Japanese photo journalist Satoshi Takahashi, renowned for pictures of the political unrest in Cambodia over the past decade or so, has recently focused on the diverse heritage of his hometown, the northern prefecture of Akita. For the second article in this series, Takahashi visited a temple located by the foot of Mount Shinzan of the Oga Peninsula on which ogre-like demons, the "namahage," are said to live. A local new year tradition sees adults dressed as the creatures, who search for and terrify "mischievous" children.
Tranquility filled the small Buddhist chapel.
A priest named Fumyo created this hall about three centuries ago in the mid-Edo period, to pray for children and the disciples who died young. He carved and enshrined over 12,000 wooden Jizo Bosatsu statues, or guardian deities, according to a tale told for generations. The spot became a local worship site known as "Shinzan no mantaibutsu," meaning "Shinzan's ten-thousand Buddhas."
So that a child's illness may heal. So that the young are protected. These wishes were entrusted to pieces of paper or rice straws fallen from a namahage outfit, and tied on to monk-shaped figures.
Noboru Sugawara, 77, head of a local group preserving the region's namahage tradition, explained to me, "Mantaibutsu is there for our devout prayers and has been the source of mental support for people of all ages."
I observed each engraved line and thought of Fumyo.
How much time did he give? How many prayers did he recite? I could almost hear him asking for the repose of souls and peace of mind, in the form of a chorus from the myriad of Jizo statues that fill all the walls.
(The Japanese original by Satoshi Takahashi was published on May 26, 2021)
Satoshi Takahashi was born in the city of Akita, Akita Prefecture, in 1981. Residing in Phnom Penh from 2007 to 2018, his photos captured the social problems of Cambodia and were published globally. In 2019, his publication titled "RESISTANCE" (the subtitle roughly translates to "the undaunted spirit of Cambodians") won the 38th Domon Ken Award sponsored by The Mainichi Newspapers Co.