February 26, 2010 / 7:45 AM / in 8 years

Bad luck goes down the toilet at Japan temple rite

OTA CITY, Japan (Reuters Life!) - Tired of an unsatisfying relationship, the sluggish economy or just your own bad habits? Now you really can flush it all down the toilet.

The Mantokuji temple in Japan’s central Gumma prefecture was once an asylum for women who wanted to cut marital ties with their husbands, a function now made obsolete by modern divorce laws and family courts.

Now, the temple is a museum chronicling the history of divorce as well as a place to help people get rid of any bad karma, via a piece of paper they drop into latrines.

Visitors are given two options: the white squat toilet for the “enkiri”, or cutting ties, or the black one for the “enmusubi”, or tightening ties.

“I severed the bind with obesity” said 69-year-old, tea ceremony instructor Shizue Kurokawa, after flushing her “enkiri” tag in the white latrine.

“I‘m getting fat and it’s not healthy. From now on I’d like to lose weight, be in fine form and take care of my health.”

According to temple officials, most visitors still come with the purpose of breaking up with their partners, but most do so very discreetly.

Those willing to talk to Reuters had less private wishes.

“I work for a business company and things are not going well. What’s more, deflation is a problem everywhere in Japan,” said 74-year-old Kiyo Suzuki, an employee at a steel production company. “So my prayer is that things may recover for all of us.”

Up until the 19th century, Mantokuji was one of only two women-only convents serving as a refuge for wives who wanted to leave with their husbands.

Women in those days had no legal rights to ask for a divorce, though all a man had to do was to write “I hereby divorce thee” in a letter to make the breakup official.

Convent officials would act as mediators between the couple, and if a reconciliation was not possible, the officials made sure the wife had some sort of legal protection.

“In the past the Mantokuji was a divorce temple. There are only two in Japan and in the whole world,” explained the temple museum director Tadashi Takagi.

“Originally it provided the possibility to break off with bad relationships. Women used to come here to have legal protection and divorce from their husbands. So the idea today is that people get rid of the bad things in their life and become happy.”

Takagi said that with spirits and gods believed to inhabit practically everything in Japan, toilets are no different.

And among the million gods in the Japanese pantheon, the deity of the toilet, kawaya no kami, was considered just as important as the others since he was believed to heal illnesses and help in childbirth, Takagi added.

But ever since the symbolic latrines were installed, accidents have happened.

“When this museum was realized, at first, there were people who took it for a real loo and actually used it. But since we have put a sign indicating that the toilets are for praying, almost nobody makes that mistake anymore,” Takagi said.

Despite its quirky rite, the Mantokuji sanctuary continues to stand as a testimony to women’s rights in Japan. Once inside its gates, unhappy wives did see a change in their fortunes, without really having to flush it away.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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