St. Bondage

One painfully, BEASTLY hot day, I was scuttling along from shade puddle to shade puddle on my way back to Kanamachi Station, and I happened to glance through the gate of a random temple I was passing. Inside, I spotted this!

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What the whating WAT?

This saint had to have some obscure specialty, like the Wart Curing Jizo or the Scrub Brush Shrine, and indeed, he did not disappoint! Turns out, this particular Jizo-san does nothing less than save people from dire predicaments.

For a hundred yen, you buy a rope and explain your situation to Jizo-san.

For a hundred yen, you buy a rope and explain your situation to him.

Then you tie it tightly around him.

Then you knot the rope tightly around him.

After Jizo-san swoops in to save you in the nick of time, you come back and set him free by thanking him, untieing a rope and tossing it in the bin.

After Jizo-san gets you out of your pickle, you come back and set him free to thank him, untying one of the ropes and tossing it in the bin.

The question is…why? And therein lies an excellent tale!

According to the temple literature, a long time ago in Ye Olde Japan, a cloth merchant’s dogsbody was lugging a cartload of cloth over the mountains to his boss’s warehouse. It was a dreadful summer day (just like this one), and he’d been pulling that heavy load since before dawn. He badly needed a pit stop. So when he spotted a shady temple by the river, he thought he’d sneak off the road and rest his eyes for just a moment. Of course (you know where this is heading), soon he was snoring.

When he woke up, it was long after noon. He leapt to his feet, knowing he’d be in big trouble for being so late, but soon discovered that he was in even deeper doo-doo: while he’d been sawing logs, all his bolts of cloth had been stolen. He trundled his empty cart all the way to the next town and burst into the local magistrate’s courtroom to report the theft.

Now, in those days, the magistrate was judge, jury and the long arm of the law all rolled into one. After he listened to the panicked employee’s story and discovered exactly where the crime had taken place, he sat back in his chair and announced that he knew who had done it, because the area where the unlucky peon had been napping was so remote, there was only one possible thief. He sent out his bailiff to arrest the stone Jizo figure.

Now, the best way to hear how the wily judge trapped the real thief is to spend a few very entertaining minutes watching my friend Ootomo-san’s traditional Japanese storytelling performance here

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…but if you just can’t wait, here’s the rest of the story!

The bailiff and his deputies took a wagon to arrest the stone culprit, and returned along the town’s main street with Jizo-san in back, all tied up with the strongest rope they could find. By the time they reached the courthouse, they had quite a following, and all the townspeople crowded in through the door to hear why the judge had arrested their local saint.

The judge was outraged by all the looky-loos, and ordered the guards to bar the gates and make sure nobody had brought weapons in to disrupt the trial of Jizo-san. As piles of noodles from the noodle vendors, cash boxes from the pawnbrokers, and the carts transporting this and that from here to there were unloaded, the cloth merchant’s apprentice shouted, “There’s my cloth!”

Sure enough – just as the judge had secretly predicted – the thief hadn’t been able to resist coming in to find out what was going on. The apprentice was reunited with his stolen goods, the real thief was caught, and Jizo-san was set free.

Over time, as the story was told and retold, people forgot that it was the judge who actually Supermanned the cloth merchant’s apprentice out of his tight spot, and began to credit Jizo-san with saving his bacon. As you can see, old Jizo-san must have stepped up over the years, because this Shibarare Jizo (“Tied-up Saint”) is still a very popular destination for the luck-challenged.

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You don’t have to be in a pickle to ask the Shibarare Jizo for your heart’s desire – just buy an ema prayer plaque and pen your wish on the back

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