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Jofukuji Temple, Shikoku Japan

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So desperate to be different and yet still fit into a group. (Image courtesy of Royalt)

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Japan is full of secrets hidden in plain view. To the casual observer Japan is a conservative and reserved society. Even those “breaking” with conformity tend to gather together and dress alike. But as most Japan insiders know, scratch the surface just a little and shocking secrets can come to light.

I discovered one such secret while visiting a rural Japanese Buddhist temple on the island of Shikoku. While walking the Shikoku Pilgrimage, a 900 mile route which hits 88 Buddhist temples, I stopped for a rest at a simple mountain village temple in Ehime Prefecture. Sitting between Temples 65 and 66, Jofuku-ji Tsubaki-do, is an unassuming and polite temple. Precise cedar beams mirror the thoughtful manicured garden as every detail of the clean temple grounds  was carefully planned out.  Japanese temples are wonderful places that incorporate the the more mundane concerns of folk religion right alongside the loftier goals of enlightenment.

WARNING: if you’re a statue or a doll below the age of 18 the following content may not be  suitable.

As I prayed at the temple steps in front of a golden statue of the Buddha I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. Turning around I found four impeccably dressed statues starting at me.

She was looking as modest as can be, but with a curious knee poking out to the side.

Just your average conservative Japanese couple right? But what is the guy to the left doing?

I looked around to make sure I was alone. I didn’t want to be caught lifting the skirts off of statues after all, talk about an embarrassing conversation to have with a monk. The humid summer day ensured I was the only person crazy enough to be outside at mid-day, so I lifted away and here is their secret.

Fertility statues. Quite the pair, and pointed directly at the temple housing the main Buddha image!

Not so conservative after all...

Fertility and babies were a major preoccupation in historical Japan when the society was based around rice cultivation. As the fertility rates in the cities have plummeted, in recent years population grow has been negative, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from rural Japan. At the very least it is great that there is such a wonderful sense of humor about the subject.

Feel free to comment and/or leave stories of shocking statues you have found in Japan.

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22 Responses to “Sexual Secrets of a Japanese Buddhist Temple”

  1. RoyNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, this is awesome! Why should we be prudes about sex anyway? Without sex, we wouldn’t exist!
    Roy´s recent [type] ..My Biggest Travel Mistake Ever

  2. AbrahamNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, truly surprising. Never thought Temples can have statues like that.

    So, why don’t you list a few things that are okay in Japan but shocking for us. ;)

    Abraham´s recent [type] ..Back from the Dead

  3. linaNo Gravatar says:

    OMG! Here I was reading this seriously, well until you started lifted statues’ skirts up. ROTFL!

    I really need to go visit this place someday and check them out myself. ;)
    lina´s recent [type] ..The Vermilion Bridge Of Fukuurajima

  4. alexaNo Gravatar says:

    Hi Todd, just reading through your comments and posts, they are really helpful, especially because im just about to embark on the Shikoku Pilgrimage myself. Im going to walk it… Slightly nervous, but looking forward to it!! Also, I noticed in Tarumi at a little temple they had many of these little round rocks which vaguely resembled Buddhas.. and each one had a little knitted hat.. Like you said, to keep them warm.. How sweet is that? lol
    Thanks again!! : )

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi Alexa, good luck with the pilgrimage. I”m sorry I have not responded earlier but I just saw that you posted! Did you go? Let us know how it is.

  5. Edna ThomasNo Gravatar says:

    In the quiet and sleepy town of Pelling, where people are warm and so friendly that I never heard a raised voice even when someone was being scolded,you’ll find an untouched destination for a a lovely October!This peaceful town is located in the lap of Kanchanjunga, and you can clearly see at dawn the sun rays flitting through the majestic snow clad peaks! The chill of the mountains washes a calmness through you and all you see is snow everywhere and the soft warmth of the sun rays! Pemayangtse Monastery located at the top of this city,will offer you solace like no other! I never felt like leaving this place!
    Edna Thomas´s recent [type] ..The best places to visit in India – Timing is everything!

  6. Love this! Have always been a little disappointed when examining contemporary societies (like my own) that have such issues with repressed sexuality. Neo-paganism (European style) first brought my attention to the fact that It Wasn’t Always Like This. Love finding evidence of it all over the planet. Thanks for posting! :D
    Katrina Stovold´s recent [type] ..Magical Cork

  7. EchoFeifeiNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, unbelievable! After laughing, I’m just thinking what’s the purpose of building these buddhas? Maybe as you said: as the fertility rates have been decreased so much, Japanese just wanted a kind of buddhas to pray for only having children. ?! hehe

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Actually, these statues have a long history in Japan. Much of Japanese folk religion has to do with fertility rites and you still find a lot of these in the countryside. Japan is a very liberal society when it comes to certain things (such as sexuality) when it is expressed in the confines of what is accepted ;) You would be surprised at exacted how much is accepted!

  8. I’m still laughing. Great find Todd!
    .-= Nancie (Ladyexpat)´s recent blog ..Rolling the Omelet =-.

  9. ErizabesuesuNo Gravatar says:

    Oh, those naughty, naughty Ehime people!

    I have another secret for you – Taga Shrine in Uwajima City. I lived there about 10 years ago, and was surprised by the phallic statuary, the Kama Sutra versions in the museum, and the world’s only international collection of pubic hair.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks for the secret! I’ve passed by Uwajima twice now and have yet to visit the international collection of pubic hair. Although I have a great Shikoku pubic hair story…seems they are more common than I thought :)

  10. FranziNo Gravatar says:

    Thank you for uncovering these statues ’cause I’m not sure if I had dared to :)
    I wonder if the statues were always covered.
    .-= Franzi´s recent blog ..If You’re Happy and You Know It… =-.

  11. RyanNo Gravatar says:

    Brilliant. Create something so overt and then hide it. That’s Japan all over!
    .-= Ryan´s recent blog ..Project: 東京 =-.

  12. SophieNo Gravatar says:

    Very interesting article and nice photos.

  13. SuzyNo Gravatar says:

    I would definitely say you stumbled upon some of Japan’s secrets! How funny that the statues are dressed up like dolls to cover up. Pretty interesting/funny.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks Suzy, and thanks for the tweet and the stumble. You are doing great work. Most statues in Japan are actually clothed so that they don’t get cold :)

  14. Sex was never a taboo subject in ancient world in most countries.

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Very true. Japan actually has some crazy art surrounding sex from the Edo period (about 400 years ago). Even today, Japan’s society is not as conservative as most people think. They are just very specific about what is and is not OK to talk about in public. Most people would be shocked what is OK in public.

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