Anime shrine (Okayama)

Okayama shrine a site of pilgrimage for ‘Tenchi Muyo!” anime fans

The stone stairway leading to the shrine buildings is “holy ground” for anime fans. (Takuya Nishie)

The stone stairway leading to the shrine buildings is “holy ground” for anime fans. (Takuya Nishie)

ASAGUCHI, Okayama Prefecture–With its 320-step stone stairway and centuries of history, Tarojinja shrine here appears to be just like any other place of Shinto worship. And that is how it should be. But it also attracts pilgrims from across Japan, especially anime fans drawn to the site featured in “Tenchi Muyo!”

The sci-fi anime series was released as a straight-to-video series in 1992 and then spawned sequels and spin-offs. The original creator, Masaki Kajishima, hails from the prefecture, so the names of the places and characters in the anime series are closely associated with Okayama Prefecture, including Funao and Washu in Kurashiki.

The story centers around a senior high school student, Tenchi Masaki. His grandfather is a Shinto priest at a shrine modeled after Tarojinja, which is said to have been built in 1601. The shrine grounds and buildings in the anime are almost identical to the existing structures. In some scenes, the protagonist is seen sweeping the grounds with a broom.

The “Tenchi-bako” box set up at the side of the worship hall can only be opened when a quiz question is answered correctly. (Takuya Nishie)

The “Tenchi-bako” box set up at the side of the worship hall can only be opened when a quiz question is answered correctly. (Takuya Nishie)

Tarojinja is known as one of the earliest precedents of “pilgrimages” by anime fans to locations featured in their favorite movies and shows. They started visiting the shrine in around 1994. There is even a box for visitors with a tag that reads “Tenchi-bako,” whose doors can be opened with a key when a quiz question is answered correctly. Placed inside is a “Tenchi Notebook,” in which fans can leave messages and draw illustrations. “I could finally come here,” one fan wrote, while another simply said: “I’m moved.”

Fans from Nara, Aichi, Chiba and Tochigi prefectures, as well as other points of the compass, are passionate in the way they express their adoration for the anime. When an offertory box was stolen in 2004, fans across the country joined hands to donate a new one. They also offered money when the shrine buildings underwent refurbishment.

For fans, their pilgrimage destination is a place where they can be a part of the anime. They cherish the work by taking care of their sanctuary. “I’m connected with Okayama (Prefecture) through the anime. For me, it is my second hometown,” Toshinori Tsugoshi, 40, a Tokyo-based member of a preservation society set up by fans, said.

“Tenchi Muyo!” fans also help maintain Tarojinja. “We can coexist with fans without problems,” said Naoaki Kuwano, 77, chief priest at Tarojinja. A new series of the anime is currently in the pipeline.

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Click for Youtube series with subtitles.

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Beans at the ready: Setsubun

Setsubun setYes, it’s that time of year again, and the shrines and temples will be open on Feb 3 (some on Feb 2) for bean throwing to dispel the demons that accumulate in the long dark nights of winter.

A demon appears in a kyogen play put on at Mibu Temple

What’s it all about?  Green Shinto has written of the occasion in previous years:
an explanation of why beans feature so prominently
– Wikipedia’s take and pictures of Kyoto events
– some interesting background facts
– a description of the Yasaka Shrine event
– a photo account of the Shimogamo event

A fresh take on the festival can be found at this site written by Shinto-Pagan Megan Manson.  Along with other thoughts on the subject, she links the tradition with the Celtic festival of Imbolc:

“Indeed, Imbolc and Setsubun have much in common, right down to their basic theme of purity and new beginnings. I have heard several Pagans mention that to them Imbolc feels more like “New Year” than Samhain or Yule, and the Japanese might agree. Setsubun does in fact have its origins in the old Lunar Calendar of Japan, in which New Year fell at the beginning of spring.”

The pioneering path that Megan is forging, in combining the spiritual traditions of East and West, shows the way forward in terms of connections and commonality.  In a global age, the recovery of ancient traditions in this way promises to give birth to a new kind of universalism that is rooted in a worldwide reverence for nature.  As we look forward to the promise of spring, Megan brings us hope for an interfaith future.

Maiko at Yasaka Jinja

At Yasaka Jinja you not only get a chance to catch good luck beans tossed by the maiko but to photo them too

Spring is in the air... and the plum blossom is out early this year.

Spring is in the air… and the plum blossom is out early this year.

