Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Zojo-ji....The Path To Redemption And An Old Friend

21st August, 2010 - a short taxi ride (or a longer walk) from Takeshiba monorail station you'll find the temple Zōjō-ji (or more correctly, San'en-zan Zōjō-ji). Tokyo is normally a city more renowned for the newest fashion, pop culture or electrical goods rather than historical temples. But there remains (if you look for it) any number of temples around the city. Zōjō-ji may lack the razzmatazz of Senso-ji in Asakusa, but it's still one of the more significant temples in Tokyo. You can check out my original post from our trip back in 2003 here.

The temple was first built in 1393 AD for the Jodo Shu sect of Buddhism (the ones that popularised the act of reciting the nembutsu chant as a way of finding enlightenment). It was later moved to the current location in 1598 AD. However, despite it's rich heritage, only the main gate, known as the Sangedatsumon (roughly as the Gate of the three deliverances - in this case form greed, anger and stupidity!) This huge vermilion painted gate was constructed in 1622.... one of the oldest surviving structures in Tokyo - a city with a history replete with bad endings for buildings.

From the other side of the gate... the busy streets of Tokyo echo softly with the hot breath of summer life drifting through the huge temple gates.

And of course it is still a working temple... so expect to see the odd monk or two around...

Actually - back in it's hey day, you'd have been quite likely to have spotted the elite of Edo (old Tokyo) around the temple, as it was the favoured temple of the Tokugawa clan; the Shogun rulers of Japan for over 250 years. Indeed the family mausoleum was on this site... though the history (other than Sangedatsumon) was largely destroyed following the fall of the Shogunate, and of course the bombing of Tokyo in WWII.

The creatively named Daibonsho... or BIG BELL....constructed in 1673, and comes in at a modest 13.6 tonnes of purification. Rung twice daily - early in the morning and in the evening (I'd vote for seeing it in the evening)... it evokes an amazing feeling as it rings out across the amazingly quiet temple grounds. Remember this is still in the heart of the city,

Time for some purification of another sort at the chōzubachi, which is a ceremonial water trough used for the act of washing your impurities in the temizu ritual (te = hand, mizu = water). How to do it? Grab the full cup/ladle in your right hand, rinse your left hand with it. Then repeat with your left hand washing your right... then pour some water into your left hand and wash your mouth. Though I suspect this last step is often (though not always) skipped for the sake of hygiene.

One of my favourite - though that's perhaps not the right word -  parts of Zōjō-ji is the memorials to the lost children. Around the north-western wall are lined row after row of Jizō statues, disturbingly garbed in red bibs and hats they make for a memorable, if a little disturbing, sight bathed in the late afternoon glow. It's a sad place - and a place for quiet reflection on our children. Jizō is the patron saint of children, and you will find Jizō statues all over the country - protecting and guiding the souls of those unfortunate souls that were not long for the world.

Actually I have also read (not sure about it) that the practice of parents paying for Jizō statues to remember their departed children is used by some temples as a way of money-raising; using emotional blackmail and fear to pry money out of the grieving parents pockets. Of the two versions, I prefer to believe in the more soulful and spiritual protection of Jizō for the children lost to the world.

The Daidan (Honden) is the main hall in the temple building and was a relatively recent construction of (1974). Actually, reading the blurb it's described as combining the best of Buddhism and modern architectural designs (at least circa 40 years ago). I kinda get worried by those sorts of statements - for some reason. Inside you'll find a large - and venerated - image of the Amida Buddha. That's of course if you go inside. Actually, we were just passing through today.... a more detailed visit will need to wait for another trip....

And our old friend is revealed... Tokyo Tower. Mama-san of the Tokyo's night skyline.

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