Friday, August 1, 2014

Photo Tour of Ueno Toshogu Jinja
In Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion, my focus was on delivering as much information as possible about as many shrines as possible. The original goal was 100 shrines but this would have necessitated a massive book at a massive price (as well as an irate publisher). Since I was unwilling to compromise the information for each shrine, I compromised on the number of photos. In this blog too, I have followed the style of the book and therefore images are again minimal. But on the assumption that readers of the book and of this blog might also be interested in seeing more of the places being written about, I will begin a series of Photo Tours with the recently renovated Ueno Toshogu Jinja.                                                                     
Gate and haiden of Ueno Toshogu

The main gate of the shrine covered in gold leaf, red lacquer, and polychrome under the roof. To the right and left of the door are rising and falling dragons, carved and polychromed. The dragons were carved by the legendary Hidari Jingoro.
            The jinja is one of several magnificent Toshogu shrines detailed in the book. All Toshogu jinja enshrine the spirit of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the progenitor of a line of shoguns who brought some 200 years of relative peace and stability to Japan known as the the Edo period. Ieyasu died in 1616. The shrine was founded in 1627 and the current building from 1651 is one of those miraculous survivors of the earthquakes, fires and wars that otherwise devastated the city of Edo over and over again, even after it became the official capital of the country and was renamed Tokyo (eastern capital) in the late nineteenth century.
The interior side of the classic and highly ornate four-post, karahafu gate.

           As is the case with most Toshogu shrines, Ueno is detailed with elaborate carvings and polychrome. Unlike most shrines its exterior is covered in gold leaf. The renovation of the shrine took six years and an undisclosed amount of money. Even the Huffington Post had a poorly written "gee, golly" blog piece on the reopening in January 2014. Unfortunately, the interior of the shrine is not generally open to the public and so my photos are only of the exterior—but what a magnificent exterior it is. This gongen-zukuri shrine is more correctly considered in the context of its original setting on the grounds of Kaneji Temple. This was a typical situation when shinbutsu shugo, the integration of Buddhism and Shinto, was the mainstay of Japanese religion from the Nara to the late Edo periods. Kaneji was founded by the monk Tenkai to protect the kimon (north-gate) of Tokyo from the entrance of demons. The grounds were arranged to reflect Kyoto's Higashiyama, and its famous cherry trees were planted at that time. Other remnants of the former temple grounds exist in the form of the pagoda, now located in the Ueno Zoo adjoining the sando of the shrine, Kiyomizu Kannon-do (a reflection of Kiyomizudera) overlooking Shinobazu pond (a reflection of Lake Biwa), and the Bentendo temple located in the middle of the pond (a reflection of Chikubushima). It is a fitting tribute to the man, the era and the enlightened (or perhaps mystical) attitude that allowed all the "gods" to live together in a sort of spiritual soup, which tasted miraculously good (and marvelously different) to everyone who partook of it. While no doubt that is an overly optimistic view of the situation, it is equally without doubt that the following era of "nationalistic, Japanese only" gods was part and parcel of the "us vs. them" mentality that culminated in World War 2.
One of the carved panels of the interior gate. The motif uses the rooster, symbol of the rising sun, sitting on a drum that is painted with the tomoe. These are surrounded by plum, pine, and bamboo trees (sho, chiku, bai), the Confucian "Three friends of Winter," a symbol of good fortune and prosperity.
Ueno Park became Japan's first public park in 1873 on the former grounds of Kaneji. As readers are likely aware, Hachiman and Toshogu shrines were the epitome of shinbutsu shugo.
The haiden of the shrine in gold leaf and black lacquer.
            Though no longer the religious center that it once was, Ueno continues to be one of Tokyo's most famous leisure spots combining as it does shrines and temples, historic sites, a zoo, and a large number of museums, as well as playing host to one of Japan's biggest cherry viewing festivals with over 2 million revelers. That wily old 'chairman of the sword', Ieyasu Tokugawa, would be proud.
The doors of the haiden are gold leaf but the interesting thing is the motif. This is the Buddhist "Wheel of the Law" which one would not expect to find on a Shinto shrine until one remembers that the Toshogu branch of Shinto was essentially created by the Buddhist prelate Tenkai and, apparently, no one dared to mess with Ieyasu's shrine even after shinbutsu bunrei.
A side view of the shrine reveals the gongen-zukuri style of haiden connected to honden, the former in black lacquer, the latter completely in gold leaf.

The side of the honden in gold leaf. Notice the intricate carving and polychrome under the eaves. Though the roof line of the haiden and honden are at the same level, the floor of the honden is raised higher.

Detail of the carving and polychrome under the eaves. Elaborate carving and painting is indicative of Toshogu shrines, but only Ueno is so extensively gold leafed.
The sukashi-bei fence in green and red surrounding the grounds is over six hundred feet long and one of only the surviving in Tokyo. The other is at Nezu Jinja. Again, notice the intricate carving and polychrome along the top.

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