Zen and Shinto 4: Circle, triangle, square

Zen painting at Kennin-ji

Zen painting at Kennin-ji

Three basic shapes beloved of humans, no doubt for their simplicity, are the square, circle and triangle.  “Man is symbolized by three elements, one on top of another: pyramid—square— circle,” said Zoroaster.

In his book Kami no Michi Yukitaka Yamamoto, the 96th hereditary priest of Tsubaki Shrine in Mie Prefecture, wrote: “The Principle of ‘Sanmi–Sangen‘ explains the mystery of life. Sanmi–Sangen means the three elements that constitute the basis of all forms of existence. These basic symbols both explain the meaning of and guide the destiny of human life. We can see Sanmi–Sangen operate at many levels.”

I’m unable to identify where the Sanmi-Sangen theory originated from, but the founder of aikido, Ueshiba Morihei, put forward similar ideas:

“The body should be triangular, the mind circular. The triangle represents the generation of energy and is the most stable physical posture. The circle symbolizes serenity and perfection, the source of unlimited techniques. The square stands for solidity, the basis of applied control.”

If you check out this page, you can see all kinds of attributes have been allocated to the three shapes, including (oddly to my mind) the suggestion that the square stands for the Sun God Amaterasu, the circle for the Moon God Tsukuyomi no Mikoto, and the triangle for the God of the Stars, Susanoo-no-Mikoto.

square, triangle, circle

Interestingly, a garden in the Zen monastery of Kennin-ji claims to be based on the square, circle, triangle motif.  An accompanying notice says it is based on work by Sengai Gibon (1750 – 1837) [see left].  One of his famous paintings,” says Wikipedia, “shows a circle, a square and a triangle. Sengai left the painting without a title or inscription (save for his signature), however the painting is often called “The Universe” when referred to in English.”

The painting has long puzzled people. The ink tones vary from grey to black, and the three shapes overlap as if to suggest interconnection between them.  D.T. Suzuki, who introduced Zen to the West, interpreted Sengai’s painting to represent formlessness and infinity, in accord with his view of emptiness as the essence of enlightenment. (See here for his interpretation.)

So it would appear that Ueshiba took his idea from Zen.  And when you look closer at Ueshiba’s thought, it is striking how close to the thinking of Zen it is.  Suppress the ego. Discipline your mind.  Understand the oneness of all things. Get back to basic purity (or in Zen terms Buddha nature).

It’s often said that Ueshiba derived his thinking from Omoto-kyo.  I can’t help feeling that, as with other martial arts, Zen was a strong influence too.  Or perhaps it’s simply the case that in the strongly syncretic world of Japanese religion it’s sometimes impossible to separate the strands.

The square, triangle, circle garden at Kennin-ji. While the circle and square are evident, the triangle consists of a wedge at the far end made out of a bed of raked gravel

The square, triangle, circle garden at Kennin-ji. While the circle and square are evident, the triangle consists of a wedge at the far end made out of a raised bed of raked gravel (barely visible here).

Mirrors for sun worship

Mirrors may have worked magic in ancient Japanese rituals

By TSUYOSHI SATO January 30, 2014

KYOTO–Rulers of ancient Japan may have used a “magic mirror” to conjure up images of mountain wizards and divine beasts for sun-worshipping rituals.  The Kyoto National Museum said Jan. 29 patterns engraved on the back of a type of bronze mirror associated with ancient queen Himiko are projected on a wall when sunlight reflects off the front.

Ryu Murakami, head of the museum’s curatorial board, said the discovery could provide valuable clues in studying how bronze mirrors were used in ancient Japan. “Someone apparently noticed the phenomenon and intentionally shaped mirrors in this way,” he said. “I believe they have something to do with sun worship.”

Using a 3-D printer, Murakami, an expert in historical materials science, produced replicas of two Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo mirrors from materials used in the originals, such as copper and tin powder.

The mirrors, 21 and 24 centimeters in diameter, were found in the Higashinomiya tomb in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, and are owned by the Kyoto National Museum. Both are designated as important cultural properties by the government.

Bronze mirrors

The Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo mirror, believed to be produced around the third century, is characterized by its triangular rim when seen in cross-section. Its back features a relief engraving of wizards and mythical creatures.

More than 500 mirrors have been unearthed in areas from the northeastern Tohoku region to the southern island of Kyushu, with many in the Kinki region.

The mirror is associated with Himiko because some were inscribed with the year 239, when a Chinese emperor presented 100 bronze mirrors to the queen’s emissary, according to a Chinese chronicle.

