Archive for the ‘ema’ Category

hasadera’s hydrangea walk: the third time’s a charm   16 comments

Sunday, July 2: Today, I invite my colleague Tobi to come along with me to Hasedera Temple, which is about a 7-minute walk from the Daibutsu, or the Big Buddha. He’s been wanting to go to the Daibutsu for a long time, but hasn’t done it for whatever reason.  I’ve decided once more to try to do the hydrangea walk at Hasedera.  I tell him we must get an early start because I don’t want to miss the hydrangea walk for the third time.  I tried two times before, with no success.  You can read about those botched attempts here and here.

Even though we live in the same apartment building, I have a bicycle and Tobi doesn’t, so we agree to meet at Fuchinobe Station at 7:30 a.m. After meeting and having a brief coffee, we get on the train to Kamakura.  On the train, we sit across from this lady carrying a huge bouquet.  Tobi takes a great photo of her and allows me to share it.

on the Yokohama Line – photo by Tobias Manthey

Upon arriving at Kamakura Station, rather than pack ourselves like sardines into that ever-crowded Enoden Line, we hire a taxi for 800 yen to take us directly to Hasedera.  By the time we arrive, it’s nearly 10:00. We get our timed tickets for the hydrangea walk and find, much to our surprise, that the wait is only about 45 minutes!

floating iris garden at Hasedera

We check out the Benten-kutsu Cave while we wait.  It is here at this cave that Benzaiten and her followers of Sixteen Children are chiseled out of the rock walls. Benzaiten is the Goddess of water and wealth, and the only female among the Seven Japanese Gods of Fortune.

outside the Benten-kutsu Cave

inside the Benten-kutsu Cave

ema at the Benten-kutsu Cave

Benten-do Hall is next to Hojo-ike pond.   It houses the statue of Benzaiten with eight arms.

Benten-do Hall

We make our way up the hill, past the pond and iris garden.

pond and iris garden at Hasedera

About halfway up the hill, we stop at Jizo-do Hall, where Fukujyu is enshrined. Here, visitors can pray for easy childbirth and prosperity.  Surrounding the hall are thousands of little Jizo statutes standing in long rows. The statues are there to comfort the souls of miscarried and deceased children.  Jizo is a Buddhist saint who saves people and is especially believed to protect children.

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall – Photo by Tobias Manthey

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

At the top of the hill, we find the Kannon-do Hall, which houses the fabulous statue of Hase Kannon.  Although Kannon is often described in English as “the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy,” it is, strictly speaking, neither masculine nor feminine.  Sadly, no photography is allowed.

Kannon-do Hall

incense burner at Kannon-do Hall

We stop to admire the hazy view of Yuigahama and Zaimokuza Beaches, as well as Sagami Bay, from the Observation Platform.  We can see the Zushi Marina and the Miura Peninsula in the distance.  It’s very hot and humid today.

View of Yuigahama and Zaimokuza Beaches and Sagami Bay from the Observation Platform

garden near the hydrangea walk entrance

garden near Kannon-do Hall

Buddha footprints – Photo by Tobias Manthey

Buddha footprints

The hydrangea walk begins near the Observation Platform, and now, at 10:45, we show our tickets and get into the line.  Luckily, the line is not nearly as long as it’s been the last couple of times I’ve been here.

map of the hydrangea walk

hillsides covered in hydrangea

hydrangea hills

As we walk up the hill of the hydrangea walk, sweat is pouring off of me.  It’s such miserable weather today!

view from the hydrangea walk

multi-armed statue

hydrangea

view of Sagami Bay from the hydrangea walk at Hasedera

view of Sagami Bay from the hydrangea walk at Hasedera

I’m finally able to have someone take a picture of me, and my hair looks horrible because of the straightening I had done yesterday.  It’s so flat!  I’m never allowed to wash my hair for two days after straightening, and after sleeping on it all night, it looks awful. 😦  Oh well, at least periodically, I like to prove I actually was in Japan. 🙂

We continue on the hydrangea walk, admiring the views, the plethora of hydrangeas, and the stone lanterns.

stone lantern among the hydrangeas

lantern amidst white hydrangeas

view over Sagami Bay

view over Sagami Bay

Japanese lady in yukata

hydrangea heaven

from a bygone era

hydrangea

Back at the bottom of the hill, near the exit to the hydrangea walk, I find this lineup of Buddhist deities.

Buddha statues

stone lantern

In the Kyozo (space for storing Buddhist scriptures), there is a rotary bookshelf called a Rinzo. It is believed that when you rotate the Rinzo once, you will receive the same virtue as when you recite the complete scriptures. There are also 18 prayer wheels called Mani-guruma which you can turn to receive virtue such as that from the Rinzo.

