Mar 31, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 6-7 Part 1

During the week we had decided that on Sunday we would go to Temples #4 and #5. However, at about 5:30 Sunday morning I got a phone call from Ian saying that it was very windy, so windy that the trains might not be running. After a short discussion, we decided to meet at Sendai Station and then decide what to do. As a last resort we could always walk around in the city. I had suggested that we meet at a bakery that makes delicious sandwiches so I went to the station and waited in front of the bakery. Ian did not arrive but I got a telephone call from his son Roy, who said that Ian was waiting for me and where was I? I waited a bit longer and then went to the wickets at the main entrance to the station and found Ian standing there. He had thought that I meant a convenience store just inside, so he thought that I was late. When I led him to the bakery, it turned out that he had never seen it.

The other problem was that the trains were not running because of the wind. In the picture you can see the black band on each side of the clock. That normally contains listings of all the trains, but as you can see it is essentially empty. We wanted to go south but there were no trains. However, some of the trains going north were running. We decided to go north and visit Temples #6 and #7. Then next train was not for about 40 minutes so we went to the bakery and had coffee and pastry, and bought sandwiches for lunch.
The temples are in a tourist area and Temple #6, Zuiganji, is a favorite spot for one day trips from Sendai. From the main road the entrance to the temple is not very impressive, just a narrow road with food and souvenir shops.
When we arrived at the actual entrance, we discovered that there was a 700 yen entrance fee. We also discovered that they are in the middle of a huge reconstruction project so most of the buildings are covered with protective sheeting. Next to the ticket booth was a room where a monk stamped the books, so we just asked him to do it and did not enter the temple area.

Actually the temple grounds, outside the area where you have to pay, are quite extensive, so we walked through some of the paths. One of the features are man-made caves in which the monks lived and meditated before the buildings were erected. This picture shows a large cave at the bottom behind the stele and four smaller ones in the side of the hill.
This is a slightly different view of the same place, but now you can see the new meditation hall that they have built at the top of the hill. The caves are no longer in use. The stelae have quotations from various Buddhists carved into them.

Mar 30, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 1-3 Part 11

For various reasons Japanese tend to cut of the tops of trees whenever they can. This lends an interesting look to trees because they are short but wide, and the top branches reach out horizontally for long distances. You can see that this tree has been decapitated at the point where the roof stops. This is particularly true on temple grounds where professional gardeners work their magic.
Another example of how gardeners treat trees is the following picture. It is the view out our kitchen door and shows a tree after last fall's trimming. Ten years ago when we first moved in, the tree was not visible above the wall. It grew and filled out in a delightful way. Then last fall the gardeners came and gave it the moral equivalent of a crew cut.
Having finally gotten the stamps from Temples #1, #2 and #3, we stopped for a sports drink and a snack. We had bought the snacks at the station and got the drinks from a machine. After a short rest, we started toward the nearest station, which happened to be the one that we originally arrived at. We continued north on the main road for a few hundred meters and then at a large intersection we turn east. Ian walked into the grounds of a Shinto Shrine to try and find a trash can for the remains of our recent repast. While I waited near the corner, I found this little shrine, probably set up in memory of someone who died in a traffic accident or just for travelers in general.
We were again walking through completely flat farm land, but this time on a new road, which meant that it was wide and had a sidewalk. In the picture there is a built up area off in the distance, the station is on the other side of that.
We did not have to wait long for a train and actually got seats. However, about half way through the 20 minute trip the train stopped on a bridge. It then slowly moved to one end of the bridge and stopped again. The driver then announced that there had been an earthquake and that all train traffic had stopped. We could not move until they were sure that there was no damage to the tracks. The drive must have repeated the announcement 30 times during the next 15 minutes or so. It was almost as if he thought that there were new people on board who had not heard the previous repetitions. I was not surprised because this is typical of Japan, they tell you over and over again what you know but do not tell you what you do not know. In this case, it was obvious that the earthquake had been big - the trains stopped - but the driver did not say how big or where it was. This information must have been known to him. It is on TV within two or three minutes after a quake. It was very frustrating, but finally he told us - it was quite large but to the south and there were few reports of damage. Another five minutes or so and we were on our way home. At Sendai Station, I changed to the subway and another 20 minutes had me at Yaotome Station. The follow 15 minute walk put me at home, very tired but happy.