Some ancient Chinese mirrors are known to function as magic mirrors. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Christians under persecution in Japan made similar devices to pray before images of the cross and the Virgin Mary. But the Jan. 29 announcement was the first to confirm similar properties in an ancient mirror excavated in Japan.

Bronze mirror

In a magic mirror, unevenness on the polished surface—too subtle to be detected by the naked eye—reproduces patterns on the back when sunlight reflects off the front. Minute concavities and convexities that mirror the backside designs are created during the polishing process. The concave parts focus light, while convex parts diffuse light, resulting in the projected image.

Murakami has yet to confirm whether other types of bronze mirrors work like a magic mirror, but he believes that other Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo mirrors have similar projective qualities if substantial differences exist in the metal’s thickness.

Shoji Morishita, an associate professor of archaeology at Otemae University’s faculty of cultural and historical studies, said researchers tended to focus on the back of bronze mirrors, but cutting-edge technologies have shed new light on the mirrors.

“The finding could lead to reconsideration of the role of mirrors in ancient rituals,” said Morishita, who is well versed in bronze mirrors. “Sometimes, dozens of mirrors are found from the same burial mound. Theoretically, it’s not hard to imagine that they were lined up to project a number of images.”

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Let’s not forget too that as well as the magic properties inherent in the bronze is the significance of the circle form of the ancient mirrors.  Here for instance is a quotation by Black Elk of the Sioux, a man whose antecedents would have shared a common Mongol ancestry to the Japanese (both groups typically have blue birthmarks):

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished. The flowering tree was the living center of the hoop, and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The east gave peace and light, the south gave warmth, the west gave rain, and the north with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where the were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our teepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”

Man in the mirror

Zen and Shinto 3: Konchi-in

Buddhist gateway that opens onto a torii standing astride a path leading to Tosho-gu, a shrine dedicated to the spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu

Konchi-in is a subtemple of the Nanzen-ji monastery and one of Kyoto’s gems. It packs a great deal into a compact space – garden and teahouse by master designer, Kobori Enshu; celebrated artwork; a mausoleum for Tokugawa Ieyasu. 
The temple’s buildings date back to 1605, when it was relocated and extensively restored by Nanzen-ji’s influential abbot Ishin Suden (1569-1633). Known as ‘the black pope’, he was a close advisor to the first three Tokugawa shoguns and chose Kobori Enshu to lay out the garden in expectation of a shogunal visit which never actually took place.

In terms of Shinto, the subtemple is notable for having two shrines, one animist and one ancestral. The animist shrine is a small affair on a pond island dedicated to Benten-sama. Often associated with water, she rules over the spirit of place and a large torii marks the entrance to her shrine.

The front of the Tosho-gu with its Buddhist roof

The front of the Tosho-gu with its Buddhist roof

On the slope above the garden a grand entrance gate leads directly to the Tosho-gu shrine. This is a branch of the famous Nikko shrine dedicated to the spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was at the behest of his grandson, Iemitsu, who saw deification of Ieyasu as a means of cementing the ruling dynasty in the national consciousness. In the Edo period there were some 500 branch shrines, but the anti-Tokugawa Meiji government drastically reduced their number to the present 130.

Tosho-gu shrines are usually bright and ornate, but this one looks decidedly run down. Inside is a statue of Ieyasu, and across the front beam are pictures of shoguns. But the most interesting feature is the architecture, for the front building is built like a temple with tiled roof whereas the back of the building is decidedly Shinto in style with a bark roof.

The back of the temple has a decidedly Shinto-style roof

The back of the temple is decidedly Shinto in style by contrast with the Buddhist roof to which it is attached

Gardens are something to which both Shinto and Buddhism have contributed, and in their representations of nature they have an obvious appeal. The celebrated ‘turtle-crane garden’ at Konchi-in is particularly interesting because though it is Buddhist in conception, it honours a Shinto kami. (Turtles were a symbol of longevity and cranes a symbol of good fortune.)

Beautiful in itself, the garden can be read in symbolic terms as an homage to Ieyasu. In the foreground is a sea of raked gravel, behind which are rock-islands set against a verdant backing of vegetation. Between the turtle island (flatter, to the left) and the crane island (taller, to the right) is a long flat ‘altar stone’ facing up towards the Tosho-gu shrine in the top right, once visible but now screened by trees. The grouping of rocks in the middle symbolising the mythic Horai Isles of the Blessed would thus by inference have included the spirit of Ieyasu enshrined above.  (The illustration below names the salient features of the garden.)

