I really didn't mean to start the year in an X-rated fashion, but what's a woman to do when the situation arises unexpectedly?
You may recall … Well. You probably don't. This was six years ago, before the long hiatus, when I went on a few walkpeditions to find Tokyo's remaining phallic stones. It amused me – still does – that here in the heart of the city of robots and bullet trains you can still find old gods and ancient beliefs, hidden behind neon lights and artisan coffee shops.
There's a phallic stone in the heart of Ueno Park, and nobody knows about it. Or rather, very few do, and certainly no tourists.
It stands on Shōtenjima (聖天島), a small island next to Benten-dō in Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park. It's not easy to see it, though, because the island is fenced off and in a badly neglected state.
If you look at it from behind, it looks like this …
… but it's not what you think it is. It's actually a Jizō figure. That's clear from the other side, but of course you can never see the other side. I've tried to take photos from the opposite side of the pond, but I don't have a powerful enough zoom lens.
The statue is known as the Bearded Jizō (髭地蔵, Hige Jizō). It's not clear when it was made, but it was probably put on the island during the Edo era, when there were plenty of so-called deai chaya (出合茶屋) in the area. That was a tea house where men and women met to not drink tea.
I often walk past – this is my neighbourhood, after all – but the shrine is always behind a rusty, locked iron gate. I've taken photos while half-hanging over the gate, which you can see here, but I've never been able to go inside.
Until yesterday, when I walked to Yanaka and back, passed by the Benten-dō, and noticed … the gate was open! It's undoubtedly for the New Year's celebrations, because there was an offering of fresh kagami mochi and several bottles of sake on the shrine.
I walked in, squeezed myself between the gate and the wall, and could finally, finally!, six years later! get a decent shot of the statue's front.
So here we are. The neon lights and the coffee shops will all disappear, but the bearded Jizō will stand guard, gods, earthquakes and nuclear missiles willing.