You’ll see Dōsojin all over as you explore Shinshu: elderly couples, standing arm-in-arm, smiling gently at everyone who passes. They can be found on roads, near bridges, even out in the woods.
Say hello if you like, though you won’t get an answer. Because these kindly old folks, who have been watching over Matsumoto for a thousand years, are made of stone. Known as Dōsojin, they are the adorable old guardians of Shinshu.
Where to Find Them
Dōsojin (道祖神) are a centuries-old tradition particular to the Shinshu (i.e. Nagano) region where Matsumoto is located. Considered a sort of deity, or kami, they are often placed around the outskirts of a village or neighborhood to protect the locals from the evil infiltration of bad spirits, angry gods and, in recent years, foreign English teachers. Other Dōsojin can be found standing next to bridges, along country roads and near mountain passes, tasked with watching over travelers, pilgrims and, in a broader sense, people in transition.
The Various Forms of Dōsojin
In some instances Dōsojin are represented by simple, roundish stones. In others they look like young children. Occasionally they resemble human male and female genitalia. But the most common (and unoffically the most endearing) Dōsojin are represented by an elderly couple, often regarded as a symbol of a long and happy life. In some areas they are also considered gods of easy childbirth and healthy upbringing, which might explain why they are sometimes depicted as male and female naughty bits.
And Their Various Names
Dōsojin are known by a few additional and intriguing names:
Sai no kami (塞の神) – God of the Stronghold, which seems an odd job for an elderly couple;
Sae no kami (障の神) – God of Failure or Breakdown, which might make sense for those watching over travelers;
Dōrokujin (道陸神) – God of the Road, which makes perfect sense; and
Shakujin (石神) – Stone God, which is also completely sensible but not entirely informative.
Whatever they are called, they’re all over out there, and are fun to look out for as you explore this Shinshu region.
Say Cheese and Thank You
Keep an eye out as you make your way around Matsumoto, for an up-close look at these adorable old guardians of Shinshu. Take a picture if you like – they’re already smiling for you! While you’re at it, give them a pat on the head and a word of thanks, for keeping you safe as you make your way through this extremely non-dangerous country.
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