Konchi-in gardenIt’s the year of the monkey, which makes it a particularly apt time to visit the subtemple because of the celebrated fusuma-e painting by Hasegawa Tohoku that it houses (see below). It shows a monkey reaching out to grasp a reflection of the moon reflected in the pond below. It’s a telling Buddhist parable about chasing after illusion.

Opposite the subtemple is an enormous patch of land which is being developed by Larry Ellison (of Oracle fame), the fifth-richest man in the world (!). It used to be an estate belonging to an early twentieth-century film magnate and politician, with a garden by the famed designer, Ogawa Jihei, and a special entrance was made for a visit by Emperor Meiji. Now the site is filled with construction cranes and word has it that the Kyoto-loving Ellison is building a second house there, though interestingly in the Zen cemetery which abuts the estate stands a large torii. One wonders what his guests will think of that as they look out of their bedroom windows at night…

The torii in the Zen cemetery of Nanzen-ji, right next to Larry Ellison's estate

The torii in the Zen cemetery of Nanzen-ji, right next to Larry Ellison’s estate. The stone markers with triangular tops are apparently for those who died fighting for the emperor in WW2.

Monkey reaching for the moon

Monkey reaching for the moon by Hasegawa Tohoku.  The ‘direct experience of life’ is something common to both Zen and Shinto.

Zen and Shinto 2: Kennin-ji

The entrance gateway to the Founder's Hall (Kaisando) at Kennin-ji, where Myoan Eisai is buried

The entrance gateway to the Founder’s Hall (Kaisando) at Kennin-ji, where Myoan Eisai is buried

My second outing into the world of Zen was a visit to Kennin-ji, oldest Zen temple in Kyoto.  It’s located in the heart of Gion, the city’s largest geisha district.  As a result it is neighbour to the pleasure quarter with its drinking bars and love hotels. Tourists focus their cameras on the geisha, unaware that within feet are temple treasures and gardens of outstanding beauty.

The mix of worldly and otherworldly pursuits is characteristic of Japanese religion, meaning that the temple teahouses with their spartan furnishings stand alongside geisha teahouses where customers are plied with drinks and flirtation. The ‘floating world’ of Buddhism here merges with that of ‘the water trade‘, and, as the wits have it, paradise can be found on both sides of the temple wall.

Myoan Eisai

Myoan Eisai (1141-1215)

Interestingly, the temple’s founder, Myoan Eisai (1141-1215), was the son of a priest at Kibitsu Jinja in Okayama.  Brought up in a Shinto household, he was sent away to study Buddhism at the tender age of three and was later ordained into the Tendai sect on Mt Hiei. As the man who introduced Zen to Japan, it’s surely not without significance that Eisai’s upbringing was shaped by the native tradition and Shinto values.  (It was an age when Shinto and Buddhism were seen as complementary and fused into one; Eisai’s contemporary, Kamo no Chomei, writer of Hojoki (1212), dropped out of being a priest at Shimogamo Jinja to become a Buddhist hermit.)

After visiting Kamakura and securing patronage of the shogun, Eisai established Kennin-ji as his base.  Although he taught and practised Zen, he remained a Tendai priest to the end of his life.  Tendai was a very pragmatic sect and its founder Saicho had encouraged worship of the native kami, particularly Sanno, mountain spirit of Hiei where the head temple of Enryaku-ji stood. The sect had close ties with tutelary guardians and protective shrines (chinju).  In the case of Enryaku-ji, it was Hiyoshi Jinja at the foot of the mountain.  Eisai carried on the tradition, and the guardian shrine of Kennin-ji was the nearby Ebisu Jinja.

Myojouden, the small Shinto shrine in the eastern part of the temple precincts honouring Raku Daimyojin

Myojouden, the small Shinto shrine in the eastern part of the temple precincts honouring Raku Daimyojin

Eisai preached that Zen aims to diminish the ego and that it promotes purity, sincerity and unselfishness.  It was therefore good for the country and for a harmonious, peaceful society.  This is remarkably close to Shinto teaching when you think about it.  Rather than the individual ego, Shinto is community oriented and encourages suppression of self for the greater good.  For the sake of harmony, selfish impulses should be nullified.

Eisai lies buried in the Founder’s Hall of Kennin-ji, and close to the hall stands a small Shinto shrine, Myoujouden.  Legend has it that when Eisai’s mother went to worship at Kibitsu, she had a vision of a bright star and subsequently became pregnant (sound vaguely familiar?).  The child turned out to be Eisai, marking him out as special.  The kami associated with her vision was Raku Daimyojin, which in syncretic terms equated to the boddhisattva Kokozo Bosatsu, a guardian of learning and knowledge.  Consequently the small shrine tends to be popular at exam time with students.

