Saturday, February 18, 2006

Deity of arms and legs

On February 15, the Kai Shrine, in Kashima, Kumamoto Prefecture, was thronged with old folks making offerings to a deity said to prevent and cure injury or illness to the arms and legs. On that day each year, people write their prayers for healthy extremities on small wooden planks, which they then hang in a specific spot on the grounds of the shrine.

The tradition dates back to the shrine's founder, Kai Soun (1510-1583), who was a retainer of the Aso clan and lord of nearby Mifune Castle. After Lord Kai was wounded in a peasant uprising, he was so happy with the attentive treatment he received in Kashima that he told the people there that after he died (see his grave here), he would return as a deity to heal their arms and legs, just as the townspeople had done for him.

Almost 500 years later, people are still taking him at his word.

—Mellow Monk

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