2007/10/12

Katsu! or How to Make a Zen Vacuum Cleaner

Fifth in a series that began with Road Trip (Railroad That Is), continued with Putting On Airs followed by The Pirates of Ashinoko and Dîner Français and the First Kamakura Shogun

As we left Hachimangu Shrine, we walked up Kamakura-kaido Street, past the Prefectural Modern Art museum annex. This street is part of an ancient highway network that was built to connect Kamakura with Kyoto and other parts of Japan.
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The first gate "Somon" was built in 1783 in Kyoto and brought to Kenchoji in 1943

The next stop on our sightseeing adventure was Kenchoji, an important Zen training center that was founded by Hojo Tokiyori (1227-1263) - fifth Regent of Kamakura and Zen follower - in 1253. Minamoto Yoritomo's wife Masako who was mentioned in the previous post about this trip was from the Hojo clan. They took over the Shogunate following the turbulent times which ensued upon Yoritomo's death. The temple is the oldest Zen temple in Kamakura and one of the oldest in all of Japan. It was operated by Chinese monks who came to Japan to escape the repression of the Mongolians who had invaded China. As with many temples in Japan, the buildings have been the victims of fire over the years and have been rebuilt at various times.

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The 30 meter high Sanmon gate - rebuilt in 1775

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The main bell, cast in 1255



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This is the Butsuden (main hall for worship). I found it quite interesting because it was built in Tokyo for the purpose of memorial services for the wife of Hidetada Tokugawa (1579-1632), the Second Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and brought to Kenchoji in 1647. Also, it was constructed for a Jodo sect temple, so the architecture is much more ornate that one usually sees at a Zen temple. Another curious fact is that the statue(s) within it is of Jizo Bosatsu - the bodhisattva who helps children and others who are lost in hell to find their way to nirvana. Jizo is perhaps the most popular Bodhisattva in Japan, but is not commonly the focus of worship in Zen temples. In this case it was done because the grounds were once a place where criminals were executed and Jizo is there to help those who were killed cruelly or who were innocent.

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This is the Karamon gate which leads to the "Hojo" - Chief priest's quarters. It was brought here along with the main hall in 1647 and was only used for receiving special emissaries. Even now, it is only used on special occasions and one enters the Hojo through a door off to one side.

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Inside the Hojo looking back at the Karamon gate. The tall building behind the gate in this picture is the lecture hall, or Hatto, which was built in 1814 and is dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu, the Bodhisattva of Infinite Mercy.


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This part of the Hojo is where Zazen (sitting meditation) sessions are held for the laity.

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The garden designed by Priest Soseki Muso (1275-1351). The building on the right contains offices and guest rooms.


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On the way back out, we saw monks gathering at the Hatto (Lecture Hall). The giant cypress trees in the background of the above picture were planted by Priest Rankei, the founding priest, who brought the seeds from China. The trees are known to have been there since at least 1331.

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As we got closer to the Hatto, the monks were filing in through a side door.

Then we were treated to another fascinating and colorful sight.
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As we rounded the corner of the building, a VIP - perhaps a visiting Abott - was entering the front of the Hatto in his beautiful gold robes and red slippers, being shaded by an attendant with a red umbrella. No doubt he would be speaking to the assembly of monks. Martin, of Kurashi - News from Japan fame, spent a year training in a Zen temple. He informs me that such visits called for a great deal of temple cleaning and attention to detail down to the arrangement of the food and tea offered to the VIP. Yet, when engaged in conversation, they were always delightful people to speak with.

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On the way out, we stopped at the temple store and got t-shirts. Mine (above) says "Katsu", a word with no meaning that Zen priests shout at their students, often accompanied by a blow with a stick, to break their train of thought and thus help them to a deeper understanding of a koan. At least that's what I hear. I hope Martin will correct me if I've been misinformed.

Oh, I almost forgot. How do you make a Zen vacuum cleaner? Easy. Just lose all the attachments!

21 comments:

ladybug said...

Fascinating! Looks like the grounds are quite extensive. I love the big trees...some Catholic "missions" in the area,(Verboort, St. Mary's of the Valley School) have Redwood-lined Avenues, most planted about 150 years ago.

I've also read a book years ago by a Dutch (now American) author of his experience in Japan in the 1950's....The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery by Janwillem van de Wetering

It made me want to go to Japan (although NOT become a Buddhist/stay in a convent necessarily) when I was a teenager, although I'm sure my experience would be very different even then....

The Moody Minstrel said...

