Reiwa no Hajimari: Enthronement of the New Emperor

On May 1st, from around 10:30 am¹ the official ceremony where now Emperor Naruhito ascended upon the throne and became the 126 Emperor of Japan commenced. This took place at the Imperial Palace located in Tokyo Prefecture. The ceremony, entitled “Shin-Tennō Heika Sokui” (新天皇陛下即位), was televised and almost 2 hours long! Of course, this included waiting time, as well as departure time of both Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako.

Emperor Naruhito (2nd from right) and Empress Masako (right) stand in front of their guests during the enthronement ceremony.

To summarize, the live broadcast of the ceremony consisted of several segments, a few more significant than others:

1) The arrival of new Emperor Naruhito & guests to the palace (即位の儀式へ)

2) Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (剣璽等承継の儀²)

3) Arrival of new Empress Masako (皇后雅子さまが皇居へ出発)

4) Invitees taking audience before the new Emperor & Empress (即位後朝見の儀³)

5) First speech by the new Emperor (初おことば⁴)

Passing of the 3 Imperial Treasures (sword, mirror, and jewels) to Emperor Naruhito.

Some segments were much shorter than others. Still, it was a momentous occasion for many who were able to watch the ceremony.

Final moments of the ceremony. Click on each pic for a short description.

From here on, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako represent the Imperial family. May 1 is also the start of the new era Reiwa, which also marks their time of reign.


1) Japan is 13 hours ahead of where I live, so the ceremony has long past from the time of writing this post.

2) Pronounced “Kenji tō Shōkei no Gi”

3) Pronounced “Sokui go Chōken no Gi”

4) Pronounced “Hatsu Okotoba”.

Marishiten For All in 2019

Recently I learned that there is another important element in celebrating the new Lunar year of 2019. In accordance to how the boar is the Zodiac sign in Japan, there is another tradition seen very prominent this year, which is the revering of the deity Marishiten¹. There is a connection being applied here, and it’s primarily linked to the boar. I will touch upon that point, while also giving an overview of Marishiten as viewed in Japan.

ORIGINS

Marishiten is a deity within Buddhism that represents light and the sun, and is worshiped by many Buddhist sects. Believed to have originated from India’s Hindu beliefs, then passed on into Buddhism. Later the image and reverence of this deity spread throughout Asia alongside with Buddhism. After esoteric Buddhism was established in Japan, the worship of Marishiten continued in numerous Buddhist temples around the country.

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A statue in the image of Marishiten. From Wikipedia.

IMAGE & TRAITS

There are countless depictions of Marishiten based on how she² is viewed, as well as the region where she is worshiped at. In Japan, she can be seen having multiple faces, and numerous arms where each are holding different weapons such as a bow & arrow. In some cases, the sun and the moon are also in her possession amongst the weapons. Out of these images, at times she is shown to be beautiful and elegant, while other times she appears fierce and war-like as if rushing into battle. One thing that almost all these images have in common is Marishiten is shown accompanied by boars, where she is standing (or saddling) on the back of a boar, or sitting on top of several boars. The meaning behind the boars is her ability to charge forward fearlessly and with absolute resolve into battle. Due to this image, there is an association with boars, to the point that at temples that feature a room or hall dedicated to Marishiten, there are statues of boars that are symbolic as guardians³.

Marishiten is a deva turned into a guardian deity according to Buddhist beliefs. She is often depicted as a goddess of light of the sun and moon, as her name stands for “rays of light⁴”. Believed to originally possess a form of fire, Marishiten’s traits include being a source of light, and impervious to harm. As one of light, her abilities include creating illusions, and becoming invisible by positioning herself in front of the sun. As a whole, Marishiten represents a medium for avoiding harm, illnesses, and disasters. Many believers pray for her protection by chanting specific mantras specially designated to her. It is also believed that she can cure certain illnesses, resolve disputes, and ensure safe child birth.

PROTECTION FOR WARRIORS

After the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, warriors saw value in worshiping Marishiten for her protection as early as the 12th century. This came about when many believed that she could ensure victory through granting invisibility to others. This idea of being invisible is not to be taken literally; what it meant was a warrior could avoid attacks from their enemies by not being noticed within their line of sight. This was especially desired during times of war, for warriors were known to carry an image of Marishiten on their person while stepping onto the battlefield, such as archers wearing necklaces bearing a carving in the resemblance of Marishiten. Reknown figures such as Kusunoki Masashige⁵, Shimazu Yoshihiro⁶, and Tokugawa Ieyasu⁷ are known to have been great believers in this.