Rinzo- a rotary bookshelf

looking back up at the hillside

the hillside above

a rock garden with stone lantern

We go inside of Kannon-do, where we admire the amazing Kannon statue, at 30.1 feet (9.18 meters), one of the largest wooden Buddhist statues in Japan.  It has eleven heads in addition to its main one: three on the front, the right, the left, one at the top and another on the back.  Each face has a different expression, signifying that the Kannon listens to the wishes of all types of people and leads them away from distress. Hase Kannon holds a vase with lotus flowers in its left hand and is unique in that it holds a staff instead of prayer beads in its right. It stands on a stone-like base instead of a lotus flower like most eleven-headed Kannon statues.  It really is amazing to see, and I’m sorry that I’m not allowed to take a picture of it. 😦

The Sho-Kannon Bosatsu is one of the most beloved deities from old times in Japan. Kannon is known for its mercy and compassion such as a mother’s affection.  It is believed that Kannon will immediately appear to those who seek salvation in this realm.  Created by the late Mr. Seibou Kitamura, the statue is enshrined here as a symbol of peace.

statue of Sho-Kannon Bosatsu

Next to Kannon-do is Amida-do Hall, where the golden seated statue of Amida Nyorai, one of Kamakura’s six principal statues of Amida Buddha, is enshrined.  According to legend, in 1194, Minamoto no Yoritomo, who was the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan, commissioned the statue for warding off evil.  In later years, people came to believe it would expel evil spirits and offer protection against misfortune.

statue of Amida Nyorai

ema at Hasedera

ema at Hasedera

The Shoro Belfry was constructed in 1955 to house a massive bronze bell, created in 1264 and recast in 1984.  Following the Buddhist tradition, the bell is run 108 times around midnight on New Year’s Eve to dispel the 108 sufferings of humanity.

Shoro Belfry

This shrine was rebranded Inari-sha in later years, although it was originally dedicated to “Kojin” (god of the cooking stove and fire). According to the legend of the Kannon statue, the deity appeared floating on the sea, drifting ashore by the guidance of “kakigara” (oyster shells) attached to the statue.  This Inari-sha was established to enshrine the Kakigara and to receive the divine guidance of Kannon.

Inari-sha (Kakigara Inari)

“kakigara” (oyster shells)

Inari-sha (Kakigara Inari)

“kakigara” (oyster shells)

“kakigara” (oyster shells)

Near the Benten-do Hall and Benten-kutsu Cave is a pretty rock garden.

rock garden at Hasedera

The Japanese rock garden (枯山水 karesansui) or “dry landscape” garden, often called a zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water (Wikipedia: Japanese rock garden).

rock garden at Hasedera

rock garden at Hasedera

Near Benten-do Hall, one can pick up a fortune which appears blank; the fortune appears when placed in a concrete water bowl much like a bird bath. My friend Yukie from Instagram later translates my fortune for me:  I have moderate luck (chu-kichi).  In different categories, my fortune is such: Romantic relationships: Being kind to others will bring you happiness. Learning: Go back to your basics again! Health: You should relax with aromatherapy tonight!  Your work: Be more careful than usual.  One step at a time.

It’s funny about the work fortune, because at work, the university barely turns on any air conditioning, making the work situation unbearable. It’s miserably hot and humid in Japan, and I’m not tolerating it well.  I am about to explode over the situation, and have even seriously considered hopping on a plane and going home!  So, the admonition to “be more careful than usual. One step at a time” is an appropriate warning for me to calm down about the situation. 🙂

my fortune for today

Daikoku-do Hall houses the statue of Daikokuten.

inside Daikoku-do Hall

Daikokuten is one of the Seven Japanese Gods of Fortune. He is considered the god of wealth (or more specifically, the harvest), or of the household, particularly the kitchen. He is often prayed to for an abundant harvest, success in life and business. Recognized by his wide face and beaming smile, he is often portrayed holding a golden mallet and standing or sitting on bales of rice (Must Love Japan: Hasedera Temple).  People are allowed to touch this “Sawari Daikoku” to receive good fortune.

statue of Daikokuten

By the time Tobi and I leave Hasedera, it’s 11:40, and we walk down the street toward the Daibutsu, which I’ll now see for the second time. 🙂  We stop in one of the shops for an ice cream treat, and then we’re on our way.

(All information about Hasedera is from the temple’s tourist brochure, unless otherwise stated).

hanami at ueno park: subtemples, shrines, bells, kabuto, and jubilant japanese folks {walking tour 9: part 2}   6 comments

Sunday, April 2:  As I leave Ameyoko Shopping street and prepare to enter Ueno Park, I brace myself to penetrate the crowds I can already see near the south entrance.  I wrote in my previous blog post that the cherry blossoms were just past their peak, but now I’ve been told otherwise.  They are actually expected to peak next weekend, the 8th and 9th. Sadly, rain is forecast for the upcoming weekend.  So what I’m seeing today are sakura before their peak, and this may be my only chance to see them.