I promise to show you the book in which we collect the temple stamps, so here it is. The first picture shows the cover. Notice that it is a traditional Japanese book with the binding on the right. The orange ribbons hold the individual sheets together.
This is the page for Temple #2. The priest actually wrote the characters into our books and added the red stamps. The stamp of the top right says that it is Temple #2, the large circular one in the middle is the temple stamp and the one on the bottom left is the official seal for the temple.

These two are the separate pages that we got for Temple #1 (left) and Temple #3 (right). We were a bit disappointed with these. The one for #1 was written with a felt tip pen and does not have the character of the calligraphy for #2. The page for #3 was put on with a stamp and there was not even enough ink to make a good, clear impression. Also there is no temple seal on the bottom left. Consider all the trouble we had getting this stamp, it is a bit underwhelming. However, it will do for the purpose - proof that we have obtained the merit for visiting the temple.
This ends our visit to Temples #1, #2, and #3. In the next, entries we will move on to Temples #6 and #7, which we visited on the following Sunday, March 14.

Mar 29, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 1-3 Part 10

This is quite representative of the area we were walking through - houses with gardens and green houses around them.
The next house is quite typical of the area. It is hard to see but all around the house are things that are used in farming - small tools, half full bags of chemicals, seedlings and plants in pots, etc. The building was obvious constructed in section. Probably the small center section with the blue rood was the original building. Then when the family expanded the two-story extension was added. At some point the building in the back was constructed to serve as the equivalent of a barn.
My legs were getting really sore when we finally reached Shinguji. It turned out to be quite large and to have a large residence attached to the main hall, which is shown in the next picture.
Off to the left there was a separate small shrine but I do not know who or what is was dedicated to. In any case I thought it was quite nice and was tempted to draw a picture, but we had to find someone to stamp our books and after that we still had a long, long walk back to the nearest train station.
In the next picture, the building on the left is a corner of the main hall, the building in the middle, in addition to various rooms, contains a long hall at the front, connecting the main hall to the residency on the left. We tried the entrance in the middle but no one answered. Then we noticed a doorbell on the the residency door, so we tried there. After a long wait, a woman came out. We said that we wanted our books stamped and she disappeared for a while, returning with stamped pages for us to insert in our books. We paid our 300 yen and left, noting that the woman was not particularly pleasant - we probably made here miss some of a TV program or something.
In regard to the woman, I should add that most of the temples are maintained by priests who marry and have families. The Japanese idea being that to advise the flock the priest needs to have first hand experience of family life. There are monasteries when the sexes are separated and those living there are expected to be, not only celibate, but to have as little contact with the opposite sex as possible.

Mar 27, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 1-3 Part 9

According to our map, this building should be Temple #3. However, it is a single building standing by itself in front of a graveyard. For us to get our book stamped, there has to be a person there somewhere, but obviously there are no living quarters.
As we neared the temple, it became clear that it was unoccupied but that it was not abandoned. The graveyard on the hill appeared to be well kept. Also the moving van did not seem to be associated with the temple.
When we actually reached the temple, it was obvious that there was no one there. We went around back but there was no sign of life. The temple was definitely not abandoned but there was no one there and no sign that we should expect anyone.
Beside the building we found a stele that referred to the three worlds: kamaloka - the world of desire, rupaloka - the world of form, and arupaloka - the world of formlessness. In some sects, these are the possible destinations for rebirth. I have also seen other references to the three worlds, for example, I have seen them used to mean the past, the present and the future. In any case, the writing on the two blocks on either side of the base, give the name of the temple so we knew we were in the right place in spite of the lack of people.
After looking around a bit more and finding nothing interesting or illuminating, we decided to visit the nearest house and ask some questions. It was at least a hundred meters away and clearly not connected to the temple. We went up and knocked on the door. An old woman answered and told us that the priest only came when there was a ceremony of some sort. At first she could not remember the name of the place where the priest came from, but after a chat with her husband, she dredge up the name for the bottom of her memory. She did not, however, have any idea where this other temple was. We thanked her and left. At a complete loss, we decided to do what any sane person would do in a similar situation - we sat down on a wall and had lunch.

After we ate, we finally remembered that, when we had purchased our stamp books, we also bought small books telling about the pilgrimage. I dug my out of my pack and started looking through it. The entry for Temple #3 had a comment that stamps were available at a temple called Shinguji. There was even a map! However, Shinguji was as far north of Temple #2 as we were now south of #2. It also indicated that the place next to the river that we thought was a Shinto shrine was actual a building hold the statue of Kannon that was associated with Temple #3. It was all very confusing and we never did manage to understand everything.