During the Asuka period (538-710), Prince Shōtoku was a great supporter of Buddhism early in Japan (left picture, middle, from Wikipedia). As one who studied the Buddhist sutras, it is said he received Marishiten’s aid in expelling the rivaling Mononobe clan. In reference to this event, the document “Ninjutsu Ōgi Den” gives a brief acknowledgment (outlined in red) where Prince Shōtoku is praised as “being cultivated & true to the warrior’s way…, he possessed the secret methods (of Buddhism) through the will of Marishiten and Kongō Rikishi.” (right picture, from author’s collection)

Outside of the battlefield, for those engaged in non-combatant scenarios such as spying and stealing in, they would pray for the ability to move undetected in order to complete their tasks. Groups utilizing shinobi no jutsu (known by the modern term ninjutsu) are an example of this. During peaceful times, Marishiten was still an essential asset within some martial systems. For some, through the incorporation of esoteric Buddhism, prayers to Marishiten helped to inspired self perfection. For others, her image helped to protect the teachings of their martial system.

Until the abolishment of the warrior caste, Marishiten was one of the deities most essential to those who wished to achieve victory against their foes.

GOOD FORTUNE

From Edo period, Marishiten was made a patron of wealth and prosperity primarily to merchants and entertainers. This made her one of the “Santen⁸”, or 3 Deities, within Japan. The Santen is a label for 3 major deities specifically designated as patrons of luck and fortune for those in specific occupations. At some point, these 3 Deities were viewed as beneficial to everyone, thus the general mass began to pray to them as well.

Tokudai Temple is one of the few temples that is dedicated in the worship of Marishiten (left). The pic on the right shows that temple’s schedule for Marishiten Goenbi (I no Hi) celebration, which shows the months and each day on the schedule in chronological order. (from Tokudai Temple’s website here)

This year, people can access certain temples to pray to Marishiten. Just about a month ago, the Yakuri Temple⁹ (located in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture) made headlines across media outlets in Japan, for that temple’s Marishiten statue was unveiled to the public for the 1st time. There are also special days for prayer and worship called “Marishiten Goenbi¹⁰”, that take place at Tokudai Temple¹¹ (located in Ueno, Taitōku District of Tokyo). This is in connection to “I no Hi¹²”, or “Day of the Boar”, which is directly related to this year’s Zodiac being that of the boar (or otherwise known as the pig outside of Japan), and Marishiten’s utilization of boars in the images rectified of her.

CLOSING

As a whole, Marishiten is a guardian figure with a long history. Over the generations, many groups have found reasons to associate themselves to her for the sake of receiving different types of blessings through worship. This year is especially important due to the Lunar calendar falling on the year of the boar. If you look at it, Marishiten is for everyone when it comes down to asking for blessings, and this point is certainly being acted upon in Japan this year.


1) Original writing of the name is Marici.

2) While the prevailing image is that of a female in Japan, Marishiten is also described as being a male in other countries.

3) A guardian boar is written as “koma-inoshishi” (狛猪)

4) In Japanese the word “kagerō” (陽炎) is used to describe this.

5) 楠正成

6) 島津義弘

7) 徳川家康

8) 三天. This is made up of the following deities: Marishiten, Benzaiten, and Daikokuten.

9) 八栗寺

10) 摩利支天御縁日

11) 徳大寺

12) 亥の日

2019: Year of the Pig (Boar)

chinese new year pig

Illustration by Vecteezy

As many have heard by now, 2019 is the year of the pig according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar. A topic generally filled with auspicious predictions and deep meanings, I’ve follow the Chinese Zodiac for as long as a I can remember, for there is a lot to learn for anyone who’s interested in Asian culture and traditional/ancient practices. This time around, will pretty be much the same. For this post, I will cover the particulars regarding the pig sign, from its meaning, how it is used generally and systematically, as well as the standard prediction for this year. On top of this, I will also talk about how this year’s Zodiac sign and outlook is viewed in Japan, as there are some slight differences that should be pointed out.

