2006/04/25

Yet Another Time Capsule

In my early posts of last year, I told of how I stumbled upon a small "hidden" Rinzai (Zen) temple near our home that is over 200 years old, and a Shingon temple just a couple of kilometers away that is over 800 years old. I called them "time capsules" for they allow one to travel back and get a glimpse of another time, another way of life.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Dragon's head and claws clutching an orb. Dragons are protectors of Buddhism.


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.

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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.
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This is the ceiling at the top of the steps. Note the faded 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.


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This is Ahgyo


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This is Ungyo


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.

15 comments:

Robin said...

I am glad you shared the 3 ancient temples within walking distance of your home.

Everyday in our busy life, we walk through street after street with a destination in mind and an objective to reaching it as fast as possible.

Strange.... as the final destination of all life is death.

We should all learn to enjoy the journey as the destination is never important.

YD said...

I still remembered reading your old post about the time capsules when I first stumbled into your blog.

Thanks again for bringing us back to time. Somehow, old temples exude an aura of mystery, and the ancient secrets seem to be in every corner of the temple.

Very nice to explore indeed. Thanks.

I agree with Robin's comment that people should be more mindful about the process of life, as it is the process that makes life meaningful and beautiful.

Let's stop for a moment to observe and be grateful for our life.

Pandabonium said...

Robin - I should have been so wise at your age. When I first moved here I liked that it was a rural area, but it took some time to find the depth of meaning it offered in its people and history. The temples helped me to open my eyes to that and appreciate it much more than I may have otherwise. I would say that this neighborhood and playing in the Kashima Philharmonic (for which I have the Moody Minstrel to thank) are the two things which have shaped my experience here the most. (Aside from K of course!). It's all good.

YD - indeed, let us take time to be grateful for each day. It is always fascinating to me to look at artifacts of those who came before us. As I peer into these temples I am looking at a collection of things, some of which go back hundreds of years. A prayer on a piece of paper, a wood carving, a cabinet, a statue. All connected by the threads of time to the present, to my own eyes. I cannot help but try and image the person who placed a set of sandals at the feet of a Nio in that temple and wonder who they were, what their life was like. And who knows the connections of these temples and the people connected to them over the centuries with K's own family? At some point one must pause, just sigh, and stop trying to think it all out with the mind and simply accept it in gratitude with the heart.

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

Chinese believe once your gave them eyes, they'll fly. Thanks for the close-up on the dragon!

If you ever met the priest -- I'm wondering who helped keeping up the temple as well? It amazing to see such temple right next to barbershop! Maybe things are easier when there is no your-temple, my-temple but just our temples.

The Moody Minstrel said...

It's fascinating how, despite the Japanese obsession with newness (possibly as a result of Shinto influence, since renewal and purity are major tenets of that faith), one can still find the very old neatly interwoven with the very new. The old foundation is still there holding up the constantly-changing structure.

Panda, did you say dragons were guardians of "Bushhism"? I've heard the oil and defense industries as well as evangelical Christians called many things, but "dragons" is a new one on me.

YD said...

As I understand, the depiction of dragons as guardians of Buddhism is heavily influenced by East Asian cultures. Since ancient times, dragons have played an important part in chinese society, this can be seen by various myths, stories, architectural designs, and even reference of emperors in association with dragons.

I think dragons become associated with Buddhism via Zen Buddhism, through integration of east asian cultures and religion (chinese and japanese). If we observe Theravadan buddhism, we might notice the dragons figure missing.

Please correct me if I am wrong, becuz I've just commented based on my current knowledge and haven't done further research to 'validate' the proposition. hehe..

Here is a link about japanese buddhism.

YD said...

A thing I found interesting is the argument about the japanese 3-toed-dragons and chinese 5-toed dragons.

It was said that the japanese dragon grows toes as it travels further than its country, while chinese dragon lose toes as it travels further away.

It would be very interesting if the two types of dragons have a trip to Europe together.

Pandabonium said...

Low, the temple still has members and is put to use when one dies. The donate money to it, but there are not enough of them to pay for a restoration of the building. These were built at a time when people in the area farmed and did not wander very far from home. So each neighborhood had a temple, and shrine(s) to serve its religious needs. The temple grounds are actually back from the Barbershop and just the path leading to the street is next to the shop - the owners of the shop live there and use the temple's path as a driveway and park their car on it!

Moody, Ack! That was an interesting slip up. Perhaps one could say that Condi Rice, Katherine Harris, and Anne Coulter are "dragon ladies" protecting "Bushism"? But I've corrected my typo rather than think about them. Yikes.

That's an excellent link YD. I have often used that site for research. The dragons of Japan came from China. Oddly enough, the dragon at this temple has four toes in both the carving and the painting. I am still curious about the orb it is clutching and what that represents.

Don Snabulus said...

I've been busy and not available to blog or comment much, but I do read and enjoy. Thank you for another excellent post!

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Don!

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Lovely post Panda.
I also really smiled at the bushism and dragons reference someone made.
When you travel and live in another country, somehow you become alert to so many beauties and possibilities. When you stay in the same old place, you become myopic, don't see the stories behind the stories. I am trying to look more deeply into the stories of Geelong, what has been here in the past before the bulldozing and reconstruction of perfectly ordered streets and gardens.
W.
PS My lucky ducks brother and his wife are travelling in Buda and Pest at present.

Pandabonium said...

That is so true, Wendy. I remember a Hawaiian friend on Maui who had never been to a famous waterfall I asked her about, even though she grew up and had spent her entire life within 30 minutes of it.

Actually, I made a slip when writing this post, and had typed "Bushism" instead of "Buddhism" in the caption for the wood dragon. Reading too much news lately, I guess.

Buda and Pest....wow. I've never been to Hungary. Blue Danube Waltz anyone?

Robin said...

I have a dragon and temple story too.. (raising my hand)

In ancient China, Lu Ban, the carpenter god, borrowed the Main Pillar of the Dragon Palace to build a temple.

After 3 days, the Dragon King wanted his pillar back and sent his 3rd son to take it back in the night. He began to lift the pillar but it wouldn't budge.

When the sun came out, the 3rd dragon prince was so strained and he collapsed from heat exhaustion. His dried-out body curled around the pillar, with his head point up.

This formed the dragon pillar in most Chinese buildings, palace and temples!

Pandabonium said...

Interesting tail, Robin. erm, I mean tale!

Happysurfer said...

I was told that dragons in the palaces (for the emperor) are depicted with five claws while for commoners, only four.

A religious person (a Buddhist) once told me that dragons do exist and the reason that we don't see them is because they're in a different realm altogether. Similarly, there are extra-terrestrials but they and us (earthlings) are in different dimensions thus our paths don't cross.

Pandabonium, that's a beautiful temple. Thank you for sharing.
It's good that such places are maintained. I'm actually glad that here in Malaysia, we still do have freedom of worship even though Islam is the official religion. There are some very old and nice Chinese temples around.