Considering our options we decided to give up visiting Temple #4 on that day and to go to Shinguji and get the stamp and then head home. The first half of the trip was just a repeat of what we had done during the earlier part of the day. However, once to the north of Temple #2, we started seeing some things that were new and interesting. These three trees, for example, were like nothing we had ever seen before. It appeared that someone had trimmed the branches to get this shape and each year climbed up and cut off the new branches. Why anyone would want to do this was completely beyond our understanding.

Mar 26, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 1-3 Part 8

Shortly after leaving the five-corner shrine behinds us, we crossed a small river.
Considering that our current pilgrimage is to temples that have statues of Kannon, the bridge over the river was very appropriately named - Kannon Bridge.
On the bank on the far side of the river, we discovered a stele saying that there was a Kannon in the area. The open space behind the column is typical of shrines, temples, community centers, and schools. We took a closer look at the stele and on the back we found a reference to Temple #3 of the Oushuu33Kannon pilgrimage. However, from where we were standing the building the building did not look like a temple, but off to the left there was a bell tower, normally found on temple grounds.

We crossed the open area and found that the building really was a Shinto shrine. What in the world did this shrine have to do with Kannon, who is definitely Buddhist. We decided to explore a little more.
The building on the left was a Buddhist-style bell tower, so that just confused things even more.
We went back over to the shrine and looked carefully at the picture hanging under the eaves on the left wall. It was a surprisingly well done picture of a herd of horses being led by a man. Again horses are usually a Shinto theme, referring back to the old warrior cults of Japan.The only other buildings in the compound turned out to belong to the neighborhood association and yielded no information relating to Temple #3. There was no one in the area to ask so we finally left no wiser than when we first found the stele.

The road paralleled the base of the hills and was bordered by farms. This picture is typical of what we saw as we walked. The fields in the foreground will be flooded and plowed soon, and then when it is warmer the rice seedlings will be planted. The type of rice that is grown in this region is called koshihikari and it is one of the tastiest of the varieties grown in Japan. We were very surprised when we moved to Sendai from Shizuoka Prefecture, even the cheapest prepared rice dishes in the supermarkets had rice that was better than 'good' rice in Shizuoka.

Mar 25, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 1-3 Part 7

After leaving Temple #1 and heading for #3, we found some very interesting things along the way. This first picture was at the entrance to a company parking lot. I think it is the biggest bowling pin I have ever seen.
After we got by the pin and turned around to look at it, we discovered that it was the sign for the company, a maker of advertising signs, of course.

We also found this sign which points the way to Temple #2 and states that the temple is part of the Oushuu33Kannon Pilgrimage. I thought that the temple-like roof on the sign was quite appropriate. We wondered if it had been made at the bowling pin factory.

The roads that we were following were definitely back, country byways. We found that we could navigate quite well by going from one five corner intersection to the next. At one of them we found a shrine with a huge engraved rock. Ian stood beside it to give a sense of the size.
The grounds were well kept. All the weeds and grass were removed, leaving just bare ground around the building. This is the proper way to have a shrine or temple - any greenery must be carefully planted and pruned, nothing natural at all. This shrine was particularly strange since it had a road on each side and it opened on to the intersection itself.
In spite of having the torii in front, the telephone poles did nothing to improve that atmosphere.

Mar 24, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 1-3 Part 6

Here is another view of the statue of Kannon at Temple #1.
After placing incense and bowing, I stepped back and took this picture of the entire altar. It was nowhere near as ornate as most of the ones we saw on our Henro Pilgrimage, but it was very pleasing.

The priest did not hurry us at all and when we returned to the entrance hall where we had left our shoes. He waited and chatted while we put them on. As we left, he wished us well and hope that we would finish the Oushuu Pilgrimage. If my home were closer to this temple, I would probably start going there once in a while. We went out into the yard again and discovered a large stone statue that looked like a giant mushroom. Here is a picture of Ian standing next to it. The white areas are the remains of the last snow storm.
We had now visited Temples #1 and #2, although in reverse order, and it was now time to start for Temple #3. On the way we walked by a hillside that had had a landslide and looked like even more of it might come down during the next earthquake or the coming rainy season. Maybe next summer I will go back to see what happened here and to visit the temple again.
We walked through an area of small farms and just plain homes. Between two of the houses we found a plum tree that was in bloom.

