Toilet gods of Japan, Korea and China

A song “Toire no Kamisama” (「トイレの神様」 “The Toilet God”) was one of 2010′s best-sellers.

“The lyrics were inspired by the singer’s grandmother, who held that women should clean toilets in order to honor the beautiful female deity presiding there. My own grandmother used to say that daughters who cleaned the family toilet were destined to become beautiful, and would in turn bear beautiful daughters. She was of the generation who wore aprons from the moment they got up in the morning to the second they rested on the futon at night. Naturally, toilet cleaning was something they did daily, at some ungodly hour like 6 a.m.

Because the traditional Japanese restroom is an independent little chamber separate from the bathroom, my grandmother and millions of other women paid their respects to the god of the toire with fresh seasonal flowers in handmade vases, bookcases crammed with bunkobon (文庫本, paperbacks), drawings by children and other school projects, dried coffee grounds to absorb odors, potpourri, dried herbs and anything else that would fit on a shelf or could be hooked on a wall.

Toire wa sono ikka no kao (トイレはその一家の顔, the restroom is the face of the household) is a maxim many Japanese women still believe, and live by. …”

-Paying respect to the Japanese toilet god, Japan Times, Jan 19, 2011

In Japan, belief in the toilet god or kawaya kami served a dual purpose. Most bodily wastes were collected and used as fertilizers, ensuring a higher overall level of sanitation than in other countries where wastes were stored in cesspits or otherwise disposed of. Toilets were often dark and unpleasant places where the user was at some risk of falling in and drowning. The protection of the toilet god was therefore sought to avoid such an insanitary fate.

The god also had a role to play in promoting fertility, as human waste was collected and used as fertiliser. Rituals were performed at the New Year to ask the kawaya kami for help in producing a good harvest. In some places, family members would sit on a straw mat in front of the toilet and eat a mouthful of rice, symbolising eating something that the god had left. A properly appointed toilet would be decorated and kept as clean as possible, as the toilet god was considered to be very beautiful. The state of the toilet was said to have an effect on the physical appearance of unborn children. Pregnant women asked the toilet god to give boys a “high nose” and dimples to girls. If the toilet was dirty, however, it was said to cause children to be born ugly and unhappy. According to a different Japanese tradition, the toilet god was said to be a blind man holding a spear in his hand. This presented an obvious and painful threat when squatting down to defecate, so it was regarded as necessary to clear one’s throat before entering so that the blind toilet god would sheathe his spear.

Various rituals and names were associated with the latrine god in different parts of Japan. On Ishigaki Island it was called kamu-taka and was propitiated by the sick with sticks of incense, flowers, rice and rice wine. In Nagano Prefecture’s former Minamiazumi District, sufferers from toothache offered lights to the toilet god, which was called takagamisama. The inhabitants of Hiroshima called the toilet god Setchinsan while those of Ōita Prefecture called it Sechinbisan and those of Ehime Prefecture called it Usshimasama. The American anthropologist John Embree recorded in the 1930s that the inhabitants of part of the southernmost Japanese island of Kyūshū would put a branch of willow or Chinese nettle tree, decorated with pieces of mochi (rice cake), into the toilet as an offering to ask the toilet god to protect the house’s inhabitants from bladder problems in the coming year.[4]

The Ainu people of far northern Japan and the Russian Far East believed that the Rukar Kamuy, their version of a toilet god, would be the first to come to help in the event of danger.

Some variants of Buddhism incorporate a belief in Ucchuṣma, the “god of the latrine”, who is said to destroy defilement. A cult developed around Ucchuṣma in Zen monasteries where the latrine, the bath and the meditation hall or refectory were regarded as the three “silent places” (sanmokudō) for contemplation.

Possible continental origins:

Similar beliefs also existed in Korea, where the toilet god or cheukgansin was dubbed the “young lady of the toilet”. She was regarded as having a “perverse character” and was propitated each year in October by housewives, along with the other household gods.

 

A rather different form of toilet god existed in China, in the shape of Zi Gu 紫姑 or “Violet Lady”, also known as Mao Gu, the Lady of the Latrine or the Third Daughter of the Latrine. She was believed to be the spirit of a concubine who had been physically abused by a vengeful wife and had died in the latrine. Her cult appears to have originated in the Shanxi region and spread across China by the Tang period.[9] Women worshipped her in the form of a home-made doll on the fifteenth day of each year’s first month, when she was ritually summoned in the latrine during the night. Prayers were said to the doll, telling her that the husband and wife had gone and that she could now safely come out. The motions of the doll – sometimes manifested as automatic writing – were used for fortune telling by the worshippers. Another interpretation came from a popular novel of the Ming period, which portrayed the latrine deity as three sisters who were responsible for the Primeval Golden Dipper (hunyuan jindou) or celestial toilet bowl, from which all beings were born.

A rather different form of toilet god existed in China, in the shape of Zi Gu 紫姑 or “Violet Lady”, also known as Mao Gu, the Lady of the Latrine or the Third Daughter of the Latrine. She was believed to be the spirit of a concubine who had been physically abused by a vengeful wife and had died in the latrine. Her cult appears to have originated in the Shanxi region and spread across China by the Tang period.[9] Women worshipped her in the form of a home-made doll on the fifteenth day of each year’s first month, when she was ritually summoned in the latrine during the night. Prayers were said to the doll, telling her that the husband and wife had gone and that she could now safely come out. The motions of the doll – sometimes manifested as automatic writing – were used for fortune telling by the worshippers. Another interpretation came from a popular novel of the Ming period, which portrayed the latrine deity as three sisters who were responsible for the Primeval Golden Dipper (hunyuan jindou) or celestial toilet bowl, from which all beings were born.

Beliefs in toilet gods also existed in other ancient cultures like ancient Rome. Such deities have been associated with health, well-being and fertility (because of the association between human waste and agriculture) and have been propitiated in a wide variety of ways, including making offerings, invoking and appeasing them through prayers, meditating and carrying out ritual actions such as clearing one’s throat before entering or even biting the latrine to transfer spiritual forces back to the gods.

The inhabitants of ancient Rome had a sewer goddess, a toilet god and a god of excrement. The sewer goddess Cloacina (named from the Latin word cloaca or sewer) was borrowed from Etruscan mythology and became seen as the protectoress of the Cloaca Maxima, Rome’s sewage system. An early Roman ruler, Titus Tatius, built a shrine to her in his toilet; she was invoked if sewers became blocked or backed up.[14] She was later merged with the better-known Roman goddess Venus and was worshipped at the Shrine of Venus Cloacina in the Roman Forum.

The Romans had a toilet god in the form of Crepitus, who was also the god of flatulence and was invoked if a person had diarrhoea or constipation. They additionally propitiated Stercutius (named from stercus or excrement), the god of dung, who was particularly important to farmers when fertilising their fields with manure. He had a close relationship with Saturn, the god of agriculture.(Source: Wikipedia)

Source: Toilet gods of Japan

Wikipedia “Toilet god”

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