On the slopes of Mount Wakakusa in Nara you’ll find the Nigatsudo (二月堂), one of the auxiliary tamples of the great Taodaiji (where you’ll find the great buddha of Nara). It was built in 752 but the original building burned down in 1667, so the present building is only about 350 years old. The main building of the temple holds two large buddha statues but as these “hibutsu”, or secret buddha, they are never shown to the public. On the 12th of March every year the temple holds a large service that I have yet to see in person.
The Ikegami Honmomji temple in Tokyo’s Ota Ward is one of the biggest in Tokyo. It was founded in 1282 but the buildings have been rebuilt several times since that, especially after the big bombing raid in March 1945 where most of the temple burnt down. It is the home of the Nichiren sect of Japanese Buddhism and has several large festival in Nichiren’s honor every year. I took these photos after the spring festival last month, which centered on the 17th century pagoda on the temple grounds. An interesting detail of the temple is the memorial stone to the sloop of war, the USS Oneida, which sank outside Yokosuka to the south of Tokyo in 1870. 115 sailors including the captain Commander Edward P. Williams. 61 sailors were rescued by local fishermen. Four of the officers were buried at the foreigner’s cemetery in Yokohama. A local wrecking company bought the wreck from the US government in 1872 and recovered many of the other dead. The bodies were given to the Honmonji temple monks for burial and in 1889 they received a proper ceremony and a memorial, paid for by the wrecking company owners. I have heard that the descendants of the wreckage company owners are still the legal owners of the wreck and the cargo it carried which was never recovered. The wreck is rumored to hold quite a treasure of gold and silver bars that the US government had received in payment for selling arms and gunpowder to the Japanese government.
One of the most important buddhist temples of Kamakura is the historic Jufukuji, founded in the year 1200 A.D. by the monk Myoan Eisei who studied philosophy in China before founding zen buddhism and revolutionizing the Japanese attitudes to green tea (he wrote of the health benefits which were later proved by modern science). The main temple building, which is not open to the public, was rebuilt in the 1750′s, but the charmingly moss covered cemetery is open and even holds a small almost hidden path to a nice park nearby.
The last photos of last week’s spring festival and peace prayer at Ikegami’s Honmonji here in Tokyo. The monks file past the firefighters as the rain starts falling. From a purely selfish perspective I was lucky to have a little bit of rain, as it means fewer people attending and it makes it easier to get clear shots of everything that happens in the festivals. When the weather is great the crowds quickly grow! I am really in awe of the spirit of duty in Japanese firefighters. The oldest serving firefighter I have ever met must have been well into his eighties but still taking part in the vital tasks where age is not an issue, he was helping the police cordon off no-go areas after the earthquake in March 2011. Since then I have really started following these firefighters and their performances with the matoi poles and the ladder acrobatics.
I will tell a little bit about the temple itself in once more post this weekend, so stay tuned!