IMAGE AND PREDICTIONS

Although it’s the new year, the Chinese calendar officially starts from Feb. 5th. From that date will communities that observe this change in the Zodiac year celebrate.

In Chinese culture, the pig represents wealth. In the past, where living conditions were very vast between commoners and nobility, those wealthy and living in healthy conditions were bigger in size. Thus, the chubby cheeks and big ears of the pig is symbolic of wealth.

According to the pig sign, great fortune is the outlook for 2019. While some sources say that it’ll be a lucky year for everyone, those born under the pig sign will have a rough year. To avoid downfalls, they will need to not overexert themselves; stress and troublesome matters are unavoidable, but the key point in handling these are to accept them but not get too caught up on them in order to move on. Taking part in others’ happy occasions in order to benefit from their luck is also advised.

Financially, predictions state it will be a prosperous year, both in earnings and savings. Along with this, much benefits can be obtained through establishing good relations with others. Overall, should be joyful year, and easy to attract successful relationships and friendships.

THE WORKINGS OF THE CHINESE CALENDAR

Now, for the technical aspect of this post. As mentioned before in previous posts on the same topic, such as “2017, Zodiac Calendars, and Roosters“, there are 2 components significant for the Chinese Calendar, which are the 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Animal Zodiacs (also called the 12 Earthly Branches due to association). Here’s some important points to keep in mind:

  • This year marks the last stage of the 12-year zodiac cycle
  • Also the 60th year in 60-year cycle that incorporates the combination of both the 12 Animal Zodiac signs + 10 Heavenly Stems.
  • The important components for this Zodiac year are in the label “earth-pig”, which is written as 己亥 and pronounced as “Tsuchi no to-I²” in Japanese. Based on the number of days in a given year, as well as how the years total up, we get this combination of Tsuchi no to (from the 10 Heavenly Stems) and I (pig sign from the 12 Zodiac signs).

According to the 10 Heavenly Stems, Tsuchi no to is an earth element of the dark energy¹. The single syllable I (pronounced like the letter “e”) is another pronunciation for the Zodiac symbol for pig. In actuality, it did not mean pig in its original conception; from ancient times, this symbol was a hieroglyph for “creature”, and is used in the makeup of certain kanji with the nuance of skeletal structure or shell. Outside of that, this symbol is used with the rest of Zodiac sign in ancient measuring and dating systems. Here are a few examples of what the pig sign represents in these different systems below:

  • Time = from 9 to 11 pm
  • Direction = north-northwest (330°)
  • Month = October
  • Energy = dark (ying)
  • Element = water

Based on auspicious beliefs regarding the yearly element being earth and the pig sign being a natural water element, it is said that this year will be especially beneficial to plants and flowers. This is due to the symbolism of earth and water being essential for growth of plant life, thus why it is predicted they will easily grow plentiful. If this is the case, we can take advantage of this for the sake of our environment, as well as for our homes (for those with a green thumb), and for business.

DIFFERENCES IN JAPAN

While throughout Asian (as well as in the West due to China’s influences) this year’s animal sign is viewed as a pig, only in Japan is this particular sign labeled as a boar. The differences lies in lifestyle and cultural viewpoints during ancient times.

nengajo-2019-023

Illustration from frame-illust.com

For example, the kanji used throughout Asia to state “year of the pig” is “猪年³”. Japan also uses the same kanji, but there it is read “year of the boar”. This difference in animal is found in the character “猪”. In Chinese, the character for pig is “猪”, but in Japan it is read as “boar”. Interesting, boar is written as “野猪” in China, which has a literal translation of “wild pig”. Whereas pig is written with the character “豚” in Japan. This could be a case of linguistic differences based on the development of the Japanese language and culture throughout the generations, for Japan steered away from following suit in using the characters for both boar and pig are distinguished set forth by China.

Another simple explanation could be the role boars played hundreds of years ago during the period when the hunting culture was at its peak in Japan. Boars roamed freely in the fields, and were seen as formidable animals as they were very alert and would attack anything (including people) when felt threatened. One could say that the strength of a boar’s head-on charge was respectable even by hunters, and this influenced the use of imagery to describe characteristics in humans liken to the boar, such as “chototsu mōshin⁴” (head straight towards one’s goal), “choyū⁵” (unwavering bravery), and “ikubi⁶” (a person with a short neck like a boar).

