Daien-ji in Bunkyo, like New Year’s Day, is often associated with headaches. While the celebration of another circuit of the sun has produced many a headache, the shrine to Horoku Jizo at the side-gate to Daien-ji is known for healing them. Sufferers write their name, address and ailment (the nature of their head pain) on a slip of paper, place it on an earthenware plate, and balance the plate on Horuko Jizo’s head. It is their hope and belief that Jizo will take their ache from them, presumably into his own earthenware cranium.
The fame of Horuko Jizo provides a steady revenue stream for this temple, just as the six childlike Jizos of Gyoran-ji attract the donations of grateful parents whose children have recovered from sickness as well as from grieving parents whose children have died of illness. Jizo guides the souls of these deceased children from the hell realms. Parents even offer money at Jizo shrines to protect the souls of their miscarried, stillborn, or aborted offspring.
A large haloed Kannon framed against the blue sky greets us as we enter Daien-ji. Perched on a lotus pedestal, Kannon presides over the temple grounds. The staff in his left hand (this Kannon is clearly male) is most often associated with Jizo and is used for prying open the gates of the hell realms; his right hand reaches down toward us.
We leave our go-shuin books to be signed while we pay a visit to the main temple hall. Unfortunately, it is closed, but we’re able to peer through the glass at the shrines, which are well lit by natural light through screens along one wall.
The main image in the central altar is so far away that it is difficult to see, but apparently it is a seated Shakyamuni Buddha sculpted by noted Japanese artist Takamura Koun, who died in 1934. This sculpture was saved from the bombing in World War II by being buried underground. Takamura Koun was born in 1852 in Edo and is famed for his wood carvings, as he persisted in using wood as a medium when his contemporaries were carving ivory (and profiting accordingly). There are other sculptures in the temple hall done by his students to replace sculptures that were destroyed in the Allied bombing raids. We bend and peer through the glass at the three major shrines. Buddha, Jizo, Kannon.
After collecting our go-shuin books, we leave Daien-ji, passing the Horuki Jizo shrine, where we stop to see the plates balanced on his head. From there we set off to nearby Enjyo-ji.
Born in 1666, Yaoya Oshichi was the daughter of a greengrocer in Bunkyo. In December 1682 the Great Tenna Fire swept through Edo, killing thousands and destroying huge swaths of the city. Yaoya and her family fled to Enjyo-ji where they were given shelter. There she met a young page who worked at the temple; she fell deeply in love.
The great fire was extinguished and Yaoya returned home with her family, but the fire within the sixteen-year-old girl raged on. She tried returning to the temple to see the young man, but again and again was sent away. Her parents told her to forget and move on, but all she could think of was him. Would she ever see him again? How could she survive without him? Why couldn’t the monks and her family understand that they were meant to be together? Was there no justice in the universe?
In her misery, she devised a plan to get back inside Enjyo-ji and reunite with her beloved. A great fire had brought them together: what was needed was another fire.
Yaoya was spotted lighting the fire and, once the flames had been smothered, she was arrested for arson. Fires were such a common terror in Edo that it was known as the “City of Fires” and very strict laws had been enacted in an attempt to prevent them. The penalty for arson was death. When the judge heard Yaoya’s story, he was moved to mercy. If she were only fifteen, she would not be old enough to be tried as an adult.
“You must be fifteen years old,” he said.
“No,” she said, “I am sixteen.”
He took a deep breath and gravely shook his head.
“I think you must be fifteen.”
“I am sixteen,” she insisted.
On March 29, 1683, at the Suzugamori execution grounds, just outside the gates of Edo, Yaoya Osichi was burned at the stake for the crime of arson.
While Enjyo-ji was a large temple in Yaoya’s time, it’s now a single small hall with a booth at the front where we leave our go-shuin books to be signed as we peer through glass at Buddha between Jizo and Kannon. At the temple gates is Yaoya Osichi’s grave and a shrine with a small Jizo statue that, according to legend, she once owned.
Enjyo-ji is our fifth and final Bunkyo temple, marking the end of the first third of our pilgrimage.