The garden at the Taishakuten really is beautiful. Even on an overcast days as when I visited, muddy pond and drooping leaves and all, it was still gorgeous. As you walk around the garden on the covered and elevated wooden walkways (without your shoes of course!), you’ll discover lots of little alcoves and hidden spots with statues and inscriptions to keep you occupied. I can only imagine the hundreds of years of labor invested in this garden by generations gardeners and architects!
The walled garden at the famous Taishakuten temple in Tokyo is one of my favorites in Japan. To enter you have to take you shoes off and follow the wooden walkways around the garden, there are plenty of hidden spots and little stops you can do to see the garden which seems to change in appearance depending on the angle you view it from.
My favorite part of the Taishakuten temple in Tokyo’s easternmost Shibamata district is the extensive traditional Japanese garden and buildings right next to the main temple building. You need to pay an entrance fee of 400 yen but it is worth all of it. The gardens are surrounded by a covered walkway, and some of the rooms of the temple buildings are open to inspection. There is even a tiny tea machine in one of the rooms if you want something hot or cold to accompany a short meditation on the beauty of Japanese garden tradition!
The Lotus Sutra (or 妙法蓮華経 in Japanese, full name being Sutra on the White Lotus of the Sublime Dharma) is one of the most popular sutras of the largest branch of buddhism, Mahayana. A Sutra is basically a canonical text on the teachings of buddhism and in Mahayana buddhism there are about one hundred of them written in Sanskrit, Chinese or Tibetan. The Lotus Sutra is the main sutra of the Nichiren school of buddhism to which the famous Taishakuten in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward belongs. It was written within a hundred years before or after Year 1 A.D.
One of the great carved panels in the Taishakuten contains a scene taken from the Lotus Sutra’s third chapter, the Parable of the Burning House. It is the story of a wealthy man who is blessed with many children. One days on his way home he finds his children completely concentrated on playing games inside the house even though it has caught fire and threatens to burn down with the children stuck inside. Despite all his cries the children ignore him until he comes up with a clever idea: he calls out to the children that they should come out and have a look at the fun new cars he has brought them; pulled by a deer, a goat, and a bullock! The promise of these novel and unusual draught animals lure the children out of the house and to the safety of their fathers arms. But instead of giving him the novel carts to play with he has prepared on much better cart, gilded, draped in jewelry and pulled by two great white bullocks.
The parable is of course an illustration of the world (a house on fire), the clueless children being humanity and the three carts being examples of how the Buddha offers many neat and clever ways to reach enlightenment but that in the end they all lead to one big common, and much better path, the path to Nirvana. Buddha is like a kind father offering his children shinier toys to make them leave their old fun, but useless toys behind.
Of all the ten different boards of carvings, this one was my favorite. Both the details like the animals and the children, but also how the flames and smoke is rendered in carved wood! The carver who made this was one Master Kijima Koun.