Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Photo Tour of Popular Shrines and Temples at New Year      C
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 am presenting a series of Photo Tours.
          The tour this time is a little different in that it contains a number of the most popular shrines and temples frequented by the Japanese people—and quite a large number of foreigners—on or about the first day of the year. First up is, of course, Tokyo's Meiji Jingu.
A taste of the crowds, looking from the inside of the Roumon on New Years Day (all photos copyright Joseph Cali)
            Meiji Jingu is constantly the most visited jinja at Oshogatsu (Japanese new Year), with police estimates usually running around three million people over a three day period. Of course, the shrine's location in central Tokyo certainly contributes to the numbers. Please check my book for details.
During a quieter time, the first torii, one of the largest wooden torii in Japan.

     Even during a quiet time, it takes about fifteen minutes to walk from this torii of the large grounds to the shrine proper. But if you line-up and wait for the drums to signal midnight—as many people do—it can easily take between one and two hours not including the waiting time.
A view of the forest surrounding the shrine in the autumn.

The Meiji period began in 1868 after the shogun 'returned' power to the Emperor, who was a mere boy of fourteen. In 1873 the lunar calendar was abandoned in favor of the Gregorian and New Year began on January 1. Prior to this time the current holiday of Setsubun, celebrated on February 3, was essentially the New Year, and celebrated by throwing beans (mamemaki) to cleanse the evil accumulated in the previous year and make a fresh start.
Photographing the members after the wedding ceremony

Many New Years customs are associated with temples (ringing of the bell 108 times to rid the soul of the 108 worldly desires), and shrines (buying demon-breaking arrows), and customs such as eating toshikoshi soba, kagami mochi, and ozoni and giving children otoshidama. Of course, Meiji Jingu is not just about New Years. On any weekend of the year you can witness a constant procession of Shinto wedding ceremonies, known as shinzen kekkon. The style began in the Meiji period but became popularized after the wedding of the Taisho Emperor's (Emperor Meiji's son) wedding. The bride in this photo wears a wataboshi, one of two common headdress.
Geihaiden outer worship hall of Meiji Jingu
 Meiji Jingu is also noteworthy for its dedication to Japanese martial arts known collectively as budo. The Shiseikan, located at the rear of the grounds, conducts training sessions in judo, kyudo, aikido and kendo, for both Japanese and foreigners (by invitation only). The shrine is also noted for its garden, called Yoyogi Gyoen, open to the public for a five hundred yen fee. The shrine itself was built in 1920, it is said, largely with contributions from the public. Its forest too was planted with donated trees and lots of volunteer labor.
A view of part of the garden where iris bloom in spring

Another view of the garden in autumn

The consistently second most visited New Year's destination is Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Chiba. Founded in 940, it also attracts around three million visitors over a three day period (considered the usual New Year holiday). This is another very large temple housing no less than five Important Cultural Properties.

Somon Gate of Naritasan
The first three structures of the temple follow in quick order beginning with the Somon gate, which leads to the Niomon gate of 1830 above a short flight of stone stairs. This is followed by a three-story pagoda built in 1712 and the newly built Main hall.

If you are interested in some details of the temple my book, Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion, has a short entry. It may seem incongruous that a book on Shinto has a listing for a Buddhist temple but such is the importance of the place that any trip to Katori Jingu—also in Chiba—would be incomplete without a stop here. This is especially true when one realizes that there was no sharp separation of shrines and temples and the worship of Kami and Buddha before the Meiji era.
The lantern of Naritasan, donated by the local fish market, sporting the kanji for — "Fish Market'

It is also possible to find a good bit of information in English on the net. Naritasan's own website is informative as is Narita City's website at and Japan Visitor. I don't vouch for the veracity of these sites but they will give you a good sense of what you are seeing. 
The three-story pagoda of Naritasan from 1712
The Main hall

Naritasan is a Shingon sect temple, said to have been founded by a follower of Kobo Daishi who brought (or revived) the sect to Japan in the ninth century, which means that a ceremony called the goma is performed here. This is a ritual in which planks of wood are burned and prayers to Fudo-myo-O are chanted. I have not witnessed the ritual here but at a related temple, Naritasan Shinshoji Fukagawa Fudodo, located next to Tomioka Hachimangu in the Monzen-nakacho area of Tokyo. At this temple the chanting and drumming were accompanied by a shugenja blowing on the horagai (conch shell).
Shakudo Hall

 The Shakudo Hall of 1858 was once the Main Hall of the temple. Built in the irimoya style with a copper-tile roof with karahafu and chidorihafu, it is more reminiscent of Shinto-style architecture that was prevalent throughout the Muromachi to the Edo periods.
Omiyage gift shops on the temple grounds.

