2007/11/30

A Peek Inside the Great Buddha's Head

Update to previous post. The Moody Minstrel asked what it was like inside the Kamakura Daibutsu. Well, here's a picture I took in there (see the exterior shots in the previous post for reference points).

I was facing the front of the statue and shooting more or less straight up. The open vents or windows in the back of the statue are behind - toward the top of the frame. But the bars you see is not the window, but is the hand rail of a work scaffold. The view looks up into the statue's head (emptiness!) and you can see the bronze straps which were added to reinforce where it connects to the torso. Also, you see many 'dimples' which are the insides of the 656 "rohotsu" or hair curls on the head.

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When first entering it is very hard to see until your eyes adjust, so you might miss a couple of things as you try to find your way in. One is a seated version of the guardian deity of the Yoritomo family (remember the First Shogun of Kamakura?). There is also an image of Yuten, a priest who restored the temple during the Edo period. A bronze tablet explains the work he accomplished.

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Moody also mentioned a large pair of straw sandals (waraji). I read somewhere they were donated by school children in Ibaraki, but Moody heard they came from Kashima Jingu Shrine. I don't really know. Either way they are from Ibaraki Prefecture and they are big - 2.8 meters long (over 9 feet), the size this statue would wear. A message with the sandals reads "Buddha must surely be tired after sitting there for some 700 years and we would be very pleased if he would wear these sandals when he takes a walk."

Thanks to Moody. As Art Baker and then Jack Smith used to say on American TV when I was a kid, "You Asked For It!"


2007/11/27

All Buddhas Great and Small

Seventh and last in a series that began with Road Trip (Railroad That Is), continued with Putting On Airs followed by The Pirates of Ashinoko , Dîner Français and the First Kamakura Shogun , Katsu! or How to Make a Zen Vacuum Cleaner, and Engakuji - Honoring One's Enemies.

After we left Engakuji, we walked to the nearby Kita-Kamakura (North kamakura) Station and caught a train to the main station of the city then switched to the Enoshima Line for Hase, in the southwest part of Kamakura City.

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It was lunch time when we arrived, so a block from the station we found a nice soba restaurant and after a short wait enjoyed an excellent lunch. The restaurant was right on the corner of the main street and the short side street leading to Kaikozan Jisho-in Hase-dera (Hasedera temple for short).

Unlike Kenchoji and Engakuji which are Rinzai Zen temples, Hasedera is of the Jodo sect. In Jodo Buddhism, one does not engage in strict practices as is done by Zen followers, but rather entrusts enlightenment to the power of Amida, the Buddha of infinite light and life who resides in a place called the "Pureland", and Jodo followers express this entrusting by repeating the name of Amida "namo amida butsu" many times. Jodo Shu, one of many "Pure Land" sects, is based on the Amida Sutra which tells of the 48 vows which Amida, once known as Dharmakara Bodhisattva, took in order to become a Buddha. Buddhahood would only be attained if all 48 vows were fulfilled. The 18th vow, also called the Primal Vow, reads, "If I were to become a Buddha, and people, hearing my Name, have faith and joy and recite it for even ten times, but were not born into my Pureland, may I not gain enlightenment."

Since Amida did become a Buddha, all the vows have been fulfilled. Therefore, according to Jodo teaching, which was founded by Honen Shonin (1133-1212), anyone who sincerely places their enlightenment in the hands of Amida and recites his name is assured of a place in the Pureland and thereby will attain enlightenment. This religion and the related Jodo Shinshu sect that Honen's desciple Shiran Shonin (1173-1263) taught, became very widespread in Japan during the 13th century as it brought the religion to ordinary people. These are still the largest sects in Japan today.

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Entrance to Hasedera

Hasedera's history is much older than Jodo Shu however. Legend has it that in 711, a priest in Nara whose name was Tokudo, had two images of the 11 headed Bodhisattva of Compassion, "Kannon", carved from a single camphor tree. One of the images was installed in a temple there. The other was thrown into the sea with the wish that it would find its way to people in need of Kannon's help.

