There is a third old temple nearby, which I have not written about before. It is also of the Shingon sect and I would estimate by its construction details that the building dates from the Edo era and is probably well over 200 years old. That's just a guess on my part. It may be much older. It is located at the base of the bluffs, not far from route 18 that runs along the east shore of Lake Kitaura.
The entrance to the temple is not wide and comes off of a small road and is partly hidden by a barbershop next to it. The temple itself sits back from the street about 50 meters or so. Thousands of people must pass by this area every day, oblivious to the temple's existence.
The large famous temples in places like Kyoto and Nara receive huge numbers of tourists each year and along with that comes a lot of money with which the buildings can be restored and maintained. Out in the countryside it is a different matter, and small temples rely on the generosity of the families associated with them. To renovate an altar or the carvings on the exterior of even a small temple is a very expensive proposition and better left undone rather than done improperly with the wrong materials. The improvements to this temple have leaned heavily toward the practical - such as a steel hand rail in the center of the steps to aid the elderly priest.
Looking at such temples today, one can only imagine how they looked in times long past with paint and gold leaf adorning the intricate wood carvings of lions, dragons, and flowers.
This temple's name is Kosodate Nioson (raising children, guardians of the temple gate). The cross beam atop the pillars at the steps of the temple has a carved dragon above it. The dragon is clutching something round with its claws, a crystal ball or coin perhaps. Gargoyle-like lions are on each end of the beam and on all four corner posts. The entire building is little more than 10 meters (about 33 feet) wide.
At the top of the steps, looking up at the ceiling, there is a large board listing the names of donors who paid for the most recent work on the building, but more interestingly there is a painting of a dragon.
One can see inside through the wooden lattice covering the windows. Two large statues, obviously quite old, guard each side of the altar. The statues are large and look out of place in the small room. These are the guardians - the "Nio" or kindly kings. A common feature of temple gates throughout the Buddhist world, they are named Kongo (or Ungyo) whose mouth is closed to say "Un" and Misshaku (or Ahgyo) whose mouth his open saying "Ah". They were originally derived from Hindu Divas who became incorporated into Buddhism as protectors against evil. Due to the small openings in the lattice and poor lighting, it was difficult to get a good picture of the guardian statues.
The sandals one sees at this temple are from people who pray that their limbs may be healthy and strong like those of the Nio.
Whereas other buddhist religions in Japan usually focus on one Buddha (the Hongwanji temples worship Amida Buddha for example), Shingon has a main Buddha, Dainichi Nyorai, but also incorporates many others in a circle (Mandala) of buddhas. As a result, each temple may have a different Buddha as its focus of worship, but they are all important in Shingon in relation to Dainichi Nyorai.
Certainly, I need to do further research into the history of these temples and the part they played in Kashima's history. The father of the local Shingon temple's priest takes care of the 800 year old temple across the valley. I am hoping to arrange a meeting with him in order (with the help of K of course) to uncover more information.
I find it fascinating that in spite of the increased population, development, and roads, with the hustle and bustle of modern life, that there are three ancient temples within walking distance of my home. They remain undisturbed and scarcely noticed, having weathered the centuries and today offer portals through which we may experience a distant past.