Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Severing ties with a hatchet

One of the interesting things about a language is the cultural perspective that can be seen in specific words or terms.

For instance, the Japanese term for breaking up with, disowning, divorcing, or otherwise severing ties with someone is en o kiru, which literally means "to cut one's connection (en) [with another person]." Interestingly, the word en comes from Buddhism and means not just any ordinary connection, but a karmic connection.

At Kamahachima Temple in Osaka, Japan, visitors can leave offerings to help sever those karmic ties with someone. Note that the offering is a kama (traditional sickle--hence the temple's name) on which a message is written. The sickle is than stuck into the poor tree as an offering--that this latest breakup "takes," perhaps.

The tradition at Kamahachiman Temple traces its origins all the way back to the general Yukimura Sanada (1567-1615), who stuck a sickle into a hackberry tree at the temple to pray to Hachiman (the Shinto god of war) for victory in an upcoming battle. After he won the battle, people thought he was on to something, and a tradition was born. Thus was also born the temple's nickname of Kamahachiman, which means "Sickle [Temple] for Hachiman." (The temple's real name is Enjuan, which means Enju Hermitage.)

On this page, you can see a picture of the general's statue at Kamahachiman. Scroll down until you see a tree with dozens of sickles stuck in it. The general can be seen in the picture above and to the right.

At any rate, why go through this elaborate offering to break up with someone, when a simple "I said don't call me anymore!" (or a restraining order) would do?

It has to do with Buddhism, which holds that married couples are those who were together in a previous life and have been reunited in this one. So if a person wants to get out of such a relationship ("The Fates may have intended us to be together, but they didn't ask me first!"), he or she may feel a little guilty about bucking the plans that the Heavens had for them. Hence the offering.

—Mellow Monk

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