Shrine offerings were well maintained and kept free of birds

Shrine offerings were well maintained and kept free of birds

Shrine building, housing the spirit of Raku Daimyojin

Shrine building, housing the spirit of Raku Daimyojin

Once a year there’s a ritual carried out here conducted by one of the Zen monks.  Such shrines and activities are not included in the official figures as ‘Shinto’.  In other words, there are literally many thousands of temple shrines throughout Japan that are overlooked when people give numbers for ‘shrines’. My feeling is that such syncretic shrines should definitely be included and that the official statistics should be disputed.  The true religion of Japan is not neatly divided into Shinto and Buddhism, as people pretend.

Wild boar at the Marishi Hall with lots of little boar ‘omikuji’

The small Shinto shrine lies on the eastern side of the Zen temple’s grounds.  Over in the south-west is a much bigger and thriving complex within the Zenkyo-an subtemple.  This is the Marishi Hall, dedicated to an imported Indian goddess (originally Marici).  Like Japan’s kami, Marishi Sonten was a guardian deity of Hindu/Buddhism who was adopted by practitioners in China.  A priest who had made a small statue of her in clay brought it with him as protection in 1327 when he travelled to Kennin-ji as a teacher.

According to the Zen priest I talked to, Marishi is Queen of Heaven, a particularly powerful deity with a radiance that dazzles those who look upon her like the sun.  Consequently she was popular with warriors, who sometimes carried a statue of her in their helmet in order to dazzle the enemy.  According to the priest, so powerful was the goddess that she overcame Kennin-ji’s previous spirit of place and took over its role as guardian of Kennin-ji.

Marishi is known for bringing luck to devotees, and geisha come to make prayers to her.  The subtemple is covered in images of wild boar, which is her messenger, and she is depicted as riding on a set of seven golden boars (in India the animals are known for their wiliness as well as their bravery).  Japan has three main Marishi temples – a Nichiren temple in Tokyo and a Shingon temple in Kanazawa in addition to Kennin-ji.

As I talked to the Zen priest in his shop with Marishi-related goods, there was a steady trickle of visitors and people praying at the shrine.  Zen has an austere, atheistic image in the West.  Here at the shrine of Marishi Sonten in the corner of Kennin-ji, the atmosphere was altogether different.  I had a strong feeling that such deities offered a personal means of connection for the worshippers that ‘just sitting’ and looking inwards may not.

The temple is famous for its paintings by Tawaraya Sotatsu of Raijin (thunder deity) and Fujin (wind deity) – personifications of unseen forces i.e. kami.

Raijin, the thunder god, is surrounded by drums on which he bangs. Fujin (wind god) has a billowing scarf full of air as he speeds along below his companion.

The temple is famous for paintings by Tawaraya Sotatsu of Raijin (thunder deity) and Fujin (wind deity) – personifications of unseen forces.

 

Another of the temple's most prized items is the ceiling painting of twin dragons on the ceiling of the Lecture Hall (Hatto). Most temples have one dragon, but here there are two in the A-Un (Aum) pose of temple and shrine guardians. Shinto too adopted the Chinese dragon as a guardian figure, not only in the form of Ryujin but as spouts for shrine water-basins. throughout

Another of the temple’s most prized items is an early twenty-first century painting of twin dragons on the ceiling of the Lecture Hall (Hatto). Most temples have one dragon, but here there are two in the A-Un pose of temple and shrine guardians (one with mouth open, one with mouth shut to symbolise Aum – Om). Shinto too adopted the Chinese dragon as a guardian figure, not only in the form of the deity Ryujin but as a popular motif for spouts at shrine water-basins.

 

Omikuji fortune slips, surely borrowed from the native tradition, here in the form of monkeys or tigers (Bishamonten’s familiar)

 

As at Shinto shrines, good luck charms or protective amulets are also sold at the temple (these are for victory). Did the practice come with Buddhism, or was it already part of the native shamanic tradition?

As at Shinto shrines, good luck charms or protective amulets are also sold at the temple (these are for victory). Did the practice come with Buddhism, or was it already part of the native shamanic tradition?

