Tag Archives: Mikuzo Jizo

Red-Nosed Spirits in The Mountain

I hopped on the bus at Narita Airport in Tokyo and I went: “No Waaaay!” (in my head.) Japan is exactly like St. Croix: folks drive on the wrong side of the street. Dammit! That crucial tidbit of information meant I would not get behind the wheel under any circumstances during my trip as to not create an international accident of astronomical proportion.

The bus ride to Shibukawa where Kelly would pick me up lasted more than four hours but I sat quietly, greatly entertained by the new scenery. I arrived a bit early so I rounded up the bus drivers for a special shoot.

None of the drivers spoke ANY English. I had reached lesson two of my Japanese method and thought I had master: “Do you understand English?” but apparently not. I had to wave my camera under their noses and point at a place outside where I wanted them to pose. I had to be bossy.

Photographing Japanese people would prove difficult. I should have pushed to at least lesson three or four perhaps, but time somehow eluded me.

Kelly blasted in the parking lot and we drove off to Numata, music blaring (I just finally got an iPod and I am obsessed with it), and getting to know each other during the 40 minute trip. When I said planetross was living at the end of the world, I was totally not kidding. Really.

He always works late hours so Kelly and I toured his house and had a few drinks before he arrived (more exactly Kelly watched me have a few drinks.)

Then planetross arrived and it was all good.

The next morning, we drove to Mt. Kasho (Kashozan) also known as Tengu’s Mountain. It is highly regarded as a sacred place and hosts a Buddhist Temple first established in 848. The Temple followed the Tendai Sect, and converted to the Soto Sect of Buddhism in the 15th century.

Along the way, we stopped at a shrine in the forest on the side of the road.

It felt peaceful. I could inundate poor planetross with a thousand questions and make him pose everywhere. That’s also the location I encountered my first Mizuko Jizo, guardian of a stillborn baby, miscarried or aborted fetus, or a baby who died very early on.

The worshipers pay a fee to the Temple to adopt a Mizuko Jizo (potential Buddha of the water-babies) and inscribe a Kaymyo (name given after death) on it. The ritual of honoring the Mikuzo figurines is called Mikuzo Kuyo.

I think some Mizuko are weird looking. If you compare the two above photographs, you can surely notice that one is definitely more blessed by nature than the other. Anyway, these statuettes abound all over the area which sounds a bit sinister but really isn’t.

We continued our ascent of the mountain to get to the main cluster of temples. It is said that the Buddhist priest Chuho told his successor that he was the embodiment of Kasho buddha, and that he would stay on the mountain as a spirit. Then as his spirit ascended, he left behind a mask of Tengu.

Tengu (“Heavenly dogs”) are monter-spirits which are sometimes worshiped as revered gods. Initially, the tengu took the form of birds of prey, but throughout history, have come to be humanized with an abnormally long nose (that kinda looks like something else.) The Mirokuji Temple is one of three large temples in Japan to enshrine Tengu.

This, for example, could be the representation of an earlier Tengu. I would not know. Everything is in Japanese and no one speaks English.

That was a very cool hairy Tengu. Kashozan is the home of the biggest Tengu mask in Japan: 21.98 ft and a VERY long nose of 8.86 ft! Visitors of the Temple can rent a Tengu mask for wish granting. I did not rent one since I had all I wanted and I figured the language barrier would probably hurt my chances of being heard anyway.

You can also contribute a big mask to the Temple. In 1971, the Great Tengu Religious Association gave one to pray for protection from traffic accident and for the prosperity of the Numata Chamber of commerce and Industry.

In the middle of all that Tengu spirituality, I had planetross pose everywhere. He had insisted on wearing his tennis shoes number ones, which were all new and screwed up my contrast on every shot. He even had some number threes but I had to wait two days before he agreed to wear them! Wanker!

The above photograph represents I have no idea whom but it had cool glasses so I thought I’d share.

I thought these were prayers and I was getting all solemn but, er, nenni my friends, nenni. These are thanks to sponsors! You can be a Buddhist priest and have an excellent sense of business.

Soon it was time to leave since planetross had to work that afternoon and and I had to take a monster nap. That evening, we would go to an izakaya to grab a bite and take pictures of Numata by night (which was a lot of fun from what I can vaguely remember.)