Any foreigner who has spent any time in Japan, and almost all of Japanese school children know of the strange foreigner Lafcadio Hearn (his Japanese name was Koizumi Yakumo, or 小泉八雲), an exceptionally cosmopolitan Irish-Greek intellectual who came to Japan in 1890 as a journalist but quickly had to change career to that of an English language teacher, a fate no doubt shared by many eager young westerners in the present times. His first teaching post in Japan was at a school in Shimane, capital of Shimane Prefecture, which later featured in his famous writings about Japan. Also featured in his writings was this little shrine, the Jozaninarijinja (城山稲荷神社), an Inari shinto shrine at the top of the castle mountain in central Shimane. On his way to school he would often stop and look at the large stone statues of foxed outside the shrine. Hence, it is in my opinion that Lafcadio Hearn generally, and this shrine in particular, could be considered the guardian spirits, or saints, of English teachers in Japan, Japanophiles and even foreign manga lovers! If you consider yourself having ever fitted into one of those categories, take a moment the next time you are in Shimane and throw a coin to the spirits of this shrine!
Here’s a pair of very cute statues of komainu, that you might remember from one of my posts earlier this week, by young artist Yukari Kondo (近藤ゆかり) at Japan Women’s Art University, Joshibi. The title of her work is Aun (阿吽) which is the Japanese way of writing the classical mystic syllable “om” famous from eastern mysticism everywhere! The lion on the right, with the open mouth is said to be forming the “a” of the aun, and the left lion’s closed mouth forms the word “un”. The “a” is the first letter in ancient sanskrit script and “un” is the last, therefore encompassing the whole of existance. In western terms, the phrase “alpha and omega” is familiar to most people (and also being the first and last letters in classical Greek). So there you go, religion, mysticism and art all in one post. I really hope a temple sees her work and exhibit it!
On March 29th I visited the famous Komyoji (temple) in Kamakura just south west of Tokyo. I have been there before and the lull in tourism right now gave me ample time to explore the inner sanctum in total silence. I think even the monks were pleased to see me. At the far corner of the main building I found these two Buddha statues, so different but yet so similar. I think we can learn a lot just from the look on their faces.
Oh, and by the way, this is the 801st blog post on Tokyobling. Pretty good going for a guy like me! And pretty soon a million hits and 5000 comments. Someone (hi!) suggested that I make a book out of this blog. Do you think it would be a good idea? Say, about 250 pages (500 images), full color, hardback coffee table style of book?