Before modern divorce, the Mantokuji temple in Japan was known as the “divorce temple” — a place where women could separate from their husbands before law granted them the legal right to do so. Historically, until the 19th century, Mantokuji was a women-only convent that assisted women in ending their marriages. At the time, divorce was hard to come by when instigated by the woman and the temple offered a degree of legal protection.
Now it functions as a museum that examines the long history of divorce, as well as providing a symbolic opportunity to cut ties or strengthen them. Those who frequent the temple are faces with two toilet bowls – a white bowl for cutting ties, and a black bowl for strengthening them.
While many still frequent the temple to figuratively end marital relationships, others use the symbolism in a variety of ways. One uses the opportunity to start a healthy diet by flushing her ties to obesity. Another uses the black latrine to tighten her ties to an unstable work situation.
The symbolic toilets are relatively new to the centuries old structure, yet they provide the same karmic relief that the temple bestowed to women facing divorce throughout its history. Today, a wish is written on a piece of paper, flushed down one of the two toilets, and it is believed that the wish is heard. Many forlorn women make trips to the site to receive the blessing of Kawaya No Kami, the Japanese diety of the toilet who hears the prayers as they are flushed.
While largely symbolic, there does seem something comforting and hopeful in the act of purging oneself of negatively and literally flushing it away. We can all take a lesson from the women who have frequented Mantokuji throughout the years, and spiritually cut ties from those things that hold us back.