Purely Punning

The February 15th issue of Jinja Shinpō had a short article about a new purification font at Harina Jinja in Nagoya, a jinja I have actually visited. This font was designed to be hands-free, so there are no ladles, and there is a wheelchair-accessible font off to one side (the main font is on a small dais). However, that’s not what I want to talk about today.

The water flows from six nozzles, placed around a hexagonal pillar. These nozzles are shaped like gourds, and 89 centimetres from the ground. Why?

Well, gourds are called “byō” in Japanese, and “six” can be pronounced “mu”, which means that “six gourds” is “mubyō”, which means “no illness”, and is part of “mubyōsokusai”, the standard phrase for a prayer for health and safety. Eight can be read “ya” and nine can be read “ku”, while “otosu” means “drop”, so dropping the water 89 cm is “yaku otosu”, which also happens to mean “getting rid of back luck”.

Puns are easy in Japanese, because the relatively small number of sounds means that a lot of words overlap. It is also a very important part of the culture, and something that turns up a lot in Shinto.

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