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Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


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Myoshin-ji Temple Complex (Kyoto)

It could be said that Kyoto has an embarrassment of riches in terms of the number and variety of Buddhist temples located within this ancient and culturally rich city. At one end of the scale one may come across small local temples, most often found when wandering the streets and at the other end of the spectrum are the large sprawling temple complexes such as Myoshin-ji in Kyoto’s north-east.

These large temple complexes are always impressive given their scale, yet each varies in character. For example, if I think of Kyoto’s Tenryu-ji (https://johnliddlephotography.com/2014/02/11/tenryu-ji-kyoto/) I think of generations of monks working tirelessly to create a serene environment. On the other hand, Nagano’s Zenkoji Temple (https://johnliddlephotography.com/2016/02/06/zenkoji-temple/) conjures images of a warring and bloody history. Myoshin-ji is different again with its feeling of community with many of the sub-temples serving also as residences and members of the local community simply “hanging-out” within the temple grounds.

Estimates of the number of sub-temples within the complex range from 38 to 50, with most closed to the public. Nevertheless, many front gates are open or ajar to offer visitors a glimpse of what lies beyond, a la the opening photograph “Peek-a-boo”. Meandering through the complex’s laneways is a delightful way to gain an appreciation of this very Buddhist community and I suspect I may have inadvertently wandered into a few of the “off limits” sub-temples such as Nehando where I came across the entrancing Jizo statuary shown at pics 8 to 11. Sometimes one’s poor language skills can be an advantage!

The other images demonstrate, in my opinion, how splendour can manifest in different ways. The images (pics 2 to 7) of the main Myoshin-ji buildings (the Butsuden and the Hatto) are further examples of the solid Japanese architecture typical of major traditional temple buildings. These buildings sit so solidly into their environment as to appear immovable and evoke feelings of calm and serenity. Elsewhere in the complex one finds the highly popular Taizo-in Temple, much admired for its beautiful gardens (pics 12 to 17) that similarly evoke feelings of calm and serenity, albeit by different means. I felt fortunate when the smartly dressed people wandered into the shot (pic 15), thus giving the image a rather timeless feel and one hopes that the final image has indeed become a precious memory for the elderly and young person mesmerized by the Japanese Koi fish.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Sensoji Temple – Asakusa

With an estimated 30 million visits a year from locals and tourists, it is safe to conclude that Sensoji Temple is Asakusa’s most popular drawcard. First established in 645 AD, Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple and has been revered by many influential historical figures through the ages, as well as by the general population. Sensoji is devoted to the Bodhisattva Kannon who is regarded by followers as the most compassionate Buddha and is seen as a source of benevolence and relief from suffering.

Judging from my personal visits the temple is always busy, somehow befitting its background as the centre of Edo (present-day Tokyo) culture. Such busyness also fits well with Tokyo’s image as a bustling, vibrant metropolis.

Looking back from the temple steps (pic 1) through the Hozomon Gate to Nakamise Dori gives some impression of the temple’s popularity. Indeed, for some visitors it is likely that the highlight of their visits will be walking the gauntlet that is Nakamise Dori (pics 2 to 4). This is a long approach path through rows of souvenir shops and food stalls. Whilst such an approach to Japanese temples is quite common, I found Nakamise Dori to be overly commercial, though its longevity suggests that my view may be in the minority. Nevertheless, it is an interesting place to observe the contrasting and sometimes individualistic dress styles of visitors.

Japan has many impressive temple gates and the Hozomon Gate (pics 5 and 6) is yet another. First built in 942 AD, the Hozomon Gate has been destroyed twice; firstly by fire in 1631 and again in 1945 during the bombing of Tokyo. The current structure of steel-reinforced concrete houses many of Sensoji’s treasures in its second-storey; including a copy of the Lotus Sutra that is a designated national treasure. Standing almost 23 metres high, 21 metres wide and 8 metres deep, it is a commanding presence and a worthy gateway to Tokyo’s oldest temple. However, the most eye-catching feature is the large red chochin (lantern) weighing approximately 400 kilograms that hangs from the gate’s central opening.

