairi.
Literally, “Ox-time shrine visit.”
Below is a photograph of an actual straw doll that was once used to put a curse on someone. It is on display in the National Museum of Ethnology.
Although I was born in England, I have lived in Japan for the past forty years. That’s why this country, its people and history, form the backdrop to many of my novels. I have no big ideas to peddle; I consider myself a simple story-teller and work hard at my craft. I spin my stories in such disparate genres as horror, espionage, war, occult - and humor. I live in Osaka with a wife, two grown daughter and two young grand-daughters – the whole catastrophe, as Zorba describes married life.