2006/12/19

Autumn Focus

On the way home from Ryujinkyo Bridge, K wanted to stop and check the colors of the leaves at a place we've visited twice before, but which I have yet to write a post about. "Seizan-so" was the villa of Tokugawa Mitukuni (1628-1700), the second Lord of Mito, who was responsible for the publication of the "Dai Nihon Shi" or "Great History of Japan". I will write more about him and the villa in another post.

Seizan-so was rebuilt and is now open to the public as a National Historic Landmark and park. We stopped just long enough to determine that the trees were past their autumn prime there as well.

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Gardens at entrance to the Seizan-so park.


Not far from Seizan-so is a sign for a temple and as it was just a kilometer or two off our route, K decided see what it was. That turned out to be a good call, for what we found was not only beautiful, but of great interest to me as its history connects to the subject of my next post - a discovery I made in Kashima City that goes back 1400 years.

The temple is called Satake-ji and is listed as a National Important Cultural Property. In 1177, a local warlord, Satake, donated the land and made the temple the official place for his warriors to pray. The temple burned down in 1543 and took fifteen years to rebuild. That is still the temple building one sees today. In 1590 it was Satake Yoshinobu who unified Hitachi - what is now called Ibaraki Prefecture. No doubt a descendant of the Satake who patronized this temple.

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Gate of Satake-ji


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Ancient guardians are still on duty at the gate, though the gate itself was rebuilt in the 20th century (Showa Era).

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Satake-ji has a beautiful thatched roof.


There were momiji at the temple offering lots of color as well as a large leafed maple with leaves that were deep red. The grounds were carpeted with the golden leaves of an old ginkgo tree. I'd been having trouble with my camera all day and many of my pictures were out of focus, so I don't have many to share here. I later discovered that I had inadvertantly set the camera for manual focus.



A wall surrounds garden in front of the priest's residence.


The sect represented here is Shingon which seems dominant in Ibaraki. There is a statue of Kannon, Bodhisattva of mercy, inside the temple.

One of the famous Buddhist pilgrimages in Japan is called the "Bando Pilgrimage" started by the monk Tokudo in 718. Bando means "Kanto" or the Eastern Provinces, which center on Tokyo. The pilgrims visited 33 holy sites related to Kannon Bohisattva. This was forgotten for a time, but rediscovered in 988 AD by Emperor Kazan (aka Emperor Hanayama, 968-1008 AD). The story is that Kannon Bosatsu appeared to Emperor Kazan in a dream, saying "I have divided into 33 bodies throughout the eight provinces of the Bando area, and a pilgrimage to these 33 sites will bring release from suffering."

Satake-ji is the 22nd stop in the Bando pilgrimage. This temple also has an interesting connection to the story I will tell in my next post.

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As we approached Mito, the sunset was spectacular. A paraglider was somehow finding lift along a river bed and no doubt had the "best seat in the house".

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Crossing Naka River - Mito City skyline.


The spiraling tower ahead is Art Tower Mito which is covered in triangular titanium panels and rises to 100 meters (328 feet). It was built in 1989 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mito officially being a city.

From Mito, home is only an hour away, where Momo the Wonder Dog was waiting patiently for her dinner.

16 comments:

YD said...

i like the paraglider photo the best. lucky chap... he/she must have been immersed by the spectacular sight!

our autumn here went by a bit too quickly n now trees are bald. :-(

PinkPanther said...

Reading your lately posts and seeing those beautiful autumn leaves pictures, just can’t help to plan my trip to Kyoto or somewhere in Japan on next year.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Pink Panther, if you want to see Autumn leaves you'd probably be better off going further north...but you'd better hurry. The Tohoku (northeastern) area of Japan would normally be under a meter or two of snow by now. The fact that it isn't just underscores how messed up our weather has become. At any rate, the snows are bound to come soon up there.

Mito...I was just there today...for an insane bout of Christmas shopping...

Anonymous said...

Would you do me a huge favor, please?
Would you drop by my Blogger's Calendar and let me know what you think of the layout. It is just the pixs that will appear on each page, I haven't added the calendar yet, but I will. The only picture missing is Mike In Philly (March) and he promised to send it tomorrow.
http://hillscalendar.blogspot.com/

Pandabonium said...

yd - I had a flying instructor on Maui years ago who would stop in the middle of a late afternoon lesson, turn the airplane to the West and watch the sunset. Really was an awesome viewpoint.

PP - For all its development and population density, Japan has lots of places that are full of natural beauty. Glad you like the pics.

MM - Merry Christmas.

HCG - done. calendar of blogger friends - great idea.

Happysurfer said...

Pandabonium, an interesting read, as usual. Love the pictures especially the red maple leaves. The plant in the first picture is very interesting.

You mentioned about sect. Can you elaborate? Is sect still an important feature in Japan?

Best wishes to you and K for a Merry Christmas.

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Happy. The plant you are referring to is called myscanthus - native to Japan and some other asian countries. The Japanese call it silver grass. Americans - like me - often mistake it for pampas grass which is a native of Brazil.

Just as in Christianity, there are many sects, or branches, of Buddhism. They are differentiated by their practices and beliefs, often stemming from the part of the Buddhist teachings that they find to be of primary importance.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century and made a state religion by Prince Shotoku.