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Pic of “inochi mochi”, which is red bean filled mochi treats the shape of little boars.

This value of the boar goes even further through a few traditional practices and beliefs. For starters, there’s an ancient belief that the meat of a boar was medicinal and could help cure all types of illnesses. There is also a celebration in the western part of Japan called “Inochi no Hi⁷”. Taking place on October 1st (according an older calendar system once prevalent in Japan), townfolks would consume a mochi treat called “inochi mochi⁸”, which was shaped like a boar. This is usually eaten around 10 pm on the day, as a means to pray for such things like good health and prosperity for future descendants. Both practices are synonymous to the phrase “mubyōsokusai⁹”, which means to be free of illnesses and bad fortune.

BEGINNING OF THE END?!?

Here ends my little coverage on the Chinese Zodiac calendar and the sign of the pig for 2019. While trying to understand all the specifics, terminologies, and workings of this can seem daunting, in the long run it can be fun and informative. Let’s all look ahead and strive for a rich, healthy, and prosperous year!

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Free illustration by dak


1) The 10 Heavenly Stems, which is written as 十干 in Chinese characters (pronounced jikkan in Japanese), is made up of 10 hieroglyphs. Over the generations, they served various purposes, but in recent times are primarily used, in conjunction with the 12 Earthly Branches, as a system for keeping track of the 60-year cycle of the Zodiac calendar. These 10 hieroglyphs work with the 5 elements (earth, water, fire, wood, and earth) and ying-yang theory. This unique system categorizes 2 of the hieroglyphs sharing one of the 5 elements, with one being attached to light energy and the other dark energy.

2) Can also be pronounced as “ki-gai”.

3) Pronounced “inoshishi-doshi” in Japanese.

4) 猪突猛進

5) 猪勇

6) 猪首

7) 亥の子の日. Meaning “day of the boar”, it is also a play on words, for “inochi” sounds like another word that means “life”.

8) 亥の子餅. Means “day of the boar mochi”.

9) 無病息災

Kiju: Rejoice a Long Life

I recently learned from my wife, who is Japanese, that her parents will be celebrating reaching the age of 77 this summer. Outside of their birthdays, reaching 77 years in one’s lifetime is a special occasion, one that is called “Kiju” in Japanese. As this was new to me, I spent time researching this topic, as its history and concept intrigued me. Today, I will share with everyone this custom of celebrating longevity.

The word Kiju, which is written as “喜寿” in Japanese, has a unique meaning, which is “celebration of happiness”. The choosing of the character to represent the number 77 is not random, for it is culture-related, as well as literacy-related. Let’s go first into the history of Kiju, then move on to its unique theory, as well how it is treated as a celebration.

LIFE OF LONGEVITY

Kiju is the recognition of living a long life. It is part of a list of age ranges/years of living¹ that are revered as representing a life of longevity called “Chōju²”. The practice of Chōju is old, although the different ages were added over time, one as recent as the 21st century. The age ranges, along with their names and meanings, recognized under Chōju are the following³:

60 = Kanreki (還暦)

66 = Rokuju (緑寿)⁴

70 = Koki (古希)

77 = Kiju (喜寿)

80 = Sanju (傘寿)

88 = Beiju (米寿)

90 = Sotsuju (卒寿)

99 = Hakuju (白寿)

100 = Momoju/Kiju (百寿/紀寿)

108 = Chaju (茶寿)

111 = Kōju (皇寿)

120 = Daikanreki (大還暦)

As with Kiju, these numbers and the characters associated to them are not random, for they each have special meanings and methodologies in remembering what they mean. Since the life expectancy was generally lower than 60 due to the lack of nutrition and vaccination, as well as hard life conditions during medieval Japan, much praise and an expression of good fortune is acknowledged to those who did live 60 years & up.

MEANING OF KIJU

As mentioned earlier, Kiju stands for the celebration of happiness. The kanji (Chinese-derived characters) that is pronounced “ki” stands for “happiness⁵”. Interestingly, it is also the representative of the number “77”, at least in this case. When the numerical numbers are written in kanji, it looks like so:

The characters for 77, which are pronounced “nana-ju-nana” in Japanese.

