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15 June 2009 @ 09:34 pm
Virtual Chichibu Pilgrimage: Temple 5  


Temple 5 - Choukou-ji

Chichi haha no mebumi mo fukaki goka no dou daiji daihi no chikai tanomoshi


Temple 5 is a temple in two parts. Once the complex covered a large area but now the Kannon Hall is split off from the main temple, separated by public roads, a large field, and some houses. We need to go to both places, as one contains the image of the deity we're following while the other holds the temple office where we can get our books signed. Conveniently the Kannon Hall is the first of the set we come to. We like to finish our devotions before getting the sign saying that we'd been there. Perhaps it's a little superstitious. But it feels more honest that way, and we like to make sure that we demonstrate that we're serious pilgrims, rather than just foreign tourists gadding about on a lark. Thinking about it, it's a little conceited, worrying so much about the demonstration of devotion. And yet, we are foreign visitors, and it's always important to show that the barbarians know how to wipe their shoes, just to minimize upset and misunderstanding. At this particular temple there really is no one to notice what we do. A few children were romping through the grounds when we arrived, but they cleared out as soon as we approached the hall with intent.

It's clear that if this hall hadn't held particular significance it too would have gone the way of the other temple buildings. As it is, there isn't much left. A small gate serves as symbol dividing the edge of the temple grounds from the street. It's more a concept than a functional gate; there are no walls associated with it, and we first walked into the yard without realizing that there was a formal approach. Circling around we entered the compound properly. The temple itself is one of the smaller halls, with the space between the steps up to the temple and the gate being slightly smaller than the building itself. It's difficult to back up far enough to get a picture of the entire hall without backing into the gate. A stone walk leads up to the temple, flanked on either side by stone lanterns. There are no trees around the temple, and the gravel covering the grounds compounded by the other stonework leaves this hall feeling very industrial somehow. Just another house in an unremittingly urban landscape.

And yet... Lichen dots the lanterns leaving white splotches in organic patterns on their surface. Red banners fly next to them, white characters running down them proclaiming "praise to the Kannon Bodhisatva." A banner in rainbow colors hung from the eaves of the temple flaps in the wind. The bland grey background only serves to highlight these points of liveliness, popping them out from the hum-drum drab.

It doesn't take us long to get through our devotions. We're practiced now and can focus on the details of quiet communion with the universe now, rather than having to fuss with the details of the form.

The main hall for Choukou-ji is not far away. It's a pleasant, short stroll, with traditional-style Japanese residences to our left and a cultivated field to our right. Looking back we can clearly see the gate and Kannon Hall. The main temple here is everything that the Kannon Hall is not: a large building in a modern style, enclosed by a wall, is surrounded by a small, well-kept Japanese garden, with a stand of trees running up the small hillside behind the temple. This area is as lush and green as the other hall is sterile and grey. Our friendly young monk standee greets us at the gate, beckoning us on into the yard. A row of Roku Jizo clad in red bibs and hats stand at attention as we enter.

On our way out we head past the Kannon Hall again, pausing this time to take our pictures. A mini bus pulls up and about twenty pilgrims pile off. They line up in front of the hall, white vests bright in the sun, and begin their chants. Not long after another tour bus pulls up, carefully backing into the second space in the parking lot. The first group hasn't finished yet, but the newcomers mill into the small yard as well. We're surprised when yet a third bus pulls up, tucking itself into a wide spot by the side of the temple. The yard, not large to begin with, now holds more people than we would have thought possible. We'd spent most of our day in relatively solitary travels and contemplation. The sudden flood of pilgrims is noisy, and somewhat shocking after the peace of the rest of the day. We hadn't imagined that we'd shared our road with so many other people, and were surprised by the sheer volume of pilgrims touring this route. Deciding that we're just getting in the way now, we head off.