Tendai (Chinese Tantric Buddhism), and the Shingon sect I mention in this post came to Japan in 805 and 806 from China. There are 13 different sects in Japan today, each with sub-sects.

Originally, Buddhism was only for those of high status. In time, priests such as Honen of the Jodo Sect, Shinran whose teaching led to the Jodo Shin sect, and Nichiren, popularized Buddism and brought to the lay people. These three priests lived in the 12th and 13th centuries. Naturally, as these sects welcomed ordinary people, they became the largest Buddhist organizations in Japan.

There is a pretty good (concise and readable) article on the subject here: Japanese Buddhism.

Happy Christmas to you.

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QUASAR9 said...

Hi Pacific Islander,
I'm over from HC Gal's calendar
Great blog, love the pics.

Season greetings, wishing you and your loved ones all the best for the festive season!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Originally, Buddhism was only for those of high status.

If you don't mind my chiming in here, Pandabonium, the Tendai and Shingon sects of Buddhism were not only imported from China early in the Heian period (794 to 1185), but they helped define it. Tendai in particular quickly became dominant during this era. Yes, it was a tantric form of Buddhism, and Shingon even more so, but what really distinguished both of them from earlier sects was the way they viewed enlightenment.

The forms of Buddhism prevalent in Japan until the end of the 8th century all maintained that it was impossible for one to achieve enlightenment during his lifetime. Instead, one practiced Buddhism in hopes of being born into a higher level in his next life. Therefore, members of the aristocracy were considered more enlightened by default simply because they were "higher-born". That was why Buddhist practice was largely restricted to the higher classes; there wasn't much point in preaching to the common people because they were still too far from Nirvana.

Tendai and Shingon changed all that by claiming that anyone could achieve enlightenment at any time if he lived properly and observed the correct Buddhist practices. (Of course, what constituted "correct practices" differed between the two sects.) That made class irrelevant, at least in theory. In truth, Buddhism still remained mainly in the hands of the aristocracy during that period simply because they were the ones with the means to construct temples and finance priests. As Panda-B pointed out, it wasn't until Honen, Shinran, and Nichren started preaching to the common people in the 12th and 13th centuries that the religion became universally common.

(Actually, as radical as Nichiren was in many ways, he was still very much a Tendai loyalist struggling against the "Pure Land" sects of Honen and Shinran as well as Zen. He wasn't too fond of either of those...)

YD said...

Thanks panda and moody for the comprehensive explanation. I just decided to put in some opinion about the discussion of enlightenment. Just my two pence...

Focusing too much on how to get enlightenment may become a form of obsession, in another word, attachment to the sutra/ philosophy.

I would prefer to see Buddhism as a way of living rather than a must-do to get enlightenment. Afterall, according to the teachings, enlightenment would come to those who let go, not those who pursue it.

Have a merry xmas! C u when i m back!

Pandabonium said...

Moody- thanks. In adddition, an ordinary person would have been unable to become educated enough to study, and/or would engage in all kinds of activities that would preclude enlightenment - hunting, eating meat, etc. Some of Honen's followers were Samurai.

Shinran in particular opened the way for lay people (he was originally a Tendai priest), by saying that anyone could be assured of acceptance into the Pure Land (from where one was assured enlightment) by placing one's faith in Amida Buddha and reciting the nembutsu (Amida's name).

Nichiren wasn't much fond of anyone.

YD - You've got it. That is precisely what Shinran Shonin taught (St. Shinran). He said that all such efforts at enlightment are "self power", based on attachment to our own goodness, and therefore counter productive. When Amida Buddha took 48 vows to become a Buddha, the 18th was this: "If, when I attain Buddhahood, sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, desire to be born in my land, and call my Name, even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect Enlightenment. Excluded, however, are those who commit the five gravest offences and abuse the right Dharma."

This is called the "primal vow" and is the basis of all Pure Land sects but is of paramount importance in Jodo and Jodo Shin teachings.

Emeror Gotoba, in an attempt to stamp out this populist movement, executed four of Honen's deciples and banished Honen and Shinran from Kyoto, stripping Shinran of his priesthood. (He did this really because he was pissed that two of his concubines had decided to go study Jodo while he was out of town). This proved ironic, as Shinran spent many years travelling around Japan spreading the teachings far and wide. (For some time Shinran lived right here in Ibaraki where he wrote one of his most important works.) Honen was sent to Tosa, on Shikoku Island, and was also able to further spread his influence.

So, your point well taken YD and echoes that of Honen and Shinran over eight hundred years ago.


Have a wonderful holiday.

Don Snabulus said...

Once again, thank you for your wonderful pictures and insights.
Enjoy the holidays!

Pandabonium said...

Happy holidays to you too Snabby.

Pandabonium said...

Quasar9 - thanks for the visit. I like your blog a lot too. Happy Holidays.

Snabby - thank you for your support. Happy holidays to you and yours.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Yes, YD hit the nail square on the head. (She's good at that.)

Interesting and ironic, then, that Nichiren's main gripe against both Pure Land and Zen was his almost obsessive devotion to the Lotus Sutra. He was guilty of precisely what YD is talking about...but that obsession helped him spawn a whole new branch of Buddhism...one of which has its own political party!