The stuff of miracles & legend
On April 27, 1978, fire broke out in the early morning hours along the narrow street of Pontocho, the heart of one of Kyoto’s oldest entertainment quarters. Before anything could be done several of the quarter’s old wooden teahouses had been destroyed and a young geiko (the Kyoto word for a geisha) was dead. However, when the raging blaze reached the narrow alleyway known as # 15, it suddenly stopped. Mysteriously, the fire went out just after it had engulfed a ceramic tanuki statue that stood in the alleyway—these jovial badger figures often marks the entrance to a drinking establishment. In honor of their savior, neighborhood residents built a shrine to house the spirit of their protector. If you toss a coin into the offering box, a tanuki oracle will repay you with wise words. There are a total of five messages: #1: You have too many desires, and you can’t make up your mind. Don’t vacillate. Decide on one. #2: Be patient and work hard. Perseverance and effort are all you need. #3: Good fortune comes to those who smile. Be thankful and true, and your wishes will be granted. #4: The Silk Road is long. You might encounter hardship along the way, but be patient and persevere. That’s all you can do. #5: Beware of fire, beware of fire. Neighbors must take care of each other. Fire is dreadful. It will help if you pray to O-Tanuki san. Thank you. Thank you very much. Come again to Ponto-cho. Thank you.
Alleyway #15 (jugo-ban roji) is located between Kiyamachi and Pontocho (running parallel to the Kamogawa river between Shijo and Sanjo), three streets south of Pontocho park.
Words by Ian Ropke. Image by Michael Lambe.
Ian Ropke is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Osaka and Kyoto, editor of Kyoto Visitors Guide, and director of Your Japan Private Tours. He posts regularly for Deep Kyoto on the 15th of each month.
My apologies to Ian for the delay in posting this article!