The great Buddhists temple of Hasedera in the city of Kamakura to the south west of Tokyo has one of the greatest prayer wheels (マニ車 in Japanese) that I have ever seen in Japan. Housed in its own protective building, the house is centered on a giant prayer wheel made in wood joinery itself housing tens of thousands of handwritten pray slips, visible when the little door in the walls and the wheel itself are open. On the 18th of every month the wheel may be turned by members of the public, but on other days ordinary people can still use the prayer wheels attached to the walls. Prayer wheels are common in Tibetan Buddhism where the act of spinning a wheel containing a prayer is considered having the same effect as saying the prayer itself. Naturally one spin on this wheel is worth several weeks of actual praying!
When I visited Hasedera temple in Kamakura city the main hall was undergoing renovation so I couldn’t get any good photos of it. Instead I spent the time in the vast temple gardens, full of statues, little shrines, jizo, trees, flowers and plants of all kinds. The temple is famous for the hundreds of peonies grown there, not in bloom when I was visiting though, but the kawazusakura, the plum trees and many others were.
The jizo statues of which you see so many in Japan are meant to placate the soul of children lost to miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion. The smaller ones are placed here by the parents, and they remain for a year before being removed, symbolizing the rebirth of the soul.
An interesting detail is the Manjiike (卍池), a swastika cross shaped pond. In buddhism the symbol represents eternity, and in Japan it has the added meaning of 10 000, which symbolizes “everything, the universe, the alpha and the omega”.
Most likely founded in 736 A.D., the vast Hasedera Temple is today one of the main tourist attractions of Kamakura City to the south-west of Tokyo. Hasedera is one of the most important temples in a city that is famous for them. The temples main draw, apart from its scenic location is it’s masssive over nine meters tall wooden eleven-headed kannon statue. Due to a camera ban inside the temple itself I could not take any photos of it though. From the top of the temple grounds you get a pretty good view of the city and the beach.
According to the legend, a monk named Tokudo carved two statues out of a giant camphor tree in 721 A.D. One was enshrined in Nara and the other statue was set adrift in the ocean to find its own way to its home. Apparently it washed up in Kamakura and was carried up to the location of today’s Hasedera.
The temple is also famous for its many statues, jizo and impressive gardens. More photos to come!
Yushima Seido is possibly the most simultaneously most impressive and least talked about temple in Tokyo. Not only is it one of very few confucian temples in the city, it is also wonderfully un-photogenic. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that there is no other historic building in Tokyo that is so impossible to photograph well, with its pitch black walls and wide overhanging roof. If you really need a challenge as a photographer there is no better place in Tokyo!
Originally founded in Ueno in 1630, the temple was moved here in 1690 it was the main school/training center for government officials until it was closed in 1871 as the functions were taken over by many other schools, universities and government agencies. Today the grounds occupied by the temple itself is much smaller than they were originally. The very similarly named Yushima Tenjin nearby is also related to this temple and still to this day these two places are were people go for pray for success in their studies, exams or academic careers.
On the temple grounds you will also find the 1975 statue of Confucius which is claimed to be the biggest of its kind in the world.
The Yushima Seido is easily reached from the Ochanomizu stations and lies just a stones throw from the far more famous Kanda Myojin.