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Kannon

Continuing this legend now from the book "Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan" by Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904):

"Now the statue floated to Kamakura. And there arriving by night it shed a great radiance all about it as if there were sunshine upon the sea; and the fishermen of Kamakura were awakened by the great light; and they went out in boats, and found the statue floating and brought it to shore. And the Emperor ordered that a temple should be built for it, the temple called Shin-haseidera, on the mountain called Kaiko-San, at Kamakura." And so, this temple claims to have been founded in 736.

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Main Hall, Kannon-do that houses the statue of the eleven headed Kannon, which, at over 9 meters (30 feet) tall, is the largest wooden statue of Kannon in Japan.

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Hasedera's bell, cast in 1264


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A thousand statues of the Bodhisattva Jizo (Jizo Bosatsu), spiritual guardian of children, both alive and dead, including stillborn babies and aborted fetuses.
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View of the Kamakura coast and Sagami Bay from Hasedera

There is also a tunnel one may enter to view a statue of Amida, however, that was closed during our visit as they were working on the tunnel.

Outside the temple again, we saw this rickshaw. I tried to hire this young lady to take me up the street to our next stop, but she suggested I could probably use some exercise and should walk.
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Rickshaw Driver - Don't know how she works in that long skirt.


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Taisenkaku

On the street below Hasedera is an old hotel, Taisenkaku. It was built in 1904 and is the oldest building of its kind in Kamakura and has been designated an important architectural asset of the city. It still operates today.

We headed up the main street again toward one of the most famous statues in Japan, the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha of Kamakura, which appears on postcards, and in books and travel advertisements the world over.

The temple's name is Taiizan Kotokuin Shojosenji (Kotokuin for short) and it too is part of the Jodo sect.
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There was a wooden statue and large building to house it built here in 1243. In 1252 construction of a guilded bronze version was started, but records are vague as to who was in charge or when it was completed. The large wooden hall was damaged by earthquakes and storms many times and then was washed away completely by a tsunami in the late 1400's, leaving the statue out in the open as it is to this day. Construction was quite an engineering as well as artistic feat, as the finished statue weighs 93 tons. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 moved the statue froward almost two feet. Being exposed to the elements has also taken a toll on its condition and it has had some repair work done on the bronze shell itself.

The Buddha image represents Amida and the face is beautifully sculpted. One can still see traces of gold here and there, in spite of the weathering. It is 12.3 meters (over 40 feet high), but rather than being an imposing powerful looking figure, the peaceful face makes it seem welcoming and calm.

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How does a big bronze Buddha stay cool on a hot August day? Vents in the back provide some relief. We went inside the statue and the temperature wasn't bad at all.

Kamakura gets lots of visits by students, on field trips studying the history of Japan. I had the feeling K had been here before...

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Along the road we passed a few Hawaii themed stores. This one, Cafe Hula, is across from the train station.

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Before leaving Kamakura for home, we walked the length of Komachi-dori Street which is lined with shops selling art, clothing, wood carvings, and of course, souvenirs. It looked like business was good. K found some gifts to bring home for family and friends (such gifts are called "miyage" in Japan).

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I didn't need another towel - tenugui - but this shop would have been the right place to find one. Every wall was lined with shelves of them.

Omiyage shopping over, we headed for the train station to retrieve our bags and start the journey home. And that, gentle reader, brings us to the end of the journey and of my story. We'd seen and learned a lot in three days and two nights and made many memories that we will hold and share for years to come.

2007/11/24

Alas! Poor Nemo, I Knew Him, Horatio...

We went to Mito City (capital of our fair prefecture, Ibaraki) recently, to visit the immigration office and submit my papers for extending my visa - how time flies! I've been in Japan as a resident for three years already, and while the beautiful people and islands of Fiji still beckon me, I'd like permission to stay here a while longer. Besides, I can reside in Japan AND visit Fiji.

