At the cemetery of Kurodani temple (the official name is Konkai Komyo-ji) is this unique Buddha statue.
It is called the Gokoshiyui Amida Statue, but, for obvious reasons, it is better known as the “Afro Buddha”. The story goes that this Buddha had such an incredibly long period of training/meditation that the hair grew to this size and shape.
And indeed, the name “Gokoshiyui” can be translated to “5 kalpa thought”, where a kalpa is an aeon, an incredibly long time. Interestingly, while there are definitions of the length of a kalpa in Hinduism (4.32 billion years), Buddhism prefers to use analogies rather than explicit numbers. Wikipedia states that in some definitions, a regular kalpa is 16.8 million years, and there are small, medium and great kalpas as well, the last one being about 1.3 trillion years.
I guess after such a long time of meditation, you can be excused for having a bad hair day. His face also has a wonderful, serene expression, and I wonder what stories he might tell…
Tomorrow, the Aoi Matsuri is taking place, the first of Kyoto’s three big festivals. For the first time in 4 years, a parade will leave the Imperial Palace, visit Shimogamo shrine, and then go on to its final destination, Kamigamo shrine. Of the 500 or so people taking part in the parade, the Saio-dai, who rides in a special palanquin, is the heart of the Aoi Matsuri. These days, she is chosen from among the best families in Kyoto, but in ancient times, she was a daughter of the reigning Emperor.
The practice of sending an Imperial Princess as priestess to Ise shrine started – according to the ancient Nihongi, whose accuracy is doubtful – around the year 92 BCE. The Nihongi states that at that time
“The gods Amaterasu and Ōkunidama were formerly both worshipped in the Emperor’s Palace Hall. But the Emperor Sūjin was frightened of having so much divine power concentrated in one place. Accordingly, he entrusted the worship of Amaterasu to the Princess Toyosuku-iri, bidding her carry it out in the village of Kasanui in Yamato.”
Subsequently, Amaterasu expressed a desire to be moved to Ise.
Becoming a so-called Saigu at Ise shrine was more involved than a mere appointment, at which time the Saigu was around 12 years old. The preparations and purifications took three years, during which the maiden lived at Nonomiya shrine outside of Kyoto in today’s Arashiyama. Only when she was properly prepared, was she allowed to return to the Palace for one last time. There, she received the “Comb of Parting” from her Imperial father, whom she would never see again. This is because her office lasted until
the Emperor died or resigned
the Saigu died or became disabled
either one of her parents died
or ceased to be a virgin (or worse, became pregnant).
Once Buddhism was introduced from China in the 8th century, it quickly took hold at the Imperial Court. However, Ise shrine was the centre of Japan’s Shintoism, and in order not to offend the old gods, a number of interesting speech taboos were imposed upon the Saigu and everybody else in her retinue. For example, Buddha was called “The Centre”, priests “hair-long”, and temples became “tile-covered places”. Other words with changed meaning revolved around death (recovery), tombs (earthen heaps), illness (taking a rest), and blood (sweat).
The tradition of sending a Saigu to Ise shrine ended in 1342, however, even today, Imperial Princesses take an important role in the worship of Amaterasu at special ceremonies.
The Saio or Saiin – the Imperial Princess serving at the Kamo shrines – was modelled after the Saigu of Ise. It is said that during the Kusho War between the Saga and Heisei Emperors, the former prayed to the gods of Kamo. He promised to send a daughter to the shrines if he would win the war. Subsequently, the first Saio was sent to Kamo in 818, and the practice continued until 1204.
In Kyoto, Aoi Matsuri is the largest festival connected to the Saio of the Kamo shrines. However, in October, the Saigu Gyoretsu Procession at Nonomiya shrine re-enacts the sending of a Saigu to Ise shrine, as she travels through the famous bamboo forest and purifies herself in the river.
Both festivals are unique to Kyoto and provide a fascinating glimpse into times long past. Definitely worth watching!
In the north of Kyoto lies Daitoku-ji, the “Temple of Great Virtue”. It is not one single temple, but rather a sprawling complex of 22 subtemples located on 27 hectares of land. Daitoku-ji belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, and in fact it is the headquarters of its own branch of Buddhism.
It was founded around 1315 by the monk Daito Kokushi with imperial support as a small monastery. Like many buildings in Kyoto, the temple was destroyed during the Onin Wars of the 15th century but was rebuilt later. Therefore, the main buildings of Daitoku-ji – altogether National Treasures – date back only to the 15th century.
