Excerpt from Chapter 12 – “Belief”

Published June 26, 2017

In Japan, there is a saying that can be translated into English as “Even the head of a sardine becomes sacred when someone worships it.” Sometime in the Heian period (AD 794–1192), a strange tradition started in which people hung the head of a sardine along with a branch of holly above the entrance to the house on the eve of Setsubun (February 3 or 4 in the Gregorian calendar, which is the last day of winter in Japan). This was done to drive devils away because it was believed that devils do not like the sharp points of holly leaves or the awful smell of sardine. Today, the saying is used to ridicule a person who believes in something absurd.

Every other TV commercial now advertises some health product or diet product, whether tablets to take or equipment to exercise with. Many people believe in the effectiveness of such products and spend hundreds of dollars on them. In serious cases, people who have been brainwashed by new religions pay a fortune for mass-produced ornaments. From the Shin Buddhist point of view, these cases are similar to the proverbial sardine head.