K took me for lunch at a seafood restaurant a bit out of the center of town that she discovered while visiting a student in hospital a few weeks back. It turned out to be a "Red Lobster" and she was surprised to learn that it was a US chain that started in Florida. We had a very nice lunch, and the chef even let me substitute a white fish in sauce for the pork that was part of the salmon special that day. (I never knew before that there were "pigs of the sea".)

In the parking lot there was a sad moment, however, as we recognized Nemo on the dash board of a Honda.

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Alas, poor Nemo, I ate him, Horatio - at Red Lobster in Mito City!

2007/11/20

Be Thankful for Dreamers

John F Kennedy was a dreamer. He was martyred on November 22nd, 1963, and this year the USA holiday of Thanksgiving falls on this day.

Another dreamer and martyr, killed (December 8, 1980) by the same forces, left us this song. Simple, beautiful, profound. Imagine:



I won't accept greed, hate, and especially war. I am a dreamer. Are you?


2007/11/17

The Earth Also Rises

More pictures from "Kaguya" (Selene) in polar lunar orbit -

This time, JAXA released HDTV pictures of the Earth appearing to rise over the Moon's north pole. Click the pics below to see the full sized versions:

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In this series of pictures one sees the Earth as setting as the Kaguya satellite went over the Moon's south pole.

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To a person on the surface of the moon, the Earth does not rise or set, but stays in the same position in the sky. This is because the rotation of the Moon matches its orbit around the Earth - once every 27 days, 7 hours, and 43 minutes i.e. it rotates on its axis once in the same amount of time that it takes to orbit the Earth which keeps the same side facing us all of the time. The reason that is so is that the moon has an unsymmetrical distribution of mass and Earth's gravitational field holds the more massive hemisphere of the Moon facing the Earth.

So it is only from lunar orbit that one can see a lunar "Earth rise" or "Earth set".

Go to this Kaguya (Selene) webpage to watch a video clip of Earth rise from lunar orbit, and this webpage to watch video of the Earth setting. (You'll have to provide your own music - cue up Also sprach Zarathustra.)

I hope these pictures - as the pictures of Earth from space taken by Bill Anders on Apollo 8 did nearly 29 years ago - awaken a new generation to our true situation on "spaceship Earth". There is no "Plan B", no life boat, no second chance.

Trivia: While Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" may be great music (it is one of very few rock albums I actually enjoy listening to), there is in fact no permanently "dark side of the Moon" any more than there is a dark side of the Earth, only the "back side" of the Moon, never seen from Earth, but which does experience day and night.


2007/11/12

Mums - On Target

Note: Most of the pictures can be clicked to show a larger version of the image.

Each year, throughout the month of November, our major Shinto shrine, Kashima Jingu, displays chrysanthemums. Stands of them line the main path leading to the gate. On weekends, parents bring young children, dressed in their best clothes of either Western or Japanese style. The kids are often given bags of candy called chitose-ame, or "longevity candy", for November 15th is Shichi-go-san - literally "7, 5, 3" - a day for parents to pray at the shrine for the health and longevity of their children at those ages.

We decided to have a look at the mums on Sunday. As often is the case for us with Kashima Jingu, there was a pleasant surprise in store for us. In this case, we stumbled upon a non-publicized event that was rich in Japanese history and culture.

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This praying mantis came in for a close up view of a prize winning blossom.

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We saw this group of archers entering the shrine and decided to follow them.

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There were quite a few children there too, all dressed up for Shichi-go-san.

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A little girl poses in front of the worship hall holding her bag of chitose-ame candy.

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The archers stopped in front of the worship hall for a prayer.

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A priest officiates

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Meanwhile, these little guys (I call them the Three Musketeers) were using their fans as drumsticks and rapping out rhythms on modern metal monuments and ancient wooden shrine buildings alike to hear what it sounded like.


