Things Japanese/Charms and Sacred Pictures
Charms and Sacred Pictures are sold for a few farthings at hundreds of temples throughout the land. The custom seems to have originated with the Buddhists, who already on the continent of Asia and before the introduction of Shaka Muni's religion into Japan, had developed all the adjuncts of popular piety and superstition. But the Shintō priests have taken the custom up, not disdaining in these hard times to turn an honest penny wherever possible.
The commonest Japanese charms are scraps of paper with an inscription for the reversal of bad luck, the attainment of good luck, protection from the perils of the sea or of war, from fire, from sickness, and in child-bearing. Others are long strips inscribed with the name of some god, or a brief invocation, to which is occasionally added the picture of the supernatural being invoked,—the fox-god, for instance, or the holy crows of Kumano, or the sacred dog of Mitsumine who is esteemed a powerful protector against robbers. This kind is to be seen pasted vertically on the outside of the houses of the poor in almost every province of the empire, while well-to-do families keep them inside the house, as part of the furniture of the domestic altar. To procure such charms is always one object of the pilgrimages to sacred mountains and famous shrines, still so popular with those classes of society which are not yet fully imbued with European twentieth century notions. Coloured prints of the shrine visited are generally purchased at the same time, and treasured as mementoes of the pilgrimage. There is another very popular kind, which can be made at home, consisting of the imprint of a hand,—generally a child's hand. It is obtained by first wetting the hand with ink, and then applying it to a sheet of paper, and is believed to avert malign influences. Besides these paper charms, there exist several other sorts. At Ise, for example, sacred medals are for sale; but we suspect that these owe their origin to European influence. Another Ise charm, which is genuinely native, consists of fragments of the temples themselves; for when these temples are hewn down every twenty years in accordance with immemorial usage, preparatory to the erection of new ones, the wood is all chopped up into tiny splinters which are carried away by innumerable devotees, The food offered to the gods is also sold to pilgrims as a charm, both at Ise and elsewhere. Then, too, there are miniature editions of various sutras, microscopic images of the Gods of Luck carved out of rice-grains, facsimiles of Buddha's footprint on certain sacred stones, and in fine such a multifarious assortment of "objects of bigotry and virtue" that memory and space alike fail us in the attempt to enumerate them. One charm—generally a thin oblong slab of wood inscribed with the name of the great shrine of Narita—is constantly worn by members of the middle and lower classes in Tōkyō, being hung round the neck by a string next to the skin. It is supposed to protect the wearer against accidents. Women often wear it over their sash. Children habitually have a bright-coloured "charm-bag" hung at their side, as described in the Article on Dress.
- See Murray's Handbook for Japan, 7th edition, page 390.