"Memorial shrine to a dead child" Tokushima Local Custom Tip by dlandt

Tokushima Local Customs: 18 reviews and 33 photos

by dlandt

No one believes Japan is the land of milk and honey despite how it tries to portray itself. Tragedies can and do occur in Japan, leaving the Japanese to deal with them as their religions and customs dictate. A shrine such as this is one of the ways in which a grieving parent will commemorate their child.

Japan is known as a buddhist country, but beneath the Buddhism lies an older, and I would argue deeper religion called Shinto. There is no central God in Shintoism, only many small ones, ranging from places to families to ancient emperors and military figures, to river spirits and most importantly, one's ancestors. It is, to me, no coincidence that the Japanese have a very strong belief in ghosts. The Shinto religion lays the groundwork for exactly such a belief.

By building a shrine such as the one you see here, the Japanese do more than just remember their lost child. They literally worship his or her spirit, and continue to provide for him or her by bringing small offerings of rice and other foods much as they would have done had the child lived. I don't know all the ins and outs of this custom. Do they bring candy? They offer sake for adults, but for the spirit of a child?

Of all the sights and customs of Japan, I found this to be one of the most foreign, almost alien customs of all, yet it is oddly touching if not a bit eerie. Sometimes when you look at a shrine and it appears to be a thousand years old, yet you see fresh rice and mochi inside, a chill goes up your spine, but something also touches your heart.

Review Helpfulness: 4 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jan 28, 2006
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