Entrance to Ueno Park

Entering Ueno Park

Once inside the park, I make my way slowly to the “main” entrance, where I find an 1898 bronze statue of Takamori Saigo (1827-1873), dubbed the “last true samurai.”  He was instrumental in bringing the new Meji government to power and in later defeating Tokugawa shogun loyalists who, despite reaching a peaceful agreement for the turnover of power, attacked the incoming government at Ueno; though the loyalists were defeated, they set fire to Kan’ei-ji, the protector temple of the city, and nearly a thousand other houses.  Though the statue should have been erected at the Imperial Palace, it was erected here because Takamori, angered by the new government’s abolishing of samurai privileges, led an abortive coup against the very government he helped bring to power.  He ended his own life in a ceremonial suicide.

The government was conflicted because they wanted to honor him but didn’t know how to recognize him because of his treasonous act.  So they placed the statue in Ueno Park, the site of his victory over the Tokugawa loyalists.  However, they clothed him in traditional kimono with his hunting dog at his side rather than in his Meji general’s uniform.  Neither the statue’s placement nor his garb pleased his wife, however.

bronze statue of Takamori Saigo

Leaving the statue, I stroll under a canopy of cherry blossoms and make my way to Kiyomizu Kannon-do, a sub temple established in 1631 by Tenkai Sojo (a High Buddhist priest), following the pattern of Kiymizu-dera Temple in Kyoto.

sakura

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Many people come here to pray to the Kosodate Kannon in hopes of conceiving a child.

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Ema at Kiyomizu Kannon-do

At Japanese shrines, I see ema of various types hanging on metal racks. Ema are small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshippers write their prayers or wishes; they then hang them at the shrine. There, the kami (spirits or gods) are believed to receive them. They bear various pictures, often of animals or other Shinto imagery, and many have the word gan’i, meaning “wish”, written along the side.

Ema are sold for various wishes, and help support the shrine financially. Common reasons for buying a plaque are for success in work or on exams, marital bliss, conception of children, and health. Some shrines specialize in certain types of these plaques, and the larger shrines may offer more than one.

In addition, I see O-mikuji, random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. These are usually received by making a small offering (generally a five-yen coin as it is considered good luck) and randomly choosing one from a box, hoping for the resulting fortune to be good.  The o-mikuji is scrolled up or folded, and unrolling the piece of paper reveals the fortune written on it.

I attempt to make my way to the Benten-do, an island built in the middle of Shinobazu Pond for the shrine to the Shinto goddess Benten, one of the Seven Gods of Good Luck.  In 1670, a causeway was built from the shore to the island.  However, the crowds are so thick going over the causeway that I decide against going, and instead walk along the less crowded southern part of the pond.

Heading to the Benten-do

Below is a photo of the Benten-do from the southern shore of Shinobazu Pond, which means “The Pond Without Patience.”

Shinobazu Pond from the other side

Walking uphill from Shinobazu Pond, I come to Gojo Tenjin Shrine, dedicated to the gods of medicine and learning.

Gojo Tenjin Shrine

The ema at Gojo Tenjin Shrine are quite elaborate.

Adjacent to Gojo Tenjin Shrine is Hanazono Inari Shrine. From the latter, a tunnel of vermillion torii leads uphill, eventually to the 1666 Toki-no-kane bell.

Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

I meet the growling fox guardian at the gate.  His little red bib detracts a bit from his ferocity.

bibbed fox guardian at Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

torii gates from Hanazono Inari Shrine

Uphill, I find a woman selling French fries in a tall paper cup, which I buy because I’m starving. I don’t know where on earth I would sit, so I munch on them while walking.  I come across the 1666 Toki-no-kane bell, which once sounded the hours for the temple monks.

statue at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

At the top of the little hill, I find this intriguing Buddha face.

Buddha at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

The ema here have the blue-tinted Buddha face.

Ema at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

On the far side of the bell, a melody is wafting through the air, and I find a peaceful spot where I can sit on a bench and listen to to the music.  It’s called “Kabuto Music and Manners” by Dr. Manners.