Inspiration of the use of the kanji “ki” was from how it was written in the past, which was more cursive. The 2 pics below depict the character “ki”, with the first one written in textbook block style called “kyōkashotai”, and the second in the older cursive style called “sōshotai⁶”:

If you look carefully, it looks like it is made up of the numbers “七十七”, which would be like so:

The visual imagery of 七十七 (the characters for 77) in the cursive-written style of the character “ki”.

It’s a bit of a stretch to actually “see” those numbers, especially since the character “ki” is not written as so anyway, but this is what influences the use of this character to represent 77 years, along with the meaning.

COLOR OF KIJU

As most things in Asian culture, there are colors associated to each of the age ranges in Chōju. For Kiju, it is the color purple. In the past, it was traditional to wear a sleeveless vest or kimono jacket called chanchanko⁷, along with a special bōshi (hat)⁸. As Kiju would be the theme, this vest and hat would be the color purple. Other items and accessories, such as a sensu (folding fan)⁹, zabuton (pillow)¹⁰, and kozuchi (small wooden mallet)¹¹ would also accompany one’s outfit. You can also adorn yourself in regular clothing that are purple.

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Illustration of the celebration of Kiju, with the couple dressed for the occasion. By acworks (free).

CELEBRATING THE OCCASION

There is no set date for Kiju, so people can choose anytime within the year to celebrate, whether it be on their birthday, on “Keiro no Hi¹²”, and so on. Usually family members and friends will have a small gathering or meetup where they celebrate those who are 77 years of age while eating a nice meal. Other means of celebration can also include taking a small trip, going to the onsen (public bath house)¹³, and so on. A family celebration is planned this summer for my parents-in-law, but they also have another Kiju-related celebration planned amongst them and their classmates from elementary school. Talk about keeping in touch!

Gift giving is generally not associated with Kiju, or Chōju as a whole for that matter. However, there are some businesses and on-line services that try to promote their products as gifts for the occassion. This ranges from flowers, cards with warm wishes, to portraits & pictures.

ENDING

I hope my parents-in law continue to stay healthy pass their 77th birthdays. We should honor all those who are 77 years old and wish them many happy blessings. Kiju has a positive meaning to it, and I hope I too can live long enough to reach this age. Special thanks to my wife contributing the written characters with her calligraphy skills!


1) There are 2 ways to observe Chōjū: kazoedoshi (数え年) and mannenrei (満年齢). Kazoedoshi is a traditional East Asian method for counting age by first considering a newborn 1 years old, then adding one more year on the following new years day. This essentually makes you 1 year older than you actually are. On the other hand, mannenrei is in line with how age is calculated in Western countries, where a newborn’s 1st birthday is 12 months after the day he/she is born.

In the past, kazoedoshi was the primary way to celebrate Chōju, but in modern times mannenrei is the chosen way.

2) 長寿. Chōju is believed to have started sometime during the Muromachi period (1336~1573) with the ages 60, 70, 77, and 88. Over time, more ages were incorporated.

3) The numbers presented for one’s age in Chōju follows that of mannenrei (exact age). If under kazoedoshi (added years) , then you would need to subtract one year from your actual age accordingly to get the “traditional” age.

4) Rokuju is a new addition to Chōju, as it was established in September of 2009 by the Japan Department Store Association (日本百貨店協会).

5) Depending on context, it can stand for “happiness”, “pleasant”, “rejoice”, and so on. Usually the kunyomi (Japanese phonetic) of this word is used, which is “yorokobu”. Basically, it is used to express when something is good for you or someone, or if you are expressing joy over something.

6) 草書体. This is a cursive, script-like style of writing kanji. Often translated as “grass” kanji. A much older, artistic style of writing, nowadays practiced by those learning Shodō (書道, Japanese calligraphy).

7) ちゃんちゃんこ. A sleeveless haori (羽織, short jacket), this type of upper wear was traditionally good for while being active due to its lightweight, or to stay warm during wintertime as an innerwear under a heavier coat.

8) 帽子

9) 扇子

10) 座布団

11) 小槌

12) 敬老の日. Annually recognized on the 3rd Monday of September, it is a special day that honors the elderly and encourages the nation to give respect to them.

13) 温泉