The Old Lady at Enma-do and Mandarin Oranges

It was one winter when I visited the Senbon Enma-do
in Kyoto several years ago.

Enma Daio, the Great King Yama, is known as the judge of after life. He is scary enough to silence a crying child. He is always angry, very angry. It is commonly believed that he rips out your tongue if you lie. But he has his reasons to be intimidating so much. It is his duty to judge the dead and send sinners to hell. On the other hand, it becomes Enma’s sin to inflict great suffering on the sinners . So he is forced to drink boiled liquid-iron three times a day as a punishment. It is said that this torture is much more painful than any other tortures that sinners receive in hell. Even so, he keeps on carrying out his duty in the hope that this world becomes a better place.

When I found this out, my heart twinged a bit as if I had seen a bad-boy feeding an abandoned dog. Since then, whenever I see a statue of Enma in temples, as a big Enma fan, I would tell him in my heart that “I understand.”

One day, a rival appeared. She was a lady at Enma-do, a temple that enshrines the great king Yama.

She warmly welcomed me into the hall, where the three-meter high Enma who looked as angry as always, with his big goggly eyes almost falling out of place. Appreciating the statue of Enma, I told her that I was his big fan. She broke into a broad smile, saying that “I bet Enma-san likes you too!” She looked about 70 years old or so and had a small build. Her bobbed hair and fair skin made her look youthful. This sweet-looking lady was an Enma fan too. She told me that she lived alone but never felt lonely. “ Being around Enma-san makes me happy! Life is fun”, she said with a big smile. She was giving each people who visited the temple one mandarin orange that once had been offerings to Enma, saying that it would bring him/her blessings.


When I heard this, I realized that it was impossible to compete with her. She could feel happy just to be around Enma-san. I had gotten lost in my life and was searching the place I wanted to be. I didn’t know how to be happy. She must have sensed my wavering. When I left, she grabbed my arms, stared into my eyes and said, “Never forget to smile. Try as hard as you can to make yourself happy.” Then she put two mandarin oranges into my hand.

Whenever I see mandarin oranges at supermarkets or greengrocers in the beginning of winter, I recall this sweet memory with this lady and remind myself to keep working hard. That produces a warm feeling while I hunch my shoulders from the cold wind.

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This post is also available in : Japanese

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