By this point everyone has probably heard of Mari Kondo and her life-changing magic of tidying up. The Japanese way of decluttering, alongside Japanese minimalism promoted by Fumio Sasaki and Ikegai – Japan’s secret to longevity, have been taking Western bookstores by storm. The chances are that you’ve come across at least one of those books, but are you familiar with the Japanese way of finding love?
I first came across Japan’s matchmaking rituals on our visit to Kiyomizu-Dera. With its traditional architecture and stunning views, it is hardly surprising that Kiyomizu- Dera is one of Kyoto’s most well-known Buddhist temples. It is not only the aesthetic value, however, that drives so many to visit this place, but the promise of finding true love.
The impressive temple, dating back to 8th century and reconstructed in 1633, was built without a use of a single nail. The characteristic wooden verandah, which was temporarily closed during our visit, was once a place of an old tradition in which one’s wish was to come true if the wish-maker was to survive the jump from the temple’s balcony. The 13-meter plunge boasted a survival rate of 85% and although the practice is now prohibited, Kiyumuzu-dera still continues to attract those in need of having their wishes granted.
Past the main hall of the temple and the Buddhists praying amongst the incense smoke, you can find a Jishu Shrine. In front of the shrine dedicated amongst other deities to Okuninushi–mikoto, a god of matchmaking, there are two love stones. Located 18 meters apart, the stones are believed to predict if you are going to find true love. To find out if you’re destined to find your other half, you need to be able to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed. Since missing the stone would mean a single life, young women usually bring on their love stone journey a friend who can guide their steps to the right stone and thus help them find true love.
Another way in which you can help yourself on the road to true love is to stop by the bronze statue of Nade-Daikoku-San and pat the Daikoku, the deity of luck, who can fulfil your various wishes. You can also draw omukuji or pray at one of the Shinto shrines to help your chances. In Japan, where 80% of the people get married in a Shinto or Christian ceremony while 90% of funerals are performed according to Buddhist rituals, the religions are not always clearly divided and may seem slightly confusing to the outsiders. Shinto, often considered to be Japan’s traditional religion, often blends with Buddhism and it is not uncommon to find elements of both next to each other. I guess one can never have too much luck.
If patting statues is not enough and you want to ensure you are fully covered, you can also drink the wish-granting water from the Otowa waterfall or invest in one of the small wooden plaques known as “ema“. These votive “letters to the god” include pictures and writings that are designed to help one’s wishes of love to be granted. What if you have already found that special someone? The shrine has something for you as well – amongst the various gods residing within the shrine, there are deities accepting prayers for your relationship to be a long-lasting one.
Throughout the temple complex there are various places where one can deposit their dreams and wishes into the safe hands of the friendly deities, get purified through the ritual of Temizu or ring the suzu, a Shinto bell attracting positive energy. Whatever you choose, Kiyumizu-dera has a number of ways to help bring you a step closer to your dreams.
In Japan where many young people are facing increasing trouble with finding a partner, being able to afford marriage or struggling to make time for a relationship and family, the popularity of matchmaking deities is hardly surprising. According to the government survey conducted in 2016, 86 percent of male and 89 percent of female respondents aged between 18 and 34, stated their hopes for eventual matrimony.
On the way out of the temple, there is a board with names of the happy couples who returned to the shrine after getting married. I looked around, noticing many happy couples taking pictures. Perhaps the Japanese way of finding love does work after all…