Praying for safety at sea and putting to rest fish in honor their lives.
In the city of Tsuruoka there is Temple called, Ryutakusanzenpoji, which is still worshipped at by fishermen for being a guardian of the sea. The name “Ryugeji” (Ryu = dragon) represents a deep connection with the dragon, which is believed to be a deity of the water. As one monk explained, “A thatched hut which had initially been opened by Myotatsu Shonin, a holy priest who appeared in Konjakumonogatari (The Tale of Konjaku), is considered to be the founder of this temple. It is said that one day, two Ryujin (dragon gods) showed up and asked Myotatsu for his blessing. Once he gave them the reciting, they lay concealed in Kaibaminoike Pond, located in the back of the temple grounds. “The Fish with Human-like Face”, which was seen on TV some years back, was considered to be residing in this pond and to be the incarnation of Ryujin.
Recently the holy image, which is usually enshrined at Ryuoden, was unveiled for the 1150th anniversary of Myotatsu’s birthday. It was the first time in the temple’s history, thus not only local residents, but also people in the fishing industry crowded in everyday to witness it. “The holy image is Bhaisajyaguru, and the guardians at the right and left sides are the Ryujin from Kaibaminoike pond,” the monk continued. “This Ryuoden imitates the Palace of the Dragon King, and there are many engraved carp representing an incarnation before becoming a dragon. The twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac are engraved at our five-story pagoda downstairs, but the dragon is replaced with a carp.”
The aforementioned five-story pagoda is the only one in Japan built as a memorial tower for the putting of fish to rest in honor their lives. Initially, it was members in the fishing industry who desired to build it. According to one theory, Mr. Tomekichi Aoyama also devoted himself to the project as an organizer. The belief greatly spread amongst the fishing industry from the beginning of the Meiji period, and they of course asked the temple, where a deity of water was worshiped, for peace at sea. But it wasn’t a unilateral request that they asked just for their own safety. We could witness fishermen’s spiritual nature through the fact that they also prayed for the souls of the fish that gave their lives. They relied on the temple for this. Besides what the monk explained, we see fish and wave motifs everywhere on the grounds. It makes us feel as if we are praying to the fish instead of Ryujin.