I sit on the bench and cross my legs, placing my French fries beside me. A gentle man wearing a navy blue haori, a traditional Japanese sort of hip-length kimono-like jacket, comes over and gently nudges my knees, indicating I should not cross my legs.  He says, “It’s the Japanese way.”  He then offers me a flower-shaped sugar cube on a piece of tissue paper with calligraphy on it.  I’m so amicably welcomed here.  Each time he comes over, he is so gentle and kind, I can’t help but bow to him and say “arigato.” He then offers me a bowl of green tea, which I drink slowly, enjoying the music and the tranquil surroundings.  As I’m drinking the tea, he comes over again and nudges my knees apart, which I’ve accidentally crossed without thinking, and he offers me another sugar cube, which I eat. I feel at one with the universe as I sit and listen to the transporting music.  It’s a lovely respite from the crowds and the chaotic energy swirling around us on all sides.

a kind soul at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

A lovely lady wearing kimono sits on a platform preparing the green tea and sugar cubes; she graciously poses for a picture. The whole experience turns out to be the most memorable and enjoyable experience of the day.

geisha (?) at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

The musician is shown below; I’m not sure if he is Dr. Manners, but a nice lady convinces me to buy his CD, which says “Kabuto Music and Manners Sound by Dr. Manners.”  Possibly he is playing a type of music created by Dr. Manners, or possibly he is Dr. Manners himself.  I really don’t know, but I buy the CD, which costs me 2,000 yen (nearly $20), and add it to the bulkiness of my pack.  I guess I could have just listened to it on YouTube, but at least I was happy to support the musician.

Kabuto musician

1666 Toki-no-kane bell

After my peaceful time at the bell, I walk through a long row of food vendors toward Tosho-gu Shrine.  Some of the food, especially the corn on the cob, looks enticing, but now I’m full from the French fries, sugar cubes and green tea.

Tosho-gu Shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.

The lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set amidst a small forest. Countless wood carvings and large amounts of gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings in a way not seen elsewhere in Japan, where simplicity has been traditionally stressed in shrine architecture. The shrine contains both Buddhist and Shinto elements; this was common until the Meji period, when Shinto was separated from Buddhism.

Tosho-gu Shrine

Below are some of the ema at Tosho-gu Shrine.

A double row of 50 bronze lanterns stands near the entry to  Tosho-gu Shrine.  They were not meant for illumination but were used to purify the sacred fire for important religious ceremonies.

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

The Sukibei Wall which surrounds the shrine building was completed in 1651.  The upper part of the wall is decorated with land creatures, while the lower part is adorned with sea and river creatures. Real world wild animals such as birds, fish, shellfish, frogs, catfish, and butterflies can be found here, as well as mythical creatures.

gate at Tosho-gu Shrine

A sacred camphor tree on the grounds of the shrine is over 600 years old.  It was here before the shrine was built and has been continuously cared for by the shrine’s guardians.

Sacred tree at Tosho-gu Shrine

The shrine, built in 1651, is in the kongen-zukuri ornate style favored by early Tokugawa shoguns.  The main shrine building, the Konjiki-den, or Golden Hall, is in the ornate Momoyama style. The pillars and doors are covered in gold foil and the ceilings are decorated with lacquer and colorful carvings.

Tosho-gu Shrine

Tosho-gu Shrine

tree on the grounds of Tosho-gu Shrine

Tosho-gu Shrine

A Karamon (Chinese Gate) at the front of the building, built in 1651, is in the elaborate “Chinese” style with gold foil as well as hand-carved flowers, birds, fish and other animals and shells.

Chinese gate at Tosho-gu Shrine

The carvings on the gate are colorful, elaborate and mythical.

Tosho-gu Shrine

A kagura stage used for religious dances sits at the approach to the shrine.  It also has a roofed bell unit.  Today, some musicians are playing melodies on the stage.

musicians at Tosho-gu Shrine

This huge stone garden lantern was offered as a gift from Sakuma Daizennosuke Katsuyuki to the Tosho-gu Shrine in 1631. It is said to be one of the three great stone lanterns in Japan together with those in Nanzen-ji temple of Kyoto and in Atsuta Jingu Shrine. The 6-meter height of the lantern is impressive, as well as the 3.6 meter perimeter of the capping stone.  Because of its great size, people commonly call it “Monster Lantern.”

Monster lantern

I get caught up in the huge crowds walking a northerly path through the park.  The crowd is moving at melting candle wax pace, and it’s so crowded I can barely move.  It reminds me of the crowds I encountered in Shanghai on China’s International Labor Day: riding the human tide along the bund to cloud 9 & pudong.

I escape the human tide heading north and stop to walk around the statue of the Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito, the first president of the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Statue of the Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito

Then I’m back on the path, being carried along with the hordes of people.  This group of young people playing a festive game with oversized cards makes me smile.  They seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. 🙂

a lively card game

I see there is a path to the west, so I make my escape from the main path, ending up near the Ueno Zoo.  Turning north, I’m on a parallel path to the crowded one, and I have this one nearly to myself.  I bypass the sprawling Tokyo National Museum Complex and head northeast quite a distance to Kan’ei-ji Temple; after visiting this out-of-the-way temple, I’ll head southwest outside of Ueno Park to visit some quiet, hidden gems.

As there is no daylight savings time in Japan and it gets dark at about 6:00, I can already tell there is no way I will have time to finish this overly ambitious walk in one day.  Maybe if I had gotten an earlier start… 🙂

 

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