When I was a kid, the ultimate sign of innocent courage was entering the Jarvis’ house on Halloween. You see, every year on October 31st the Jarvis’, our next-door neighbors, would transform their house into a witch’s lair, complete with cobwebs, smoke effects and a big scary cauldron where Ms. Jarvis would stand, stirring the pot while dressed as an evil crone. It was a terrifying place for 6-year-old trick-or-treaters like me and my friends, a real rite of passage. Can you survive a visit to the Jarvis’ house?!! Can you get in, grab some treats, and live to tell the tale?
They don’t really have Halloween in Japan, at least not the trick or treating variety, but they definitely understand and celebrate innocent courage. That’s probably why the residents of Iya Valley on the island of Shikoku constructed the famous “Peeing Boy” statue. “What’s so courageous about peeing” you ask? Well, for one thing, the road to the statue – the Iya Kaido – is a twisty, one-lane nightmare with non-stop hair pin turns, all on the edge of high cliff overlooking a deep river valley. The local children, as legend has it, would stand and urinate off the cliffs to demonstrate their bravado. If that happened here in the States, I’m guessing we’d label the kids juvenile delinquents and bring them in to the police station for a stern dressing down. In Japan, by contrast, the kids are heroes, or at least a symbol of something timeless: ie. “youthful bravery”. Strange? You have to understand that Japan has a different relationship to the, um, the male genitalia. All over the country, for example, you find fertility shrines featuring large stone phalluses, where people come to pray for children, for safe delivery of their kids and for matchmaking and happy marriages. Who knows, perhaps a visit to the Peeing Boy Statue is a propitious act, bringing good luck to the brave souls who navigate their way to the site?
When my friend Adam and I visit the statue, our dominant feeling is not luck but more relief. This is a scary road, with almost no turnouts! If not for the mirrors at each turn, we’d most surely have had a head-on collision with some other brave soul making the Pee Boy Pilgrimage. Once we arrive, however, I’m glad we made the journey – not for the statue itself, necessarily, but for the absolutely fabulous view from atop the cliffs. Iya is a densely-forested valley, with a pristine river that curves like a serpent. At this particular bend in the valley, there’s not a house or structure in sight: just pristine nature and a whole lot of green. Beautiful.
Dare I say that you won’t be pissed if you make a trek to the Peeing Boy Statue? Hmm, perhaps not.
(As someone with a slight fear of heights, standing on any cliff, urinating or not, would be pretty scary for me. What’s your idea of bravery? What makes you afraid? When faced with fear, there are really only two choices: face it or run away from it. What you decided to do depends on how strong and stable you’re feeling at that moment in time. If you’re recovering from trauma, for example, maybe you don’t have the emotional resources necessary to take on another tough challenge that day. The rest of the time, however, I suggest you consider biting the bullet and taking on your fears. As Emerson said: “Always do what you are afraid to do.” Facing fear is a muscle; the more you practice, the easier it gets. And the feeling of overcoming cannot be measured.)