Mar 23, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 1-3 Part 5

Here is a close up of the little statues around the feet of the large statue of Kannon.

We entered the temple grounds and stood for a minute in front of the entrance to the main hall which is on the left in the picture. We opened the door and called out Gomen nasai, which means 'excuse me' but is used in place of the American 'Is anybody there?' No one came so after a short wait, we went outside again and looked for someplace else where we might find the local priest.

But before we searched around, we looked into the hall on the left. You can see the ghostly reflections of Ian and I in the glass. What we saw was the left side of the main hall with a couple of rows of folding chairs. I had seen on the internet that this temple has Zen meditation that is open to anyone from 6 to 7 on Sunday mornings. The chairs must have been set out for that or some other ceremony.
We next looked off to the right and saw what was obviously the entrance to the living area, so we decided to try that. There was a doorbell so we rang it and after a few minutes a monk came to the door. We greeted him and explained that we wanted to get our books stamped. He took the books and looked at them. Then he handed the books back and mumbled something. Ian thought that I had understood and I thought that he had. Anyway, the priest shut the door in our face. We went back to the first doors that we had entered but after a while it was obvious that that was not right. So, we went back to the door where the priest had appeared. Eventually, he opened the door and handed us sheets of paper with stamps and calligraphy. They were the pages we wanted, but we had to replace the sheets in our books with these new ones. He took our 300 yen each (the standard price for the certification of our visit) and told us to met him at the door to the main hall. We went over and entered the building. He soon arrived and told us to take off our shoes and enter. We then entered the main hall where he lit candles and gave us incense to burn in front of a statue of Kannon. We each lit the incense, placed it in the burner, stood meditating for a short while and then backed away with a bow. The priest told me that it was acceptable to take a picture - it is not in many temples.
The statue of Kannon was made from wood and was fairly new, but as you can see it was quite impressive. I think it was about 4 feet high including the base.

Mar 22, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 1-3 Part 4

Today, Monday, March 22nd, is a national holiday in Japan. Actually the holiday was yesterday Equinox Day, but since it came on a Sunday, Monday becomes a holiday. We had terribly strong winds yesterday, almost typhoon force. Ian and I had planned to take the train south to Temple #4 but the south bound trains were all stopped because of the wind. The trains to the north were still running, so we decided to go to Temples #6 and #7. We walked a total of 20 kilometers, but I will tell you about that trip after I finish this one. That means there will be a steady stream of posts after this.

After we left Temple #2 we walked south paralleling the hills. It was very pleasant since were were on back roads with almost no traffic. Much of the way we had a little stream on one side and either fields or woods on the other. The temperature increased and I had to take off my coat and put it in my backpack. However, this was the most enjoyable part of the day.
In less than an hour we reached Temple #1. It was on a real backroad going up into the hills. This picture shows the entrance. The small building on the right turned out to be toilets and the cars are in the temple parking lot.
The temple itself was very nice. It must be really beautiful later in the spring and summer when the greenery is actually green.
There was a large statue of Kannon off to the left of the main hall. The statues with the little red hats represent children who Kannon has protected and who have become enlightened followers.

Mar 20, 2010

Oushuu33Kannon Temples 1-3 Part 3

After we bought the book that we will collect the temple stamps and calligraphy in (I will post a picture of it when I have time to take one), we started out but down the road, rather than the pedestrian path. This is the gate as seen from the temple grounds as we left.

This little statue was in the corner of a temple parking lot. It is Daruma, a monk who sat facing a wall for so long that his legs fell off. In Japan the statues of Daruma usually have only one eye that contains a pupil. People make a wish and, if it comes true, they paint in the other eye. This Daruma has both eyes because it is part of the temple.
This is a statue of Kannon that was near the entrance. The little statues are children who have been saved or protected by Kannon. They may represent children who have died and who have been dedicated to Kannon. The second picture shows one of these statues (you can just see it in the bottom row on the right) on which someone has placed clothing.
This shows that the clothing is a child's hooded coat. I assume that the parents have put it on the statue so that they child will not be cold and will know that he or she has not been forgotten.
As we passed out of the temple area, we found these statues. I have now idea who they might represent.