Shinto Shrines (Jinja:神社 or sometimes Jingu:神宮 in Japanese) tend to be full of wooden prayer tablets (ema:絵馬), which can generally be bought for a few hundred yen, allowing the patron to write a prayer to the kami (神god, spirit) of that particular shrine, hang it on the ema rack, and hope for the best. Although some shrines are known for having specialties, such as education (specifically, passing exams), romance, health, etc. most shrines tend to have a pretty repetitive mixture of prayers based on these commonplace themes. There are exceptions though, with the best I have run across being Kyoto’s Yasui Engiri Jinja (安井の縁切り神社, official name is Yasui Konpiragu:安井金比羅宮).
While you may find an occasional prayer for good grades or such by someone who doesn’t quite realize where they are, the majority of ema at Engiri Jinja, appropriately enough, contain prayers related to the theme of engiri, literally meaning “cutting of bonds”-which is commonly used today in reference to the ending of relationships, especially romantic ones. The first part of the word, en (縁) has a few different meanings, including “edge” or “porch-like area in old Japanese buildings”, but most importantly the Buddhist concept of pratyaya which I have not read up on but has something to do with causation, and by extension is taken in reference to such concepts as “fate”, “destiny”, “familial bond”, or “relationship”. The second part, giri or kiri (切り) simply means to cut or sever. This concept of severing “en” originally meant something more along the lines of cutting away the threads of negative destiny to relieve one’s bad luck, but today has come to refer primarily to the more conceptually simple act of severing personal relationships.
Every ema at Engiri Jinja is a story, with many variations on the general theme including people praying for their own bad relationship to end, people hoping for a friend or relative to break off a bad relationship, jealous people hoping for the object of their affection to break up with their current partner, and even a few people following the old-fashioned meaning of “cutting away” their general bad luck.
Amusingly, the shrine has attracted a cluster of love hotels, which seems to me somewhat counter-intuitive. Who is really going to be turned on by the idea of being brought to a hotel to have sex right next to a shrine devoted to the ending of relationships? Are these half-dozen or so hotels exclusively used by couples in self-acknowledged illicit relationships, stopping by Engiri Jinga to fill out a quick prayer card hoping for their official partner to let them go easily before going into the hotel for some passion?
As I stopped by at night time, my photos of the shrine itself are muddy and poor quality, but to get an idea of what it looks like in the sun, have a look at this photo from some personal Japanese blog.
Despite not really being able to get any good photos of the surroundings, I did manage to photograph a selection of particularly good prayers, some of which I will translate below.
I pray to be able to cut all connection with the fucking bitch Asahi Namiko, and for her not to come to her sister in law’s wedding in Autumn.
I also pray for the practice of taking long vacations and going back to the countryside to end. (Presumably a reference to having to waste time visiting family.)
I also pray for the bonds (en) with my in-laws and home town to weaken, please! Please protect my family.
Please cause the relationship (en) between my son and his girlfriend to end.
I pray for the relationship (en) between Azuma Shogo and Funagashi Miwako to end. -Azuma Keiko
I pray for the relationship (en) between my husband and his lover to end and for him to come home to me. (From name illegible)
I pray for the relationship between myself and K-mura H-ko to end.
I pray for the K. transportation duties to vanish from the N.O. factory and for me not to be scolded by anyone.
I pray for my bad luck (aku-en) to end, and for good luck to manifest.
I pray for Y.K to separate from his wife!!
I pray for the bond (en) with H to be cut
I pray for Y.K and I to be linked in a good relationship (ryou-en).
I pray to be separated from my bad situation, and for my body to recover.
H.Y. February 28, 2009
I pray to somehow be able to divorce from Yukio. I pray for en (here meaning both the relationship and her bad luck) to be cut and to become happy.
I pray to be able to quickly and smoothly divorce from my wife and to be able to remarry with ♡Azuma Yuko♡, for my job to go well and to be able to become happy.
Osaka-fe Yao City Kamei-cho
I pray to be able to separate from my boyfriend and be with the person that I love.
February 17, 2009
I pray for the M&S Horseriding club to be shut down. I pray for misfortune to befall them and for Aoki Kentaro to be punished. (Definitely the oddest of the lot.)
I humbly pray for the relationship (en) with my daughter to be severed. (Definitely the most chilling.)
Larger versions of these photos can be found on Flicker.
These are just a small sampling of the prayers that can be found there at any given time, and they turnover fast in this popular shrine. A few Japanese blogs have accounts of particularly noteworthy stories that they found at Yasui Engiri Jinja, such as the following one.
The first thing that I saw was three ema that looked to have been written by a group of three high school girls. The same think black pen was used to write the same kind of roundish lettering.
“I pray for the bad en with Akiyama Mika of class B in second year to be severed”
All three of them had written the same thing, and they hung there in a row.
I also found this page with a handful of accounts from people who had gone there themselves, or to other similar shrines such as Tokyo’s Tanomiya Inari Jinja, to pray. This was the best of those.
When by father was constantly being hurt and tormented by things he did because of alcohol, and he was psychologically afflicted, my mother and I went together to Engiri Temple in Kyoto. I was a high school student at the time.
(Note: since s/he writes “temple” and not “shrine” I am not quite sure if this is the same place or another.)
We prayed at a boulder that was so covered in words of prayer that its original form could not be discerned. “Please let father quit alcohol,” we recited repeatedly as we opened up a narrow hole and sought salvation.
Of course there was no way that father would quit alcohol immediately just because of that. However, the truth is that I was able to feel a little bit better, much like the feeling you get when you suddenly reach shelter in the midst of a downpour.
To express in words exactly what I was feeling then now that 15 years have passed is difficult, but it is carved deeply into my heart.
Located just a few minutes walk from the famous Yasuka Pagoda, I stumbled across it entirely by accident wandering around at night, but you can find it by following this nifty little map I just prepared showing both the very noticeable Yasuka Pagoda and the inconspicuous Engiri Jinja.
View My Saved Places in a larger map