Passing through the Hozomon Gate brings one into an area (pic 7) where official temple souvenirs and worship related materials such as amulets, incense and scrolls may be purchased, beyond which lies the temple’s main entrance. Upon entering the main hall, one’s eye is immediately diverted upwards to a series of impressive ceiling paintings (pic 8), which, despite the different subject matter, reminded me of Kyoto’s Kennin-ji (covered in a December 2014 post). Ceremonies occur throughout the day and although one’s view is generally restricted, it is always satisfying when one can experience any temple ceremony (pic 9).

Some respite from the crowds can be found within Sensoji’s gardens, which, as can be seen from the glimpse viewed from the left-hand exit of the main hall (pic 10), are quite beautiful in their own right. Within the gardens are many statues of deities, including those at pic 12 where the statue to the right of the shot is said to represent the image of the Bodhisattva Kannon. I have always found Jizo (protectors of children) statues to be rather comforting (as in pic 13) and given that Sensoji is associated with compassion, it seemed an appropriate way to conclude this post.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


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Miyajima Walks – part 2

For a small island, there is much to see on Miyajima and unfortunately I was barely able to scratch the surface. As with many places in Japan, one leaves knowing there is still much to see on future visits. For this final post on Miyajima, I would like to focus on two of the island’s many interesting sites, namely the Reikado Hall and the Daisho-in Temple.

Kieza-no Reikado Hall is home to an eternal flame that has burned continuously since the lighting of the holy fire in the year 806 by Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect. It is said that Kobo Daishi, during his visit to Miyajima, performed “Gumonji” for 100 days – a meditative practice involving a fire ceremony. Since that time, the flame has continued burning and in 1964 was used as the pilot light for the Peace Flame of Hiroshima’s Peace Park. Such a link could not have been foreseen when the flame was first lit, yet one hopes that one day the Peace Flame will be extinguished to mark the destruction of all nuclear weapons.

Reikado Hall (pic 1) is a relatively small building near the summit of Mount Misen, where the eternal flame is an irresistible attraction despite the smoke filled interior not being the most pleasant of environments. Pics 2 and 3 give some idea of the smoke-filled interior and show a large pot of water being heated above the flame. It is believed that drinking the heated water has curative power and perhaps the couple in pic 3 will enjoy the benefits. The Hall is also renowned as a “lover’s sanctuary” with the flame being akin to the eternal fire of love. There is a legend that those dedicating votive tablets (pic 4) at least three times will be granted their wish.

At the base of Mount Misen, one finds Daisho-in, an impressive complex and one of the most important temples of Shingon Buddhism. Unfortunately my visit was too short to properly view and appreciate the variety of buildings and artifacts within the complex, thereby limiting my ability to share. However, I enjoyed my all too brief visit and as I hope the selected images will show, I left Daisho-in with a feeling of light-heartedness.

The temple grounds are sloping, even a tad hilly, yet they manage to evoke a feeling of relaxation. Kannon-do Hall, seen in the background of pic 6 is probably the dominant building and pic 6 is also a good example of how buildings, Buddhist deities and gardens are integrated within an inviting environment.

A recurring theme around Daisho-in and indeed elsewhere on Miyajima is the use of multiple statues, such as the Rakan statues (pics 7 and 8) lining the steps to the temple.   Altogether, there are 500 statues, each with a different facial expression. However, I couldn’t help but be taken by the personality added by crowning each with woolen beanies, which reminded me of football team colours.

Other multiples were found in the form of the 1000 Fudo images (pic 9) donated by worshippers to commemorate the succession of the current (77th) head priest and the seven happy deities in their lovely garden setting at pics 11 and 12.

In conclusion I would like to comment briefly on pics 10 and 13, which depict representations of Jizo – one of the most beloved of Japanese divinities. Although Jizo have many guises, they are invariably presented as friendly, comforting figures as in pic 10, or even as cute manifestations in more contemporary form as in pic 13.

As I said in the introduction, Miyajima has much to offer for such a small island and I hope this and the two preceding posts has provided a glimpse of the island’s significance.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)