Right-wing wrong

Political poster

A poster at Hikawa Jinja in Saitama proclaiming a rightist agenda

Thanks to Mark Teeuwen, who has brought the above to wider attention….  He writes, ‘More campaigns by Jinja Honchō: shrine visitors are invited to sign appeals against local voting rights for foreigners (which will “turn Tsushima over to Korea and Okinawa to China”), and against married women retaining their maiden names (which will “utterly destroy the Japanese way”). Priests are finding their voice…?’

It’s disturbing, to say the least, that the official organ of a religion that should be ‘pure’ chooses to dirty itself with politics that are regressive, reactionary and, to many people, repugnant.  Recent moves towards the (extreme) right have become increasingly common in Shinto circles since the election of self-confessed nationalist, prime minister Abe.  The political drive to change the constitution are seen by some as a once in a lifetime chance to reintroduce elements of State Shinto.

These are worrying times.  At a time of increasing environmental degradation, one might hope for the spirit of collaboration, equality and the urgent promotion of ecological policies.  Rather than denying married women the right to choose their own surname, how about more concern for the protection of nature (Shinto is an animist religion)? Rather than denying voting rights to foreigners (ie Korean and Chinese permanent residents), how about seeking cooperation and facing up to war crimes with ‘sincerity’ (a key Shinto value)?

Where, in short, are the progressive elements that Shinto so badly needs?

Shichifukujin meguri (7 Lucky Deities)

Complete set of Shichifukjin emblems

Complete set of Shichifukjin emblems

There are so many festivities around the New Year period, and Kyoto is an unceasing round of events in the early part of January.  One of the biggest events is Toka Ebisu, on which Green Shinto has reported before.  As the name suggests, it takes place on Jan 10 at the Ebisu Shrine and centres around the only one of the Seven Lucky Deities to be an indigenous Japanese.  Participants come away with emblems of Ebisu and his merry crew aboard the Treasure Boat.

The very next day, Jan 11th, there’s a Seven Lucky Deities pilgrimage around the subtemples of the Shingon temple of Sennyu-ji.  The idea is to collect an emblem from each of seven subtemples dedicated to one of the deities.  It’s a clear indication of the syncretic appeal of the popular folk gods, which are often featured at Shinto shrines too.  Sennyu-ji stands in the south-east of the city in wooded surrounds, making the route a pleasant walk through bamboo groves and the imperial cemetery of Tsukinowa where former emperors lie buried.

Dog guardian - or is it a wolf?

Dog guardian – or is it a wolf?

The course begins with being handed a branch with a red paper ribbon stating it’s for the Seven Lucky deities.  The first of them is Fukurokuju, a deity of happiness, wealth and longevity who originated in China as a Taoist sage.  He has an unusually long head, symbol of wisdom, and his emblem is a store house full of rice – a symbol of wealth and happiness enabling longevity.  At the subtemple, Shokujo-in, I was surprised to see what looked like dog guardians – first time I’d come across that.

The second port of call is a subtemple housing a statue of Benzaiten, the only female deity among the Seven.  She’s a muse of creativity, often associated with water..  Amongst the emblems laid out for sale was a scoop for happiness and the jolly face of Otafuku, whose plump cheeks denote a well-fed woman.

The pile of prayer stones at Raigo-in

The pile of prayer stones at Raigo-in

The third subtemple on the trail is dedicated to Ebisu.  His emblems picture him with a fish (tai), but what stuck me most at the temple was a curious statue of Kannon with what at first glance looked like children but were in fact an old man and woman.  This was not the usual sort of Kannon, but bokefuju (prevent dementia) Kannon – bound to be popular with Japan’s increasingly aging population.

At the fourth subtemple, named Raigo-in, was a heap of discarded Hotei,  Here the custom is to purchase a Hotei figurine, and after enjoying the benevolence of the pot-bellied deity for a year to return it for ceremonial disposal.  One then purchases a bigger Hotei for the next year.  Since bigger Hotei cost more than smaller versions, it’s a profitable venture for the temple.

The Hotei subtemple had a pile of prayer stones, which are sometimes seen at Shinto shrines.  Here the custom is to write one’s name and prayer on the stone, then circle the pile three times before touching a magic rock to energise the stone before placing it on the pile.

The Hotei figurine

The Hotei figurine

The route leads then to Sennyu-ji’s main precinct, with its Buddha Hall and sacred water (Sennyu means Pure Spring) and past some imperial graves (there are 39 emperors buried here in all), before the next subtemple which venerates Daikokuten.  Pictures show him with his happiness mallet standing on rice sheafs, a symbol of wealth and well-being.