The main buildings of the temple are the vermilion Sanmon Gate, the Buddha and Dharma Halls, the Abbot’s Quarters, as well as a Bathhouse and a Sutra Library. In front of the Sanmon Gate lies the Chokushimon (Imperial Messenger Gate) that was moved here from the Imperial Palace.
These buildings, although they are not usually accessible, can all be viewed from the main path that leads through the temple and is lined with large pine trees. Smaller paths lead to the gates of the different subtemples that are all more or less independent and were added to the complex over time, often founded by noble families.
Daitoku-ji saw a boost in prominence in the late 16th century when Hideyoshi donated land and money and had the remains of Oda Nobunaga and his closest family buried in the specially founded subtemple Soken-in. I’ve posted about Soken-in before, to my mind it’s not the most exciting of all the temples of the complex.
Daitoku-ji is also connected to tea master Sen-no-Rikyu, who had the vermillion Sanmon Gate renovated. A popular story has it that he placed an image of himself in the second floor of this gate, which enraged Hideyoshi so much that he ordered him to commit seppuku.
To this day, the whole temple complex is a living monastery, where monks learn, teach, and practice Buddhism. Therefore, many of the subtemples are generally not accessible to the public, except for short viewings during select times.
One of the most important subtemples is Shinju-an, which was founded in 1491 in memory of Ikkyu Sojun, who was essential for the rebuilding of Daitoku-ji. He was a rather eccentric priest, and Shinju-an treasures his memory with fusuma paintings by contemporary artists. It is also the place where the fathers of modern Noh, Kan-ami and Ze-ami, are buried.
The subtemple Daisen-in is one of the most important Zen temples of all Kyoto. It has fusuma paintings by Zen monk Soami, but the important thing to see is the dry landscape garden that stems from the Muromachi era. It depicts the Chinese idea of paradise, and its pebbly waters flow all around the main hall.
Juko-in is the family temple for Sen-no-Rikyu and his descendants, and thus plays an important role in Kyoto’s tea world. All the heads of the three main family branches of tea ceremony are buried here. Juko-in is also famous for its16th-century fusuma paintings by Kano Eitoku.
Most of the subtemples of Daitoku-ji hold important treasures of Japanese history, may it be their buildings themselves, their fusuma paintings, or Buddhist statues or other relics. While they may seem all alike to the casual observer, it is worth looking at the little details that make all the difference.
As mentioned, the subtemples are only accessible at select times. On most days, 2-4 subtemples are open to the public. Daisen-in, Zuiho-in, Koto-in, and Ryogen-in are open throughout the year, many others for short periods in spring and autumn or during special occasions. This makes Daitoku-ji one of the quieter places to visit in Kyoto and fun to explore.
Daigo-ji lies a bit off the beaten tracks in Fushimi, but for those who like everything super-sized, this is the perfect place to go in Kyoto: On the precincts of 300 hectares (mostly forest of Mt. Daigo) 80 different species of birds can be found, 1000 cherry trees, and more than 100,000 artefacts are kept in the temple’s museum. Many of its 80+ buildings are designated as National Treasures, and the 5-story pagoda is the oldest building in Kyoto. I went a day after it snowed in Kyoto, which makes for especially beautiful photos. The road to Kami-Daigo was still closed, but I probably wouldn’t have attempted it anyway, it’s too long a hike…
This temple dates back to 874 when the monk Shobo (posthumously named Rigen Daishi) built a small hermitage close to a well on Mt. Daigo. This part of the temple near the mountain top is nowadays known as Kami Daigo, and three successive emperors donated buildings there. Emperor Daigo moved here after his retirement, and after his death (when he was named after the temple in which he had lived for many years), the pagoda was completed at the foot of the mountain (Shimo Daigo) in 951 in his honour.
Unfortunately, the 15th-century Onin War destroyed most of the buildings of Daigo-ji. However, since the temple’s head priests managed to maintain good relationships to whomever was in power at the time, the temple was rebuilt several times and continued to grow through the centuries. When Hideyoshi came to power, Daigo-ji received his special patronage. He restored the Sanboin (originally from 1115) and had 700 cherry trees planted.
In the Edo period, Shugendo yamabushi began practising at Daigo-ji, and to this day, part of their training and worshipping consists of long, meditative walks around the temples’ precincts. The temple’s prosperity declined during the anti-Buddhism movement of the Meiji period. However, dedicated head priests could preserve the precincts and the numerous temple treasures until today.
