“Substitute monkey”, the amulet that’s hung in front of houses in Nara.

The Substitute monkey, or Migawari-saru is a red stuffed toy that is hung in front of houses in Nara. The tradition of hanging this amulet is said to have started during the Edo period in Nara. The charm usually has a series of monkeys on a string. I’d like to introduce the origin of this monkey and where you can buy them.

2018-09-04   Souvenirs, Traditions & History, Nara,

Substitute monkey

Substitute monkeys

The monkey came to Japan via a silk road!?

When you walk around the town of Nara, you’ll notice that there are several stuffed toy monkeys hanging in front of each house. They are called Substitute monkeys and are believed to drive off the evils of the Koshin faith. The origin of this monkey is said to have started in Dunhuang, China.
Interestingly enough, the same substitute monkey was found at an altar in Dunhuang’s stone cave. Monkeys are believed to drive off evil in China. Nara is known as the final destination of the silk road, so this monkey ended up here.

The monkeys

The legend of Nara-machi and the substitute monkey.

In the Koshin faith, humans have three worms in their stomach. These worms come out from their belly every 60 days when the person falls asleep on the day of Koshin to report the bad things that the person has done to the lord of the heavens. The lord will punish you for the bad that you have done. According to the legend of Nara-machi, these three worms were terrified by the monkeys grooming each other, because they thought they would be eaten by them. People started to then, hang the substitute monkey in front of their houses to drive off these worms, disease, and disaster. The number of substitute monkeys hanging in front of the house shows the number of family members and the number of wishes. It is said that dreams come true if you write them down on the monkey’s back.

Naramach museum.

Naramach museum.

You can buy them here!

You can buy them at Nara-machi museum or Naramachi Siryokan. These were hand made! They have a variety of monkeys for many different purposes.

substitute monkeys



You can even wear one to protect yourself from evil, so why not buy a small one too? You should also get them for your family members. When you buy one, write your name and wish on it and hand it over to the cashier. According to the staff at the museum, a monk will come and pray for your wishes every month.

Blue-Faced Vajra

Blue-Faced Vajra


14 Nishinoshinyacho, Nara city, Nara Pref.

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Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.


Address 14 Nishinoshinyacho, Nara city, Nara Pref.
Hours 10:00~16:00 (Shop opens everyday.)
Price Free
Close No scheduled holidays
Access 20 min by foot from JR Nara station and Kintetsu Nara station.
Phone 0742-22-5509
Website http://naramachi.co.jp