At subtemple no. 6 the deity is Bishamonten, whose animal messenger is the tiger.  Here the emblem was a ‘senmanryo’ piggy bank, into which gold coins could be placed to make up a small fortune.  From the subtemple there was a splendid view over Kyoto and its northern reaches – appropriately since Bishamonten is guardian of the north.

The final subtemple, known as Honen-in, featured the deity of old age, Jurojin.  Associated with Taoist immortals, he became a symbol of longevity and wisdom – much like Fukurokuju with whom the pilgrimage started.  One thus comes full circle, as it were, ready to face the coming months with the confidence of knowing the Seven Lucky Deities are doing their best to bring you good fortune throughout the year.

Ebisu Hall, in front of which is the Bokefujin Kannon to prevent dementia (look carefully and you'll see the two figures are old people, not children, at Kannon's feet)

Ebisu Hall, in front of which is the Bokefujin Kannon to prevent dementia (look carefully and you’ll see the two figures are old people, not children, at Kannon’s feet)

Disposal of old Hotei figurines, in a vessel shaped like a boat. The Seven Lucky Deities are often pictured in a Treasure Boat... here the boat is transporting the figurines to another world.

Disposal of old Hotei figurines, in a vessel shaped like a boat. The Seven Lucky Deities are often pictured in a Treasure Boat –  here the boat is transporting the figurines to another world.

The tiger, Bishamonten's messenger. Just one of a choice of emblems on sale.

The tiger, Bishamonten’s messenger. Just one of a choice of emblems on sale.

Each subtemple has a statue of one of the Seven Lucky Deities which is the object of worship. This one is Daikokuten.

Each subtemple has a statue of one of the Seven Lucky Deities which is the object of worship. This one is Daikokuten.

Tying on the Bishamonten emblem

Tying on the Bishamonten emblem

Time out from collecting emblems to enjoy the view over Kyoto

And here's a picture of the whole ensemble...

And here’s a picture of the whole ensemble…  from left to right: Jurojin, Hotei, Ebisu, Fukurokuju, Daikokuten, Benzaiten, Bishamonten

Monkey Year (Sarutahiko Jinja)

DSCN6452 The small shrine of Sarutahiko Jinja is not very well known and its set in the north-west in an unprepossessing part of Kyoto, sadly surrounded by some of the city’s uglier urban conglomeration.  Nonetheless it possesses one of the most striking features in this year of the monkey, namely a statue of a white monkey carved in 1989 from a branch of the shrine’s sacred tree (shinboku).  The magnificent tree, a camphor, is 700 years old.  According to the priest’s son, the shrine is even older.

The shrine precincts

The shrine precincts

The monkeyThere is not much to the shrine, but one striking aspect is a row of five Buddhist sculptures close to the Honden.  You’d imagine that such an unusual feature would have attracted attention, but there was no explanation on the accompanying noticeboard as to their provenance nor could the priest’s son offer any suggestion as to why they were there.

Since the statues included the founder of Shugendo, En no Gyoja, I presumed the shrine must have been linked with mountain asceticism in the past.  That would accord with its dedication to Sarutahiko, an earthly deity who guided the descending Yamato deities through the mountains.  The monkey acted as his messenger.

In fact the monkey is usually associated with Sanno, deity of Mt. Hiei.  Interestingly, the priest’s son told me the shrine had close connections with a nearby Hie Shrine.  As the centre of the Tendai faith, it would have had ties with Shugendo.

Unfortunately I couldn’t  ascertain if the statues had been there since Edo times, or if they were placed there at some point after the Meiji separation of Shinto and Buddhism.  Nonetheless my visit led me to think that syncretism is so deeply embedded in Japanese hearts that even priest’s sons don’t think of the two religions as being distinct.

The five small Buddhist statues:

The five small statues close to the Honden: from right to left, En no Gyoja, Kannon, Fudo Myoo, and two Jizo statues.

 

The shrine’s ema shows the three wise monkeys – speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil. They became famous after being included in the decoration at Tosho-gu shrine in Nikko. In Japanese they are referred to as mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru.

Statues at the shrine show the monkeys properly covering their mouth, eyes and ears.

Coffee shop on the way getting into the ‘swing’ of things

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Have a great year!!

 

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For all about monkey gods and monkeys in Japanese religion, see here.

