King Enma and his ogres take a winter vacation from tormenting people

Azuchi-Momoyama period wallscroll depicting King Enma, Nara, Japan

Azuchi-Momoyama period wallscroll depicting King Enma, Nara, Japan

Tochigi temples hold events for King Enma

(NHK World, Jan 15, 2014)

Buddhist temples in Ashikaga City, north of Tokyo, have held events for King Enma, the ruler of Hell and suffering.

According to the teachings of Buddhism, January 16th is the king’s winter holiday, when the lids on the cauldrons of Hell are removed and Enma and ogres stop tormenting people there.

Yakushido Temple showed pictures of Hell to the public on Thursday.

The pictures of torture from centuries ago during the Edo period are said to frighten children and leave them unable to sleep at night.

Another temple, Rishoin, held a service for Enma, continuing 200 years of tradition.

Visitors prayed for good business and safety for their families before a 2-meter-tall statue of Enma.

One supporter of the temple said King Enma is popular among students preparing for entrance exams because he is tough on liars but grants wishes to hard workers.

Source: NHK World


“Enma face” (閻魔顔 Enma-gao?) is an idiom used to describe someone with a fearsome face.
“If you lie, Lord Enma will pull out your tongue” (嘘をつけばと閻魔さまに舌を抜かれる?) is a superstition often told to scare children into telling the truth.
A Japanese kotowaza states “When borrowing, the face of a jizō; when repaying (a loan), the face of Enma” (借りる時の地蔵顔、返す時の閻魔顔?). Jizō is typically portrayed with a serene, happy expression whereas Enma is typically portrayed with a thunderous, furious expression. The kotowaza alludes to changes in people’s behaviour for selfish reasons depending on their circumstances.


The deity Yama, a deity of Indo-European origin (Indian “Yama” and Iranian “Yamaxaita”, I-E etymology “yemos” or “ymyos”,  North European-Finno-Ugric deity Ymir) arrived in Japan and Korea via China…consistent with the frequent portrayal of Yama in Chinese bureaucratic garb.

For more on see “King Yama Lord of the Dead: Comparing counterparts and cognates in Central Asia and Southeast Asia”

 Yama's Court and Hell. The Blue figure is Yama with his consort Yami and Chitragupta. A 17th-century painting from the Government Museum in Chennai.

Yama’s Court and Hell. The Blue figure is Yama with his consort Yami and Chitragupta.
A 17th-century painting from the Government Museum in Chennai.

In Hinduism, Yama was the son of sun god Surya and presided over Naraka, the Hindu underworld. Adopted into Buddhism, Yama’s exact role is fairly vague in canonical texts, but is clearer in extra-canonical texts and popular beliefs, although these are not always consistent with Buddhist philosophy.
In the Pali canon, the Buddha states that a person who has ill-treated their parents, ascetics, holy persons, or elders is taken upon his death to Yama. Yama then asks the ignoble person if he ever considered his own ill conduct in light of birth, aging, sickness, worldly retribution and death (mrtyu). In response to Yama’s questions, such an ignoble person repeatedly answers that he failed to consider the kammic consequences of his reprehensible actions and as a result is sent to a brutal hell “so long as that evil action has not exhausted its result.”
In the Pali apocrypha, the scholar Buddhaghosa’s commentary to the Majjhima Nikaya describes Yama as a vimānapeta (विमानापता), a “being in a mixed state”, sometimes enjoying celestial comforts and at other times punished for the fruits of his karma. However, Buddhaghosa considered his rule as a king to be just.

Modern Theravādin countries portray Yama sending old age, disease, punishments, and other calamities among humans as warnings to behave well. At death, they are summoned before Yama, who examines their character and dispatches them to their appropriate rebirth, whether to earth or to one of the heavens or hells. Sometimes there are thought to be two or four Yamas, each presiding over a distinct Hell.[Source: Wikipedia entry on Enma]


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