Some more photos of the nearly 400 years old Gokokuji temple in Tokyo’s culture rich Bunkyo ward. I took these a few weeks ago and the trees have yet to shoot any leaves but it was a brilliant day and I seldom pass the area so I took my chance. The tample is located on a simply huge piece of land for being central Tokyo and if you take of your shoes you are free to enjoy the stillness, the sounds and the smells of the main temple building.
Few temples in the Japanese capital manage what the grand Gokokuji in Bunkyo ward manages – it gives its name to a subway station: The Gokokuji Station on the Yurakucho line. Exiting from the station the temple is right in front of you and it is hard to miss either of the grand gates leading up to the main temple building. As usual with these huge temple compounds, a big part has been given over to more modern endeavors, offices and car parks, but the upper part remains impressive. The temple itself was founded in 1681 by the fifth shogun and is one of the few temple buildings in the capital that survived all earthquakes and bombing raids unscathed. The temple compound might not look like much in the winter, but come summer the whole compound looks much better with trees full of leaves and life. More images to come, and more details on what is found here.
If you are in Tokyo this weekend and not interested in the massive Kawagoe festival taking place in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo I recommend visiting the far smaller but almost as crowded Oeshiki ceremony at Kishibojin in Zoshigaya, a 10 minute walk south of Ikebukuro station. Kishibojin temple is one of those religious mysteries of which there are so many in Japan. Even the name is unclear as it changes from different maps and signs, and it is a hybrid Shrine/Temple celebrating Oeshiki which is a distinctly buddhist ceremony a week later than all the other Oeshiki ceremonies, it is officially called a shrine but it has no torii gate but a small Inarijinja. I have visited dozens of times but I still haven’t unravelled this one. More studies needed!
Yesterday when I took these photos was the first evening of the three night event. Tonight and tomorrow will be much bigger with thousands of people taking part and as many onlookers crowding the narrow streets leading up to Kishibojin temple. Like at the Oeshiki in the main Nichiren temple in Ikegami last week, there are lots of matoi dancers as well as the larger mando. It is considered good luck to touch one of the white paper flowers and you can even buy them to decorate your home altar at a small stand inside the temple, but unlike the main ceremony in Ikegami touching them is not encouraged and I have never seen anyone doing it, so it is probably better to ask before reaching out and getting some of that good luck!
Photographing this even it extremely difficult, fast moving, dark and quite introverted this is not a photogenic festival despite all the fantastic things going on! Also, if you are into amezaiku the man at Zoshigaya this weekend is really talented. Also, while visiting the festival you can check out what is probably the oldest kiosk in continuous operation in the world, having started in 1781!
The best way to enjoy a visit to a temple or a shrine in my opinion is to go for the details. Just like older western Churches, temples and shrines in Japan (and indeed in the rest of Asia as well) are absolutely loaded with details all of which carries tons of symbolism and meaning. Most Japanese can’t actually “read” these details either (it is not a lost skill, as these details have long been the domain of specialists and professionals). I have always thought it interesting in Japanese that there is one word for “leg” that covers everything from the hipjoint to the big toe, but there is also a very specific name for each part of the spire on top of a pagoda, with incredible detail. Every time I visit a temple in Japan I learn something new about the symbolism or naming of the different parts of it. Sometimes I take a lot of photos of details to remember them, like with this temple that I visited in Matsue City in Shimane Prefecture, the Senjuin (千手院). This temple is on the slopes of a hill neatly placed to overlook the city and the castle that makes the city famous. The temple belongs to the oldest and largest of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. I was too late in the season to experience the famous weeping cherry blossom tree (shidare sakura) which is over 200 years old. The temple itself is very old but it was moved here in the 19th century after a large fire burned down the original buildings in 1678. If you visit Matsue City and have a bit of free time and the weather is good I recommend visiting this temple if nothing else than for the news.
A few of the interesting details on this temple was the elaborate (even more than usual) bright vermilion ceramic roof finials, complete with the famous kamon (heraldic sign) Gosannokiri which is extremely similar to the official heraldic sign of the prime minister and can be found in all Japanese passports for example (to be honest there are 129 official kamon based on this simple design and it could be anyone of them). I also enjoyed seeing the printed prayer slips pasted on one of the walls which I have never seen in Tokyo (I am sure there must be some). Another one I liked was the little votive painting of the Senjukannon, the buddhist patron saint of people born in the year of the rat and often prayed to by people with poor eyes.