That was enjoyable!

I've often contemplated doing what Martin did. If I didn't have kids and a regular job...

Zen vacuum cleaner? How about a Zen bass trombone?

Pandabonium said...

Ladybug - The grounds are extensive and there are several outlying sub-temples on them which I did not visit. The largest of the cypress there has a trunk 2 meters in diameter.

I'm not familiar with that book. Sounds very interesting. Japan is always changing and you experience would no doubt have been somewhat different. When I first visited this area in 1987, there were a fraction of the present day homes, and infrastructure. But other things change much more slowly - like Buddhism.

Moody - thanks.

Zen practice is not easy and though it has a certain appeal to me too, I don't think I could manage it.
The Jodo-shinshu tradition I am more familiar with grew out of everyday people's embrace of the religion, as well as a different philosophical emphasis and is not so demanding in that regard.

The Zen bass trombone is much more difficult. To lose the f-attachment requires a lot of practice.

Martin J Frid said...

Wonderful post with many interesting details. I didn't realize that they would move buildings from temples of one school to another. Sounds reasonable of course.

Perhaps they decided to put that magnificient gate at a Kamakura temple, rather than keep it in Edo, where it might have been damaged by fire. Wood is such a lovely material, except for the fire risk. At the temple where I trained, the roshi was constantly reminding us to be careful about fire...

Pandabonium said...

Martin - thank you. I too was amazed that they moved buildings from temples of other sects, and also during the middle of WWII.

So sad that wooden structures were set ablaze in wars (the most prevalent cause of their destruction) - bad enough by accident.

I remember touring the Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto in 1987. The main building is enormous with a tile roof that weighs 300 tons, and the pillars are made from huge single tree trunks which today are irreplaceable as trees that large no longer exist in Japan.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

These are lovely photos as usual and lots of anecdotes. A vaccuum cleaner - the mind boggles at that one. The vaccuum in my head or what?
w

Pandabonium said...

Wendy - Thanks, we really enjoyed the temple for its interesting history and beauty. well, the joke is just that people practice Zen to lose or free themselves from attachments, the cause of suffering according to Buddhism. Vacuum cleaners have attachments too so...

Oh well, maybe the joke sucks. :^)

Don Snabulus said...

Muso has a nice course, but the water hazard overshadows the green (golf joke from a non-golfer).

Pandabonium said...

Snabby - Har har. I be the monks yell Katsu! when their ball lands in the water hazard.

ladybug said...

As for the vacuum attachments...I end up using them more than the vacuum by itself....or a broom...don't know what than on a metaphysical level....either have to use the "attachments" or go back to the "Simple Life"? (thanks Paris!..NOT! HA HA)

But on a practical level, maybe I just have a crummy vacuum

Happysurfer said...

Awesome pictures these are, PandaB. I'll read the text later. I just have to come over and say hi after that cute comment you left about sending the two gentlemen on a never-ending orbit - for any price. lol

Pandabonium said...

Ladybug - I'm not sure I want to explore that comment...

Happysurfer - glad you like the pics and the comment. I meant it! ;^)

Swinebread said...

They these reminds me of my short time in Kyoto... so peaceful....

Those Hojo folks sure made the Japanese realize what they didn't want for sure…

Pandabonium said...

Swinebread - Yeah, for about 200 years. But then, human history is full of rulers nobody wanted.

QUASAR9 said...

Awesome, amazing in this mad consumer age, when we are busy chasing our tails to purchase the latest gadget, we soon won't have time to use, ...

there are still places of such beauty, serenity, peace, quiet and inner & outer stillness.

QUASAR9 said...

When I saw the title
I thought here we go
When I saw the ending
I thought "Dyson, eat your heart out"

Pandabonium said...

Quasar9 - it really is amazing to witness the contrast of modern Japan with these enclaves of ancient wisdom and peace. And yet, even in the city, the influence of such places is not wholly lost.

And I wish you would "enlighten" me, oh wise one of things astronomical and British, how did the phrase "Dyson, eat your heart out" originate?

Robin said...

Thanks for a wonderful review.

And I love all the pics.

Zen is indeed a wonderful expression of mindfulness, wisdom and compassion.

Pandabonium said...

Robin - thanks for visiting and the comments. Yes, Zen is one of many paths on the journey that is Buddhism.

Olivia said...

I like Chicken KATSU Curry!

Pandabonium said...

Olivia - different "katsu", but perhaps the chicken cries "katsu!" just as it is slaughtered. :^P