As mentioned above, the vast precincts of Daigo-ji can roughly be divided into three parts. The Sanboin-Reihokan area lies directly behind the Somon main gate of the temple. The Sanboin on the left side is the former residence of Daigo-ji’s head priests. Just inside the gate is an enormous cherry tree called “Taiko Shidarezakura” that is 160 years old. The Sanboin itself was founded in 1115, but the current building dates back to 1598, when it was reconstructed and enlarged for Hideyoshi’s famous hanami party. The beautiful Karamon gate with golden imperial chrysanthemums and Hideyoshi’s own paulownia crest on black lacquer is a National Treasure.
So is the Omote Shoin, the main drawing room of Sanboin. It is constructed in three parts, each one a bit higher than the previous; the lowest part can be used as a Noh stage when the mats are removed. From the Omoto Shoin, the whole garden can be seen, a masterpiece of Momoyama garden designs, created by Hideyoshi himself. The main hall of Sanboin with a Buddha statue and statues of Kobo Daishi and Rigen Daishi that lies a bit to the back is not usually open to the public.
Opposite the Sanboin lies the Reihokan, the temple’s museum. Opened in 1935, it is home to over 100,000 Buddhist statues, paintings, and other artefacts. Around 75500 National Treasures are collected here and trace the history and culture of Daigo-ji back to its beginnings. There are special exhibitions in spring and autumn.
On passing through the Niomon Gate (erected 1605; the Nio statues are from 1134), visitors enter the Garan or main temple area. Here lies Daigo-ji’s Kondo or main hall, with a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha who heals illnesses. Both kondo and the pagoda nearby are National Treasures.
Opposite lies the famous Goju-no-to, a five-story pagoda that stands 38 meters tall. Built between 936 and 951, it has survived wars, earthquakes, and fires, and is now Kyoto’s oldest building. On the first floor are culturally significant wall paintings, but the building is not usually open to the public. Interestingly, the special construction of this pagoda makes it almost automatically earthquake-safe, and it inspired the similar construction of Tokyo’s Skytree.
Further uphill lies the Kannondo, which is the 11th temple of the Saikoku 33 Kannon pilgrimage. It enshrines a Juntei Kannon that is said to grant wishes to have children. Next to it is the Bentendo hall for Benten, the goddess of music. While this may not be the most culturally significant building of Daigo-ji, its beautiful colours mirrored in the pond easily make it the most photogenic one.
Beyond the Bentendo and its pond and garden lies the third part of Daigo-ji, called Kami-Daigo. It takes about one hour to reach it, but the views from the top of the mountain are certainly worth the hike. Furthermore, Kami-Daigo is the oldest part of the temple, and most of the buildings there are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. Among them is Daigo-sui, which marks the spot of Rigen Daishi’s original hermitage. The Kaisando from the Momoyama period (1606) is the largest building on Mt. Daigo. When it was first built in 911, it was dedicated to Rigen Daishi, and his statue there is from the Kamakura period.
The vast precincts of Daigo-ji make this temple a great place for hikers and people who like to explore on their own. Since Kami-Daigo takes a while to reach on foot, it does not see many visitors throughout the year, but the other areas at Shimo Daigo can get quite busy during hanami and the autumn colours.
This is one of the 24 subtemples of Daitoku-ji, one of the headquarters of a branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Soken-in dates back to 1583, when it was established by Toyotomi Hideyoshi as the mortuary temple for Oda Nobunaga, who dies one year earlier in what is known as the Honno-ji incident.
Soken-in’s main hall holds a lacquered statue of Nobunaga that was created at the temple’s founding. The seated lord is 115 cm tall and wears ikan-taito courtdress. He looks down upon visitors with inlaid eyes and has a somewhat haughty expression on his face.
At the back of the temple lie the graves of Nobunaga and some of his sons and family members, or rather: one of Nobunaga’s “graves”. After he had committed suicide at Honno-ji in 1582, the temple was burned to the ground and destroyed the body. Thus unable to properly cremate his lord, Hideyoshi had two life-sized statues made from agarwood. One of the statues is the one mentioned above, the other was cremated in lieu of Nobunaga’s body and put into the grave at Soken-in. Agarwood is very fragrant, and contemporary sources tell how the smell from the burnt wood hung over Kyoto for days. To this day, there is a grand Buddhist ceremony on June 2nd, the day when Nobunaga died.
As can be surmised from the fact that Soken-in has no less than 3 tea houses, there is a strong connection to tea ceremony as well. The founding abbot, Kokei Sochin, was the Zen-master of Sen-no-Rikyu, who is revered as the one who perfected tea ceremony as we know it today. Coincidentally, Rikyu’s own mortuary temple, Juko-in, is just next door. In 1585, Hideyoshi held one of his large tea gatherings in Soken-in, where he prepared tea with his own hands. And there is also a chasenzuka, a memorial mound for tea whisks. Sadly, the yearly ceremonies to give thanks to used tea whisks were stopped already before the pandemic and are unlikely to return.
