Tokyobling's Blog

Tengu at Kenchoji

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Places by tokyobling on July 9, 2010

One of the most popular and well know mythological creatures in Japan is the tengu, or 天狗 in Japanese characters. Literally meaning “heavenly dogs”, there is nothing much dog like about the creature itself these days. Over the years the tengu has evolved to become a sort of guardian spirits of the wild spaces and mountains around Japan. Not evil, but not very friendly either. Wikipedia has an excellent article on tengu, shock full of information, tales and pictures.

I saw these wonderful tengu statues at the inner temple area behind Kenchoji in Kamakura (which you might remember from this earlier post), where they guard the final path up to the shinto shrine (yes, the two religions have a very complicated relationship here in Japan…) of Hansobo (半僧坊). Aren’t they awesome? How cool would it be if these creatures actually descended from the mountain top to greet you?

The climb up to this shrine can be pretty tough, so make sure you have enough water and stamina to last you all the way. The last picture shows you how far you have walked from the temple. The small green-grey box in the middle of the photo is Kenchoji temple. Far, isn’t it? If you collect shuin, don’t forget your shuincho, and if you enjoy looking at cool ema (the pictured votive tablets where you write your prayers and wishes to be hung at shrines) they have a pretty good one with a tengu dressed in blue.

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Kenchoji Temple – Kamakura

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Places by tokyobling on July 2, 2010

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.

This temple is rather famous abroad for being one of the few temples where foreigners can actually study zen. They offer classes and shorter education in English for visitors.

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