CHIBIREN The character in the upper left corner of the sign is known as Chibiren. The scrolls piled on top of Chibiren’s head and his exhortation “C’mon, let’s sutra!” (the broken English is in the original) suggest that he is either a “little Nichiren” or a personification of the Lotus Sutra: Chibi means “shorty,” and ren could be an abbreviation of the title Myoho renge kyo (Scripture of the Lotus of the Wondrous Dharma). The smaller version of Chibiren in the upper half of the sign’s center tells visitors that hanging ema (votive plaques) on the old crape myrtle tree on the temple grounds may make their wishes come true. On the Ryohoji-affiliated site and on some merchandise, this character’s name is spelled “Chibinen.”
INARI-SAMA Inari is a harvest deity now frequently associated with commercial prosperity. The two anthropomorphic foxes who appear on the sign (Rina and Nari, sporting fox masks and tails) are Inari’s messengers. In the bottom right of the image, Rina chucks a snowball at Nari, telling him to turn around and look at all of the deities enshrined in the small Inari Hall on the temple grounds. Nari refuses, saying: “I’m an artist. I don’t do all that kid stuff.”
MAMA The figure called Mama is a depiction of Kishimojin, the Japanese version of the Indian Buddhist goddess Hariti—originally an ogress with hundreds of children who fed her own offspring with the children of others. The Buddha hid her beloved youngest child under his begging bowl in order to introduce her to the horrible suffering of being parted from a child. Recognizing the error of her ways, Kishimojin was converted into a benign protective deity who offers safe childbirth to devotees. She is shown on the sign in purple garb with a child on her back and one fang poking out from her lip, presumably to indicate her monstrous past.
SHICHIMEN DAIMYOJIN According to legend, in the 13th century a young girl came to hear [the Nichiren school founder] Nichiren Daishonin preach; in fact, she was a manifestation of the resident deity of nearby Mount Shichimen. Moved by Nichiren’s preaching, the deity—represented here by a dragon clutching a key and a jewel—swore to protect Nichiren sect temples like Ryohoji.
UGA-CHAN Depicted as a white snake clutching a jewel, this harvest deity (Ugajin; also called Uka no kami) is Benzaiten’s avatar or companion.
TORO-BENTEN The most prominent character is Toro-Benten, the signboard’s representation of Benzaiten or Benten, originally an Indian goddess (Sarasvati) who is associated with learning and the arts. She is widely revered in Japan as one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune (shichifukujin). While Benzaiten is frequently depicted holding a biwa (lute), in her incarnation as “Shingo Benzaiten” the goddess holds a jeweled sword for protecting the righteous and a jewel that represents sincerity. At Ryohoji’s promotional events, the sign’s illustrator, Toromi, dresses in an elaborate costume as ToroBenten in a practice known as “cosplay” (a Japanese abbreviation of “costume play”). Although Ryohoji draws a distinction between Toro-Benten and the actual goddess Shingo Benzaiten, in practice the distinction is blurred—Toromi’s behavior while dressed as Toro-Benten flips back and forth between being the deity and appealing to the deity, and many of the temple’s fan-parishioners do not seem to make strict distinctions between the picture, the person, and the actual deity.
“C’mon, let’s sutra!”
“Is it true that temples can cure [a child’s] peevishness?”
“Welcome to Ryohoji! The temple is a broadcast station for faith!”
“I’m an artist, so I don’t do all that kid stuff.”
“This crape myrtle tree has been here since the Edo period. If you hang a votive plaque (ema) on it, your wishes may come true!"
“This is a memorial pillar!”
“This is the main hall. I am worshipped here also!”
“Hey~! Nari, look this way! There are lots of deities enshrined in the Inari Hall!”

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