What is God in the restroom? You may have no idea what I’m talking about. Today, I would like to talk about 8 million divine spirits from ancient times and our Japanese people’s lives, including my own experiences.
Do you believe there are gods everywhere?
Before we get into our main topic, God in the restroom, let’s dig into where our religion originally came from. In Japan, people believed in Yaoyorozu no Kami (八百万の神, literally, 8 million gods) in nature. It is an ancient faith that teaches that everything has life in it. Yaoyorozu means “a huge amount.” It has been believed that gods exist not only in the mountains, rivers, plants, and trees, but also rice paddies, kitchens, restrooms, bathrooms, and even in objects and foods.
This is the origin of Shinto religion: Japanese people, who were agricultural people, found the existence of gods in the power of nature and enshrined their gods and prayed politely in order to avoid natural threats. And people prayed for peace and relief in their agricultural lives. It seems that the basics of Shinto were made in the Yayoi period (the neolithic age in Japan). On the other hand, Buddhism was founded by Budda and was introduced to Japan via China. It is a Buddhist principle to imagine the statue of Budda, and the thought is that by chanting a Buddhist sutra and performing rigorous ascetic practices, monks can attain enlightenment and be saved in the next life.
The Japanese people have lived with these unique beliefs, the Yaoyorozu no Kami, have enjoyed four seasons, and have appreciated the bounty of nature. And we Japanese have a flexible acceptance of other thoughts from outside. That’s why even though the two religions of Shintoism and Buddhism are totally different, we have been able to integrate them deeply into our daily life.
A song called “Toire no Kamisama (トイレの神様): God in the Restroom”
In 2010, a song called “God in the Restroom” became a big hit in Japan. The song tells a story of a girl and her grandmother and is sung as one of the heart-warming stories about how we relate with Japanese gods and spirits in our daily life. Please listen to the song and read the lyrics of this song. The both links are as below.
What is God in the restroom?
There are many theories of god in the restroom, and today I’d like to introduce you to two gods. They are Benzaiten-sama and Ususama Myouou-sama.
The first god is Benzaiten-sama, one of Shichifukujin (七福神), the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, and they are believed to arrive on a ship full of treasures and bring people good luck. Benzaiten-sama is the only female god there – elegant and beautiful. It feels a little bit of a mismatch that she is god in the restroom, doesn’t it? There is an interesting story below.
The Shichifukujin had a job to protect a house, and they had to handleeach room of the house. One day, they had a meeting about who will take care of which room, but Benzaiten didn’t come. They couldn’t wait and decided which place to protect without her. Why was Benzaiten late for that meeting? She spent too much time on her make-up and prepared herself nicely, which is common for women. When she finally arrived, the only place left was the restroom. So, as mentioned in the song, it’s said that if you always clean the restroom, you will be able to become a beauty or you will have a beautiful baby.
◎Ususama myouou sama(烏枢沙摩明王様)
The other theory of the restroom god is Ususama Myouou-sama. In the past, restrooms were called “Kawaya” (厠) because they was built upon the river, and people flushed their waste away into the river that was running to the ocean. The ocean was thought to be a source of life and connection to the afterlife, and it was also a gateway between the afterlife and present world. And people thought restrooms were an unclean place as well as a place where disease and evil spirits came out from.
Ususama Myouou-sama, a fire god who lives in the restroom, has the divine power to transform and purify the unhallowed things. It’s believed that he then watched over and protected people’s lives with a fighting stance and really scary face like a demon. And people have enshrined Ususama Myouou-sama in the restroom because he burns away and purifies all unclean things and foul hearts which people have in their lives. So, here is a tip for you. There is just a spell to mumble when you clean up the restroom. Mumbling this spell while cleaning the restroom brings you good luck and money. It goes like this: “Onkurodanounjakusowaka.”
Finally, to share my personal experience, I was born and raised in a farmer’s house in Nara. The environment of my growth was in nature and also related to nature. My parents and great-grandfather taught me about the existence of tons of gods everywhere in our daily life. They said that a lot of gods always watch over me whether I’m being a good girl or not, behaving well or not, being safe, being healthy, and things like that. I have always been conscious of them. I was even a little bit scared of them. I was scared to throw away a candy wrapper on the road or to hide from or tie to my parents. So I have been careful with my behavior ever since. I don’t know if it’s a good way to live or not, but at least I’ve cherished feeling watched over by a lot of gods. In that song, how her grandmother taught her that cleaning the restroom was very important is very quintessentially Japanese. Yaoyorozu no Kami have been watching over Japanese people until now and they will in the future, too. I’m so lucky that I’m Japanese.
When you come to Japan, you’ll see that the restrooms are very clean wherever you go. In a sense, restrooms are the dirtiest places in the world, but if they are beautiful, it is easy to imagine that other places are in good order as well. Cleaning the toilet makes you feel good, makes your mind beautiful, and brings you good luck.
I hope that this practice will spread all over the world.
Please listen to that song again.
You can check another HTJ article which was written about the restroom by Hidemi Hosaki below
I’m a clay artist, and a master of Japanese calligraphy “Onore-sho”. I have my own shop in Ikaruga town, Nara, which is near Horyuji temple: world heritage site. And I’m a volunteer English tour guide. I enjoy learning English everyday.