Make your own daikon cake to appease the will of Kangiten.
Lord Ganesha makes his presence felt around the world and it’s not merely in India that his image inspires devotion. In the Buddhist culture of Japan, there is an elephant god called Kangiten who can be easily likened to the Lord Ganesh of Hindu lore. The story is that Kangiten was once a wicked ruler who lived a selfish and thoughtless life. To test him, Kannon – the goddess of compassion appeared to him and he immediately fell in love with her. When he held her his wickedness seeped from his body and he was transformed. Today people of Japan offer worship to Kangiten to share in his joy and compassion.
The main temple for Kangiten is the Matsuchiyama Shoden Honryuin located at the top of a small hill overlooking the Sumida river. This sub-temple of Sensoji which is located to the south isn’t particularly well-known but still draws a number of loyal devotees to Kangoten. As a token of their faith, people will often bring daikon radishes to leave as offerings at the altar of Kangiten. Radishes also appear frequently in images and paintings around the temple and throughout the architecture.
There are a few theories about why Kangiten has such a strong affinity for daikon. One is that it is a symbol of his strength and virility, another is that radish had a purifying effect on the body when consumed and so doing so is an easy route to a clean and healthy being. The colour itself could also be a factor since white signifies peace and purity. As such devotees of Kangiten come to the temple to ask for physical and spiritual health as well as good fortune and success. Since so many people carry radishes and offer them to Kangiten that the temple gives them away for free the next day.
They also offer items such as daikon cake and sake in order to pacify the temperamental Kangiten who it’s said will place a tatari curse on any worshippers who pray insincerely or make errors in their mantras. Even priests avoid looking directly at the effigy of Kangiten while praying.
Even though many things about Kangiten are so reminiscent of Lord Ganesha, the difference in culture is evident and if you don’t want to face the ire of the fickle god, be sure to have your radishes at the ready.