Unfortunately, many of the temple’s buildings are not original. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, there was a movement to abolish Buddhism, and many of the buildings were destroyed, and only restored in the 1920s; the main hall being from 1928. This gives the temple, especially its front garden and the grave site, a modern, almost cold appearance.
Nevertheless, there are still original features from the 16th century, and they can be found on the temple’s boundaries, literally. The main gate dates back to 1583, as well as the beautiful bell tower that lies just outside the precincts and is an Important Cultural Property. In contrast, the earthen wall surrounding the temple doesn’t look extraordinary at all. However, it is in fact two walls built next to one another with a hollow space in between and a roof on top. This unusual construction has earned it the name “mother and child wall”.
So, is Soken-in worth a visit? I think Nobunaga’s statue is beautiful, and if it’s true that it resembles him closely, it is interesting to see. But since the buildings and grounds are fairly recent, and there is o typical Zen garden, Soken-in lacks this peaceful ambience I am looking for in a temple. The tea houses are nice too, but overall, Soken-in is not the most picturesque temple of Daitoku-ji.
It’s getting a bit late here, so I’ll add pictures tomorrow. 😉
Tiny Kogen-ji is one of the subtemples of Tenryu-ji in Arashiyama. For Kyoto standards, it is comparatively new, having been established in 1429 by a high-ranking official in the Muromachi Shogunate, Hosokawa Mochiyuki. The name Kogen-ji is derived from Hosokawa’s posthumous Buddhist name. Kogen-ji was originally located at the foot of Mount Ogura north of Tenryū-ji, but following a number of fires it was relocated to its present site in 1882.
Because the temple is so small, its main attractions are the temple’s treasures. It has a number of paintings by Takeuchi Seiho and his students. Takeuchi Seiho (1864-1942) was a nihonga style painter and extremely influential in Kyoto’s artistic circles throughout his career. He is most famous for his paintings of animals that incorporated a realism usually found in Western art at the time. Takeuchi was friends with the head priest of Kogen-ji, and when his son Shiro fell ill, he was allowed to convalesce at the temple. Despite the lovely surroundings, it must have been a relatively dreary place, so Takeuchi’s students created many paintings to cheer up Shiro; their paintings that are held at the temple to this very day.
Staying with paintings for a moment, before entering the main buildings, the Bishamon Hall lies on the left side of the path. The plaque above the entrance features calligraphy by famous priest Kobo Daishi (774-835). Inside, there is a wonderful ceiling with 44 paintings of flowers of all the seasons, created by Fujiwara Fuseki, also a nihonga painter. The colors are very lively, so the ceiling must be comparatively new.
The rest of this building is subdued as usual, so as not to distract from the main image, a beautiful standing statue of Bishamonten, a god of war. It dates back to the 9th century, and the graceful curve of his body as he slays a demon is worth a closer look. Unfortunately, the hall may not be entered, but there is a life-size photo of the statue at the entrance.
Further down the path lies the main hall, built in the early 1600s. It is made in a residential style rather than in classic temple architecture. Maybe this was the reason why in 1864 samurai of the Choshu domain army bivouacked at Kogenji and Tenryu-ji. Before their attack on the Imperial Palace, they tested their swords on the wooden pillars of the main hall. To this day, you can see the cuts the made in the wood; however, the swords were not sharp enough to win them the battle.
Of course, Kogenji wouldn’t be a proper Zen temple without gardens. The Lion’s Roar Garden is the main garden of the temple. It is a typical dry garden with a big sea of grey sand, but the hedges surrounding it add a splash of color. There is also a garden at the back of the main hall, which has lush greenery and must look lovely during the momiji season Arashiyama is famous for.
Overall, I’d say Kogenji is nice to visit if you’re looking for a more quiet place and if you like nihonga paintings. Otherwise, skip it in favour of Hogonin, another sub temple of Tenryu-ji or the main halls of Tenryu-ji itself.
Ohara is a sprawling rural community situated in a wide plain (hence the name) northeast of Kyoto. It still belongs to Kyoto, even though it lies more than 30 minutes by bus outside of what I would consider the city limits. Ohara is famous for its oharame – local women who used to peddle firewood, flowers or produce in Kyoto – Sanzen-in Temple with its beautiful moss gardens, and the former nunnery Jakko-in.
Jakko-in is a tiny temple that lies in the opposite direction of Sanzen-in at the end of a little valley. The walk there is very pleasant, it leads first along a little stream, then though the community. Judging from the number of souvenir shops and cafes on the way, it must be less popular than Sanzen-in. And had it not been mentioned in the Heike Monogatari, I guess it would have been forgotten long ago.