Zen and Shinto 1: Tofuku-ji

The mighty sanmon gate at Tofuku-ji, largest and oldest Zen gate in Japan

The mighty sanmon gate at Tofuku-ji, largest and oldest Zen gate in the whole of Japan

Look at the picture above. It shows the classic arrangement of structures in a Zen monastery, with lotus pond, ceremonial gate and Teaching Hall (Hatto) perfectly aligned on a central axis which runs from south to north. Through the middle of the three openings in the gate is framed the main altar area, inside which a statue of Shaka Nyorai (the historical Buddha) is flanked by two attendants and fronted by four guardians.

It’s all very imposing, very symmetrical and very Chinese. The floors are stone and you keep your shoes on. The deities are represented in physical form. The ideology is conceptual and predicated on an afterlife. It’s all very, very alien to Shinto. And yet, surprise, surprise, to the right of this ceremonial gate is a Shinto shrine, guardian of the spirit of place. In fact the shrine predates the temple, which incorporated it into its design and for some eight hundred years has preserved and cherished it.  Does Zen cultivate belief in kami?

In his book about Zen and Japanese Culture, D.T. Suzuki claimed that Zen lay at its core and ascribed to it many well-known aspects such as archery and the tea ceremony. Yet it seems to me that if Zen shaped Japanese culture to some extent, it’s also the case that Shinto shaped Zen to a certain extent. The imported religion derived from Chinese Chan Buddhism, but after its arrival in Japan it took on practices and forms not found in the country of origin.

For the next few months I’ll be investigating the development of Zen in Kyoto, and while doing so I’ll be looking out for the influence of Shinto and the role it’s played in the religion. One interesting item to note is that the Shinto shrines housed in Zen temples usually date from two distinct periods. One, such as here at Tofuku-ji, is from a time before Zen was introduced to Japan in the late twelfth century.

Other shrines were added after the Meiji Restoration (1868), when Shinto was made the state religion and Buddhism fell into disfavour (over 20,000 temples were destroyed). Many temples erected shrines at this time to appease the authorities who considered Buddhism a threat to the emperor-centred regime. (The religion had been a mainstay of the Tokugawa shogunate, for every citizen was required by law to register with their local temple – even Shinto priests!)

As well as temizuya (water basins for purification), Zen temples sell ‘omamori’ protection amulets. Like the traditional Shinto amulets, these are for protection and happiness. There’s a single bead too, part of a rosary which is put together by visiting different temples.

 

A Zen altar in a subtemple at Tofuku-ji in Kyoto. What has that got to do with Shinto? Well, the New Year offering seen in the picture is a 'kagami mochi' usually associated with Shinto and placed on the kamidana. No one is quite sure of the origin, but one theory has to do with honouring the rice spirit. The mirror of course is sacred to Amaterasu as a symbol of her spirit, but the mirror too is commonly found in Buddhist temples as a reminder to keep the soul spotless and free of dust.

A Zen altar in a subtemple at Tofuku-ji in Kyoto. What has that got to do with Shinto? Well, the New Year offering seen in the picture is a ‘kagami mochi’ usually associated with Shinto and placed on the kamidana. No one is quite sure of the origin, but one theory has to do with honouring the rice spirit. The mirror of course is sacred to Amaterasu as a symbol of her spirit, but the mirror too is commonly found in Buddhist temples as a reminder to keep the soul spotless and free of dust.

The Gosha Jokyuju (aka Gosha Myojinsha) shrine was erected by a powerful member of the Fujiwara family, Tadehira, in 925. It incorporates five tutelary shrines of Tofukuji (Iwashimizu Hachiman, Inari, Kamo, Kasuga and Hiyoshi). Its festival, known as Shoshasai, was once as brilliant as the Gion Festival but is defunct. Now an annual Fire Burning Festival called Hitakisai is held in Nov.

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Steps in the south-eastern part of the temple lead up to Gosha Myojinsha.

An avenue of torii at the top of the hill leads to an open-doored shrine

 

 

 

 

The shrine houses a curiously coloured rock, presumably the ‘goshintai’ (sacred body) of the rough bear spirit, Arakuma.  It was donated by the Mizuguchi Organisation of Fukuoka Prefecture

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A pair of dosoujin. These fertility symbols would once have acted as territorial markers, but now they rest beneath a tree, evidently cared for still by the Zen monks.

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The dry landscape garden by Shigemori Mirei was laid out in 1939 and is acclaimed for combining modern style with traditional sensibility. The rocks here represent the Isles of the Immortals from Chinese mythology, but the simplicity, purity and spiritually charged rocks may well owe something to the native tradition.

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