New Years is called Oshogatsu and the first visit to the shrine or temple is called hatsumode. Various charms to bring good luck are purchased and old charms are brought to the temple to be burnt. Probably the most sought after charm at either temple or shrine is the omikuji. This is essentially a prediction of your fortune for the coming year.
Daito of Naritasan

This is a recent addition built on the temple's 1,150th birthday in 1984. Called the 'Great Peace Pagoda' in English, the temple's website calls it a five-story pagoda but I just don't see it. It looks more like a daito or tohoto two-story pagoda to me. Be that as it may, it is impressively situated to be viewed from a lower plaza containing a fountain.
Naritasan Park
There is also a very lovely park/garden with a small pond and pavilion. If you stroll through the whole grounds, the park comes at the end of the journey, just in time for a well deserved rest. Of course, the new year is not the best time for viewing gardens but relaxing none the less.

It is often repeated that the third most popular shrine or temple in the Kanto for New Year's visits is Kawasaki Daishi more formally known as Heiken-ji. The temple's foundation story claims a date of 1128 when a priest named Sonken and exiled samurai from Owari, Hirama Kanenori, began constructing the temple to house a miraculous statue of Kobo Daishi also known as Kukai.
First gate and monzenmachi of Kawasaki Daishi crowded with people on New Year's Day

Of course, one should note that stories of statues of Buddhas and others, being fished out of the sea, is a staple of temple foundation legends. One of the most famous in Tokyo is Sensoji in Asakusa where the fishermen were reputed to be two brothers who were later enshrined (along with the village headman) in Asakusa Jinja next door. Be that as it may, it is a very popular site.
The Daisanmon Gate built in 1977

As with Naritasan above, this is a Shingon sect temple. Shingon is an esoteric sect that was brought to Japan by Kobo Daishi in 806 after a number of years studying in China. The teachings rely heavily on three ancient tantra's (treatise) and use physical images called mandala's as an aid to understanding, especially the Mandala of the Two Realms — the Womb and Diamond Realms.
The Daihondo or main temple building of Kawasaki Daishi, rebuilt in 1958

As temples go, the grounds of this one are rather small. This may be the consequence of several post-war reconstructions or it may simply be the encroaching city. Kawasaki has a population of about 1.5 million of which about thirty-thousand are foreigners. Situated between Tokyo and Yokohama and like them, it is a port city and the site of many large industries.
Looking back from the temple toward the Daisanmon as the crowd quietly waits for a chance to approach.

Five-story pagoda from 1984 (note the similar timing with the Daito of Naritasan, above)

The entrance to the temple with visitors lined up to throw their money and say a prayer.

In the photo above you can make out part of the jimon crest of the temple which consists of three oak-leaves in a circle and is called the maru ni mitsukashiwa. It is a fairly common crest with a very large number of variations. This is originally a samurai crest which was then adopted by both temples and shrines (when used in reference to samurai or jinja it is generally known as a kamon  or just mon). Though not really visible in the photo, inside the closed glass doors, a goma ceremony is in progress.
A shop selling daruma for the New Year

Finally, I think it is fair to say that one of the most important aspects of shrines and temples is the monzenmachi — literally the town within the gate. Many a large town began with no more than a temple or shrine. As one can imagine, this attracted pilgrims and pilgrims had needs which attracted merchants. Though most of these original towns are now only a small area within much larger cities, they still maintain something of that bygone era. The photo above shows one such shop at the entrance to Kawasaki Daichi which specializes in Daruma dolls. The tradition is to buy the doll and paint in one eye when one makes a resolution or sets a goal, then paint in the other when the goal is accomplished. (No word on weather there is a market for used, one-eyed Daruma or not.) Not only for New Years, these dolls are a favorite among successful candidates for political office who love to be depicted painting in that second eye.