(left) Drawing of Labels of Umeyama’s Report: Mokkenshu/Ofuda, 2016, Graphite on paper, 16 x 23 inches
(from the label drawing)
What does Mokkenshu mean?
Umeyama coined the word Mokkenshu, and introduced the concept to Japan in the mid-19th century. Mokkenshu in kanji, Chinese characters, are the three letters of 黙見守.
Each of the characters represents the characteristics of Mokkenshu as below;
黙 (moku): be silent
見 (ken): to watch
守 (shu): to protect
Later, when Umeyama went back to his native Japan of 170 years ago, he talked about Mokkenshu to his friend, a Shinto priest. Shinto is the largest ethnic religion of the people in Japan, and famous for worshipping a multitude of gods, from the god of the earth/mountain, to the god of rice paddies, and of the kitchen, there is even a god of the toilet, etc. They thoughtfully considered the status of Mokkenshu among these various gods and decided that it should be a part of the Shinto deity, leading to the worship of what we call fire hydrants.
Mokkenshu, as a member of deity, was very well received by the Japanese at that time, since a cholera pandemic swept the country around the end of the 19th century. The Japanese placed a paper talisman of Mokkenshu, called ofuda, on their doorstep to ward off evil spirits which were believed to cause cholera.
As the western culture was started to exert its influence on the country, the boom of worshiping Mokkenshu died down. However, still nowadays the deity is worshipped in some regions in Japan as protection for schoolchildren. Please note the presence of Mokkenshu in the photograph below on the school children’s backpack.