I don’t know if it has been fully expressed or if most of you dear readers have noticed already, but a large part of this blog is not about the fantastic, but rather the details of Japan, the small things that you’d miss if you didn’t know about it, or the places, streets, back buildings and lesser known festivals you’d never visit as a casual tourist or even as a native of this great country. Tokyobling is as much about details and hidden places (although – hidden in plain view) as the grand, large, cool and fantastic. Take this post for example. Who in their right mind, with a blog that received thousands of visitors every day, would blog about a small temple in a suburb that no one ever visits in a small town that hardly draws the big crowds? Tokyobling – that’s who! Your purveyor of the ordinary!
Myosenji is a very local temple that is happily advertising their main business – the leasing of funeral plots and funeral services (which is true of most local Buddhist temples in Japan), hardly marked out even on local maps and absolutely not on anything a tourist might ever look out. For some reason I was drawn to it, certain that there must be something interesting if only I looked hard enough. Sure, the temple is above-average in terms of grooming and quite well kept. There is even an interesting tombstone commemorating the war dead of the Imperial Army Artillery! Not a common find at all! The mausoleum next to it is built to correspond to the large tree giving the roof an interesting shape. But even that is not enough to warrant a Tokyobling post, until you take a closer look at the Buddhist statuary (the usual demons and guardians protecting the entrance to heaven and hell), and beyond that, to the small granite guardian statues of… Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Hello Kitty. Did I miss a hidden Buddhist meaning in the works of Sanrio and Disney? Who know. Still, I’m glad I found it, and glad I could show it to you, because in a million years, I promise that no readers of this blog would ever chance to pay a visit to the beautiful little secret that is Myosenji, in Odawara City, Kangawa Prefecture, Japan.
Last week on a rainy Saturday I visited Kenchoji temple in Kamakura for the first time in five years. There’s been a lot of construction going on in the temple are since that and they opened up the temple park at the back which goes all the way up to the mountains (it was being remade when I was there last). It is famous as one of the five great zen temples in the world and certainly one of the oldest, being completed in 1253 the same year as Henry III’s Magna Carta in England. About 120 years ago a school was attached to the temple and it still functions as a junior high and high school for boys. When I was there the baseball team had running practice around the temple, giving for a rather unusual sight of stately monks with shaved heads walking in procession and calm while about 100 young boys also with shaved heads ran at full speed between the buildings, up the mountain and down again. Zen indeed!
Photographing temples is the most amazingly difficult thing you can do here in Japan, I almost never see photos of temples that make them justice, which is why I so seldom write about them here on Tokyobling. Most thing can be made to look better by a good photographer, but temples just seems to resist any attempt. It’s like they are too proud to pose. Of course, it’s the sizes, the constrained spaces around the buildings, the contrasts in lights and shadow, dark materials and bright skies, restricted areas and crowds of tourists that makes it so hard to get decent photos. But it almost feels mystical. After all these years in Japan I still haven’t got a single photo of a temple that I am proud of. These photos are no exception.
The main building, Hatto, of this temple is quite interesting because of it’s fierce statue of a starving buddha and because of the excellent dragon ceiling painting. Through the magic of photoshop I managed to get a shot to show you what the dragon would look like up close at a right angle even though you aren’t allowed inside the temple to get this kind of photo in a more natural manner.