Ganesha in Japan: Is he worshipped in the land of the rising sun too?

This Vigraha is located in Kyoto and was installed by Emperor Gikogon in 1372 CE.
Asakusa is the center of Tokyo’s kimonos and dangling paper lanterns.

The year was 1995. I was on one of my early visits to Japan. While looking for the usual touristy knick-knacks at the crowded Nakamise souvenir shops, I got into a conversation with a young Japanese lady who spoke good English and was curious about the Ganesha tee I was wearing. As we got chatting she pointed me to a temple on a slight hillock nearby saying I could meet Lord Ganesha right there in Tokyo too! I was amazed and intrigued.


The Japanese deity Āryadeva, the harbinger of good luck and fortune. So much for similarities.

The name Kangiten, is generally connected to Tantric embracing deity icons, venerated as the givers of joy and prosperity. The Dual Nandikeshvara in Sanskrit.

Early Buddhism was deeply intertwined with Hinduism. Consequently, many Japanese schools of Buddhism, especially those influenced by Tantric thought, brought Hindu devas or gods in their fold of worship. Some of these, over time, got adopted in the local pantheon and are associated with different bodhisattvas. So, the lines have kind of blurred over the centuries.

Interestingly, the Japanese avatar of Lord Ganesha is not into modaks. His favourite offering is radishes! All across the temple of Kangiten in Japan, I was told, is a creator of obstacles, who is however placated easily through prayer and transforms into a remover of obstacles. And what appeases him are radishes! Daikon is seen as a symbol of marital harmony, better relations and love between married couples. Blessings of Kangiten, the brochure said made for perfect matchmaking, and helped fertility post marriage. Symbolism very similar to our Lord Ganesha.

Kangiten / Vinayakaten are the names of Ganesha in Japan and he has been worshipped in the country for past about 1000 years. 

daikon imagery, there were plenty of images of money pouches too. I think the pouches signified success in business. Not different from Hindu symbolism.

“Bliss-buns” (Shoden temple. However, I could not sample these during my visit.

A poster on display at Kangiten, referred to him in the communication as the God of Bliss. The ceremonial bathing ritual was apparently meant to fulfill all the prayers of devotees, I was told during my temple visit. How the ritual bathing is exactly done however was not very clear, as there was no information available about it. It must be, I suppose, like the mustard oil poured at Hanuman temples on Tuesdays back home. One session, the poster said, cost JPY 3500. I had to give the oil-bath a miss, whatever it was supposed to be.

The Sakura Rail, a cross between an elevator and a monorail. I came back blessed from the temple visit though the actual Ganesha statue remains ‘vaulted’ because it is ensconced in an inner sanctum not visible from the public areas.  

While Kangiten, the centre of attraction and devotion.

There is also a large Kangiten in Kyoto, installed by Emperor Gikogon in 1372 CE, which is the closest likeness to the Indian Ganesha.

So, during this period of Ganesha celebrations in India, it is gratifying to know that the Lord’s dominions extend to far-away Japan where the Vighnaharta has a following too.

Dr. Sandeep Goyal is a self-confessed Nipponophile. He has visited Japan over 100 times. He is the author of two books on Japan, Konjo – The Fighting Spirit and Japan Made Easy, both published by Harper Collins.

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