A visit to Honjo Ikutsushimajinja in the “land of beautiful women.”

Our Japanese-language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma was recently out for a drive in the town of Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture when the sign pictured above caught his eye. “Land of beautiful women” and “Land of beauty, Ashikaga,” it proclaimed, along with “beautiful woman certificates.”

▼ The kanji 美人, read bijin translate literally as “beautiful person,” but the word is always used to refer to a beautiful woman.

Masanuki’s interest was piqued. Ashikaga actually has a bit of a reputation for the beauty of its local ladies, who’re mentioned in a song by Japanese poet and lyricist Yasu Saijo that says “If you’re looking for a wife, choose a woman from Ashikaga.” Supposedly, the clean, pure water the area is blessed with gives them a healthy beauty that radiates from within.

Still, what is a “beautiful woman certificate?” Doing some checking, Masanuki found out that the document is issued at Honjo Ikutsushimajinja, a Shinto shrine in the town, which claims to be the one and only shrine in Japan where you can obtain a beautiful woman certificate. But do they have an expert or panel of judges on-site who examine and evaluate applicants, then decide if they’re worthy of certification or not? In order to get the answer, Masanuki headed to the shrine.

After passing through its torii gate, Masanuki quickly spotted the bijin Benten pavilion, with red lanterns hanging from the corners of its hexagonal roof.

The deity enshrined here is Benten, the goddess of music and the arts, who by association is also sometimes held to be a goddess of beauty as well. Ordinarily, the doors of the bijin Benten pavilion are closed, but Masanuki was in luck – they’re opened up from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the first and third Sundays of the month, and he just happened to be there on one of the open days.

In addition to the bronze-colored Benten statue inside the pavilion, there are also two stone statues of the goddess which are always out in the open. Called “nade Benten” (from naderu, the Japanese word for “rub”), rubbing the statues is said to convey the goddess’ blessing upon you.

And the beautiful woman certificate? It turns out getting one is remarkably easy. As long as you’re at the shrine when the bijin Benten pavilion are open, all you have to do is go to the shrine office and ask for one. It comes as part of a set with the shrine’s goshuin, an auspicious stamp placed by the shrine on a piece of paper or in a blank book, for 800 yen (US$5.90).

▼ The beautiful woman certificate

▼ The shrine’s goshuin

So nope, there’s no test or evaluation process required to get the beautiful woman certificate. That might seem strange, but after looking into it a bit more, Masanuki learned that it’s actually meant as a sort of self-fulfilling certification. Rather than something that’s conveyed upon a person to confirm that they are already a beautiful woman, the certificate is said to serve as an additional beautifying blessing from Benten. What’s more, the beauty it imparts upon the bearer isn’t physical beauty, but rather the beauty of a kind and gentle heart.

▼ On days when the bijin Benten pavilion is closed, the beautiful women certificates can be obtained at a local car/motorcycle dealer and candy shop, maps to which are posted at the shrine.

So even though he’s got his beautiful woman certificate, Masanuki hasn’t suddenly become any better-looking. He’s also not sure if the certificate grants guys the same inner-beauty blessing it’s supposed to give to women. Still, it’s reminded him of the importance of being kind and gracious whenever he can, which is a nice trait for anyone to have.

Shrine information
Honjo Ikutsushimajinja / 本城厳島神社
Address: Tochigi-ken, Ashikaga-shi, Honjo 2-1860

Photos © SoraNews24
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