When the archers left the haiden, K came over and asked me, "don't you want to follow them?" Well, yeah (I'm not so swift at times.) So we did, and they quietly moved off into the woods to a little visited area where there is an archery range. As we got reached the area, I hung back as K approached one of the shrine's helpers to ask if we could watch. We were given permission and a woman in kimono beckoned us to an area to one side of the range where we could see both the archers and their target. There were only about six people, including ourselves, watching. The clouds occasionally sent down a light mist and a gentle breeze rustled the surrounding trees and bamboo. The only other sound was that of birds calling.

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The first archer came forward from the group and kneeled. He went through a lengthy ritual of loosening parts of his kimono, putting on his glove, receiving his bow, addressing the target area and so on, until he was ready to shoot. The proceedings were all done in slow motion almost as in a dream. I think he must have been the instructor for the group, or senior member. He had a special arrow with a large wooden head made to whistle as it flies. His shot was to signal the beginning of the event and was fired, not at a target (which had yet to be hung), but at a tarp where the target would be placed. He hit it dead center. (Of course.)

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Japanese archery is called "Kyudo" which means "the way of the bow" and is a popular sport here and also practiced around the world. I have written of it before, as one of K's students was a high school champion in the art, in the post titled (oddly enough) "The Way of the Bow". (See also the post "Yabusame" about the art of archery on horseback). The event we were watching this day was not however a regular competition, but rather appeared, due to the clothing and ritual motions, to be more of a religious one for the shrine. In public competitions the clothing is much more simple and practical and the shooting is done much more quickly, though all the same principles of Kyudo are observed. As I have felt before at Kashima Jingu, save for a few electric lights, it felt as though we had been transported several hundreds of years back in time.

A target was secured over the tarp. I'm not sure what the distance was. Typically, Kyudo targets are 28 meters from the archer, but sometimes 21 meters is used. With the target up, two archers came forward who would take turns shooting at the target. I made a video clip of one of them as he fired his arrow. I hope you enjoy it. It runs 3 minutes 40 seconds. Be sure to listen as well as watch to get the full effect of what it was like to be there.



The voice you hear at the end is from the judging stand near the target. A person raises a stick with a pompom on it to indicate a hit and announces it.

After the next archer had released his arrow, we quietly took our leave and headed back, bowing our thanks to those who had allowed us to share in this experience that so few people were witnessing.

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A little girl clings to her dad as he snaps a shot of her brother and mom in front of the haiden.


While we were leaving the shrine and walking the two blocks to the car, more rain began to fall, still gently, but ever more steadily, adding to the quiet, peaceful atmosphere as we let the events of the day and our good fortune sink in.

2007/11/08

Top Of The Moon

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) has taken the first ever High Definition Television pictures of the moon. The images were taken by the Kaguya (aka SELENE) satellite (which I reported about earlier) from an altitude of just 100 kilometers (62 miles), as Kaguya came over the North Pole of the Moon.

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Here are three frames from the video. The amount of detail is stunning. The first image below is from a video taken within one degree of the North Pole in the "Oceanus Procellarum" - the dark area in the northern left part of the moon as we see it from Earth. Note how the angle of the sunlight at the pole makes for long shadows. Do click on the pictures to see much larger versions. I find them absolutely breathtaking.

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The second picture was taken as KAGUYA flew from the south to the north on the western side of the "Oceanus Procellarum." The dark area on the right is the Ocean and the light area on the left is called the Highland. The Ocean is dark because it is made of solidified magma.

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The next picture is from the second segment taken in the west side of the "Oceanus Procellarum". The crater in the center foreground is called "Repsold" which has a diameter of 107 km (66.5 miles). The channel which crosses it is called the Repsold Valley.

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To watch the video clips, click here (not HDTV quality on your screen of course, but spectacular all the same):

(The clips run one after the other on the same screen.)

The SELENE Mission website is here:
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