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14 June 2009 @ 10:23 pm
Virtual Chichibu Pilgrimage: Temple 4  



Temple 4 - Kinshou-ji

Arataka ni mairite ogamu Kanseon nise anraku to tare mo inoran

The route from temple 3 to temple 4 encapsulates Chichibu in a nutshell. We pass from a busy street lined with shops, traffic rushing down it to residences with fields attached to an electronics manufacturing plant all in the space of about a mile. The temple, when we finally come to it, shows up suddenly on our left just as the road turns suddenly to the right. This one more resembles what one expects when talking about a temple on a major pilgrimage, with its two-story formal gate, and a large, paved parking lot for buses just outside. A white stone pillar outside the gate formally declares the temple's place as the fourth temple of Chichibu. The gate is old, weathered wood, so dark a brown that it's nearly black. At one time it was clearly painted in vibrant blues and reds, but the paint has faded and is all but gone now. Instead the gate is now decorated with a smattering of ofuda -- strips of paper bearing the names and sometimes the place of origin of pilgrims who have visited. The strips are glued everywhere, stuck higgledy-piggledy wherever visitors could reach. Many of them show signs of the temple staff having tried to scrape them off. The custom of leaving ofuda is old, but is one that is highly discouraged by the temples. The adhesives aren't good for the wood, and the mess of paper strips are very much less visually appealing than the old wood. A few faded paper lanterns hand from the rafters, swaying in the breeze. To either side of the gate's entryway hang a pair of giant straw sandels, each larger than a person. I can't remember the significance of them, though I remember it's something relevant and important. I hope it's a sign of good luck for relieving throbbing feet. We could certainly use that.

Through the windows of the upper story one can see many wooden statues crowding the second level, looking down on those who approach. This temple (as we soon find out) seems to be one for Buddhist images. Out front is a set of Roku Jizo, six statues of the bodhisatva Jizo all in a neat line, wearing yellow bibs. Behind them is the vermillion torii gate marking the entrance to a small shrine dedicated to the Shinto deity Inari. Balancing that on the other side is a flowering tree - cherry, it seems at first blush, but is probably a type of plum since at this elevation it's too early for cherries. In front of the gate is another standup of the little monk we had seen back at the nokyousho for temple 2. This time he points the way to the temple office. The accumulation of so many diverse objects in front of the gate makes it all feel somewhat cramped and cluttered. It's not the austere look one expects from a traditional Japanese temple. And yet in its own way it's even more authentically Japanese than the famous Zen temples so popular with tourists. This is an everyday temple. It's a place that doesn't worry about aesthetics and appeal. It caters to the locals and could care less about the foreign tourists.

Passing through the gates one can see that the inside is littered with small stone statues dotting the hilly approach to the temple. The statues are mostly smaller -- few are even life sized -- though come in a variety of sizes. Statues smaller than a person's hand cluster at the feet of some of the lager pieces. A path winds up through them, curving to the right up to the temple. It's not a steep hill, but it's enough of a slope that we aren't eager to rush up it -- not after the more daunting climb previously to temple 2 and the several miles walked since then. Proceeding slowly gives us time to contemplate the statues as we make our way. They were donated by patrons of the temple, asking for favors to be granted, or in thanks for prayers fulfilled. They cover a range of different Buddhist deities. I'm able to pick out the Jizo statues, wrapped in red bibs or wearing red hats, and a few of the various nyourai. Many I don't know the iconography well enough to determine exactly who they represent. On one side of the path there's a small alter, no more than a wooden shed with a roof to keep the rain off, clearly containing a more important statue. The deity's face is hidden in the shadow and I can't tell who it is.

This temple is a good deal more busy than the previous ones. The office is manned by several staff, and a variety of people are wandering the grounds. They don't look to be part of a tour, just individuals or small groups come to see the temple and stopping to say a prayer or two. Locals, perhaps, just passing by. Some of them stop and chat with the office folk, clearly regular patrons at the temple.

This temple is famous for a statue of a mother nursing a baby, located outside the hondo. It was supposed to have been donated by an Edo era merchant to pray for his ancestors, but the style of the artwork makes some wonder if it's not a Maria Kannon: a statue of the Virgin Mary disguised as the Buddhist bodhisatva Kannon in order to avoid persecution. It's difficult to tell just from looking at the statue. The hondo itself is covered in partially removed, faded ofuda and various official-looking documents crowd along the underside of the eaves. It makes the building look almost like it's partly wrapped in old newspaper. Again, it's not what one normally thinks of as Japan. But at the same time it seems so very much like ordinary, everyday Japan that I almost feel that this is the "real" Japan, far removed from the fancy villas down in Kyoto, the old capital.

We don't linger too long. Despite there being so much to look at, the temple compound is not large, and the day is wearing on. We collect our sign in the office, then head down the road, temple number 4 now to our back.

 
 
 
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