But let’s start at the beginning, in 594, when the temple was established by Shotoku Taishi to pray for the soul of his father, Emperor Yomei. At that time, Buddhism had only recently been introduced to Japan. Therefore, one of the first nuns of the country (who also happened to be the wet nurse of Shotoku Taishi) moved to the temple. Subsequently, Jakko-in became a retreat for nyoin, female members of the Imperial family and daughters of other high-ranking families. It seems, however, that taking vows was not a requirement to live there.
According to the temple, the third nun only moved there in 1185, and it’s because of her that Jakko-in is famous to this day. Her name was Kenreimon-in Tokuko, daughter of Taira-no-Kiyomori and mother of Emperor Antoku. Sounds familiar? The Taira (or Heike) fought against the Minamoto (or Genji) clan in the Genpei War (1180–1185), which was immortalized in the Heike Monogatari mentioned above. Sadly, the entire Taira clan was wiped out , and even Emperor Antoku, a mere boy of 6 was killed. Kenreimon-in spent the rest of her days in Jakko-in praying for the souls of her son and relatives.
From the temple’s entrance, stone steps lead straight up to the main hall. It is home to a statue of Rokumantai-Jizoson, the protector of children. There are also wooden statues of Kenreimon-in and her servant Awa-no-Naishi, only the second nun ever to live at the temple. Her garments are said to have been the model for the oharame’s clothes.
Sadly, none of this is original, not the building, and not the statues either. The temple was burned down in an arson attack in May 2000, and all you can see are reproductions. The main statue especially looks very modern; it is dressed in a colorful garment that I would call garish to the point of kitsch. However, on asking, I was told that that this is the original look of the statue when it was – supposedly – created by Shotoku Taishi himself, according to old documents.
To find out more about the temple, the nuns, and the arson attack, you can visit the treasure house which holds a lot of artifacts. The most interesting of these are more than 3000 wooden statues of Jizo, roughly 10 cm tall, that were all found inside the main statue after the arson. The original, badly burned statue, an Important Cultural Asset, is not usually on display.
Since the temple is so small, the gardens are not very extensive. The ones surrounding the main hall are the most beautiful, and there is a stump of a 1000-year-old pine that sadly did not survive the fire. It is said that this part has been maintained since the time of the Genpei War, and right now, you can hear tree frogs croaking in the little pond beneath the former pine. Another pond with koi carp and a little waterfall lies to the north of the main hall, and on a lower level, there is a tea house with yet another pond in front of it.
Kenreimon-in is still present at the temple. Just south of the main hall, a marker indicates her former residence, and once you leave the temple and take the steps uphill just outside of it, you can visit her tomb.
All in all, I found Jakko-in a nice experience. I like to visit places that are not overrun by tourists, and being just a bit off-season does help as well in this respect. The staff are very friendly and happy to answer questions.
Today, I wanted to write about something completely different. But then, weather happened… It has snowed several days this winter already, which is quite unusual for Kyoto. Here’s Saginomori Jinja in the snow from last Friday. The snow has gone from the streets now, but it’s still pretty cold. Pumpkin does not approve and neither do I…
I’ve been exploring my new neighborhood, and there are some interesting sights nearby my house. I have visited the shrine a few times now, first time during the koyo, last time this afternoon. That’s why the trees go from full color to bare and back in the following photos.
Saginomori means “Heron’s Forest”, and the shrine itself dates back more than 1000 years, to the beginning of the Heian Period. It was established at a different site at the foot of Mt. Hiei (which is not far from here), where it served as the ubusunagami (guardian deity of one’s birthplace) for seven villages. It was relocated to the present location in 1689. The shrine is dedicated to Susanoo-no-mikoto, the younger brother of sun goddess Amaterasu.
It is a relatively small shrine with a single dance stage and a worship hall at the end of a long access road that leads up the hill. The trees surrounding it, however, are majestic and look very old.
An interesting feature is the bridge at the southern entrance to the shrine. This little stone bridge was once part of Shugakuin Villa (not far from here either) where it spanned the Otowa river in front of the entrance. Many emperors walked over this bridge when they came to relax at Shugakuin, but today it’s for the likes of you and me, who take the shortcut to Manshu-in Temple via the steps right after it.
The collection of ema votive tablets – one for each of the 12 zodiacs – is very cute. I plan to buy one when I go there early next year for my hatsumode.
The shrine also boasts a large yaegaki stone wall and says that whoever touches it will be blessed with “good marital and romantic relationships”. Always worth a try, isn’t it?