Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mazu Miao - Temple With a Local Touch

18th of August - The Mazu Miao temple in Yokohama's Chinatown is relatively new - opening up only in 2006. Which just goes to show that not all things in Japan come from antiquity. It's definitely one of the interesting sight-seeing locations in Chinatown (one of the great places to go in Yokohama), and free to enter. You can find it just down from Kanteibyo Temple - or hop-skip-and-jump from the Tenchoumon or Heaven Gate (天長門).

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Actually, we approached from Kanteibyo Temple, and you first come across a park... a park which has it's own sordid personal tale. My wife and I were busy trying to find a decent restaurant that wasn't closed on a Wednesday. In the mean-time our son had gone off to get a drink from a park public tap (don't forget it's a like about 130% humidity, and about 38degrees Celsius - the century mark in Fahrenheit). There was already an older Japanese child at the faucet playing, whom had decided it would be fun to annoy my son by not letting him drink. At this point, L-kun proceeded to start crying. Never a good moment in the steamy heat of a summer. In a moment of parenting protectiveness I told the boy off in my best stern parenting Japanese... at which point he started to cry (I'm sure he's not been told off by many gaijin before, and it's most probably scarred him for life). The moral of the story... well, there most probably was no moral, but I have to admit that I kinda felt ashamed of myself afterwards. T-chan quietly ignored all of the shenanigans, and was too busy conferring with Okaasan about which restaurants we should try.

Actually, if you can avoid upsetting the local children (like stealing candy from a baby, bwahahahaaaa), then it's worth while checking out the park behind the temple as you'll get a very different view of the main temple building... an unusual octagonal structure. From what I gather, the octagonal design is definitely a throwback to Chinese temple design, as compared to Japanese... reminds me a little of Nan'en-dō in Nara.

Actually the temple derived from a community-based dispute with a proposed housing development... the solution, scrap the development and turn it into a temple. Which is exactly what they did after a mammoth fund-raising drive. Clock one up for community power. A more complete story can be found here.

The front gate is bright and in-your-face, in true Chinese temple style.

The temple gates are guarded by two of the blingiest lions I've ever seen! It's weird to find "metallic" mirror and tassle adorned sculptures, not least as part of a temple grounds.

The temple itself is raised up on an elevated position, a great vantage point from which to hang hundreds of lanterns, and also a providing a great perspective with which to view the intricate series of beams. It's not all gaudy show.

The lanterns are a definite feature, and I'm sure they must be quite a sight at night (and indeed, I've yet to experience Yokohama's Chinatown at night... something for next time perhaps).

For some reason, whenever I see this mural (below) I think of the late 70's tv show, Monkey. Which, as an aside, was one of the first shows that I saw that was Japanese... and turned out to be incredibly popular here in Australia. It was also set against a Chinese story of the pilgrimage to bring Buddhist scrolls to China.... hence, perhaps, the connection. Indeed my wife's parents can't believe just how popular the show was (and indeed remains) here. Of course, if you haven't seen the show, you most probably have no idea what I'm talking about.

Now the name Mazu Miao means the temple to Mazu, or Matsu, who is a Chinese goddess of the sea - but is worshipped all throughout South East Asia amongst the sea-going communities. According to trusty Wikipedia, she was actually born (a real person by the name Lin Moniang) around 960 AD - and as the story goes she somehow saved the lives of her brothers and/or father during a huge typhoon whilst they were at sea through some form of trance-like state.

A closer look at the Mazu statue (shame I didn't put my longer lens on). Mazu is almost always depicted in the distinctive hat reserved for Chinese Emperesses. The custom has the she is associated with two trusty generals, "Thousand Miles Eye" (千里眼, Qianli Yan) and "With-the-Wind Ear" (順風耳 Shunfeng Er). And indeed, Mazu is accompanied by her two friends here....  Thousand Miles Eye being the two-horned red character...

And that leaves With-the-Wind Ear being the one-horned green character, to the right of Mazu herself. Unfortunately I have no idea who or what they were. Indeed, Mazu's ascension to goddesshood is a little vague... or indeed how she came to be the poster-girl for Buddhism (and Taoism). Apparently, she was thought to have been the human incarnation of the god Guan Yin.  Still, it's a nice story that doesn't involve a whole heap of killing and smiting; and indeed you can find temples to Mazu all throughout the south-east Asia.

There's a lot to see in the temple, and not everything is immediately obvious (I have no idea what this object was supposed to be, but it was LARGE).

Oh - and by the way, you'll be expected to pay a small "prayer" fee if you show your camera... and my experience was that the temple staff weren't that pleasant about it either. If you're not interested in donating to the neighbourhood, you can always just enjoy the detail work on the outside of the temple  building itself.

Well, Mazu Miao is definitely worth seeing, but it's perhaps not going to keep you occupied other than as a quick diversion to the other sights and sounds of Yokohama's Chinatown. It does however, despite their slightly less than pleasing style of communicating with tourists (which perhaps are a pain in the butt most of the time), represent what a local community can do against the march of 'development progress'. It may not have as much history as some of the temples in Japan, but it's got a good heart (underneath)... and plenty of over-the-top bling to boot.

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