Tokyo: Looking into Origin of ‘Five-color’ Fudo Deities

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Meki Fudo statue at Saishoji temple in Hirai, Edogawa Ward, Tokyo.

“As I strolled around Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, where there are many temples and shrines, I found five kanji characters that read “”Meaka Fudo Son”” (Statue of Red Fudo) on the stone gate of a small temple.

I already knew there were Meguro (literally meaning eyes black) and Mejiro (literally meaning eyes white) Fudo deities whose names are associated with the name of a ward and a station, both in Tokyo. But what about Meaka (literally meaning eyes red)? As I looked into it, I found that Meaka Fudo is one of the Goshiki (five-color) Fudo Buddhist deities in Tokyo.

“Originally, Fudo at my temple was not ‘Meaka’ but ‘Akame,'” said Genmo Morioka, 40, chief priest of Nankokuji temple in Honkomagome. He revealed this unexpected nugget when I talked to him after entering the premise of the temple.

The temple’s origin traces back to the town of Akame in the city of Nabari, present-day Mie Prefecture, home to the scenic spot named the Akame 48 Waterfalls. In the early Edo period (1603-1867), the temple’s inaugural chief priest obtained a small golden statue of Fudo Myoo in Akameyama of Iganokuni and enshrined the statue as Akame Fudoson at a hermitage he set up in present-day Bunkyo Ward.

“It was Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa family, who issued an order to turn ‘aka’ and ‘me’ upside down,” Morioka said. “The change seems to have been intended to invoke harmony with the Meguro and Mejiro statues of Fudo.”

Historical factors

Meguro Fudo is located in Shimo-Meguro, Meguro Ward, and Mejiro Fudo near Mejiro of Toshima Ward, Tokyo, both linked to place names.

Meao (eye blue) Fudo is located in Setagaya Ward and Meki (eye yellow) Fudo in two places, one each in Taito and Edogawa wards. The places where Fudo is enshrined have changed, and as in the case of Meaka Fudo, there are no place names nearby bearing colors. What are the reasons behind these Fudo Buddhist deities being bracketed together as Goshiki Fudo?

It was Shunwa Yamada, 76, chief priest of Saishoji temple in Edogawa Ward, where Meki Fudo is enshrined, who helped solve this question. “Iemitsu visited temples in various places when he went out for falconry and made them ‘temporary palatial residences,'” he said. “During the Edo period, this temple was one such temple because it was revered highly by the Tokugawa family.”

As I read the history of each temple, I found that there were similar anecdotes like this in connection with Meguro and Meaka Fudo deities, too.

Yamada also taught me that there was a key man besides Iemitsu. It was Tenkai Sojo of the Tendai sect of Buddhism who served as a political adviser for the Tokugawa family. This high-ranking Buddhist priest is said to have recommended to Iemitsu that Fudo temples be established to ensure divine protection of the main roads that were then important means of transportation.

Roles of Iemitsu, Tenkai

The temples associated with Iemitsu are found to have been defined as Goshiki Fudo at the suggestion of Tenkai. But why does it represent five colors instead of three or four?

What is regarded as a leading origin of this is the Theory of Yin Yang and the Five Elements, which originated in ancient China. The theory is based on the philosophic principle of two energies, Yin and Yang, and on the idea that everything in the whole world consists of five basic elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

Gyotai Matsumoto, 68, chief priest of the Meki Fudo-enshrined Eikyuji temple in Taito Ward, provided additional information, saying, “[The theory of Yin and Yang and the Five Elements] is a concept used to explain about natural disasters and fortune and misfortune of the human world, while the Five Elements are represented in the Buddhist world by five colors of blue, red, yellow, white and black.”

In China, Feng Sui was created from the theory of the Five Elements and has been used in such fields as architecture.

In Japan, during the Heian period (794-late 12th century) fortune-telling high-ranking officials called onmyoji, or Yin Yang masters, became able to exert a huge political influence. Renowned onmyoji Abe no Seimei is said to have had power strong enough to influence political decisions of successive emperors and the then powerful Fujiwara family.

In the Edo period, the theory of the Five Elements was assimilated also into Buddhism, to which Tenkai dedicated himself, and Fudo deities of five colors, instead of three or four colors, were established.

The origin of the Fudo deities represented in five colors dates as far back as ancient China and their links with Iemitsu and Tenkai. Those who visit Fudo temples with knowledge about these points may be able to appreciate them better.”