Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Yachiyo-za Theatre


Yachiyo-za is a traditional type of theatre that is located in the hot spring resort town of Yamaga, not far from Kumamoto City.

The ceiling is completely covered with advertisments, a tradition dating back to the Edo Period.

The theatre was built in 1910 and is now registered as an Important Cultural Property. Kabuiki and other types of performances are still held today, but during times of no performaces the theatre is open to visitors.

There is a small museum displaying costumes, props, playbills etc as well as an old projectore used to show movies.

Visitors are free to explore everywhere, including under the stage which has the human-powered rotating stage mechanism.

As Kabuki theaters go it is quite large, seating more than 1,200 people. By the 1980's it was long abandoned and derelict but it was decided to renovate rather than demolish.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Kongojoji Temple 100 on the Kyushu Pilgrimage


Probably the most famous part of Kongojoji Temple in Yamaga, Kumamoto is the circular stone gate.  Built in 1804 by a mason called Kikuchi, it uses the technology used to construct what are called "spectacles bridges" in Japan. It is nowadays touted as a "marriage power spot"

According to legend the temple was founded by Kukai himself who reputedly spent nine days here. It is a Shingon temple, as are all the temples on this pilgrimage, and the honzon is a Yakushi Nyorai.

There is a renovated Kannon-do (bottom photo) that I believe is the focus of the pilgrimage, and there were plenty of Kannon statues around.

In the 15th century, the local hot spring suddenly stopped, and a priest at the temple is credited with performing ceremonies that caused it to start up again. Paper lanterns donated after the event became the basis for the town's  famous lantern festival.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Santoka Taneda and Midorikannonzuisenji Temple


This is a statues of Santoka Taneda (1882-1940 ) a famous poet of the early 20th century who is well known as much for his lifestyle as his poetry. The statue is in the grounds of a small Zen temple just north of Kumamoto.

I came across the temple by chance. Day 47 of my walk along the Kyushu pilgrimage found me heading north out of Kumamoto City to the next temple in Yamaga. I came across a statue of Fudo Myo at the base of a set of very steep, narrow, and overgrown steps that led up the hill////

It is a quite small Soto temple but with quite a lot of statuary around. Santoka had made what many believed was a suicide attempt by stepping in front of a train in Kumamoto. He recuperated at a nearby zen temple and was obviously attracted to something because a year later he was ordained as a Zen priest.

He then spent a year as a caretaker here at Midorikannonzuisenji before heading off on his famous walks around Japan.

Zuisenji is a larger temple a little lower down the hill, and this was the Kannon -do of the temple. I believe these are rakan statues, but, as usual, might be mistaken.

I am fairly certain this is a Kannon.

These two more colorful statues were, I believe, connected to a shrine just above the kannondo. They do have somewhat of a kami statue feel to them, but I have no idea. Maybe a reader does?

The temple is popular for fans of Santoka, and is also known for its autumn colors. A short haiku by Santoka can be found here.

Bato Kannon, the Horsehead Kannon, popular among livestock raisers as well as samurai. 

There were a couple of statues of Ebisu.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Izumo Folkcrafts Museum


The Izumo Folkcrafts Museum is located not far from Nishi Izumo Station and is located in the grounds of what was a wealthy farming families estate. I have to admit that I lived here 18 years before I finally got around to visiting, but was pleasantly surprised.

The main display is in a former granary that has had a small second floor added. Mostly from Izuo but also from further afield, there is a lot of ceramics but also textiles, lacquerware, woodwork, and other crafts.

A second building, a former timber warehouse, displays contemporary mingei, again with a heavy emphasis on ceramics. Outside this building is a display of farming implements and straw raincoats, hats etc.

In the gatehouse is a small shop selling a selection of crafts made in the region. Worth a visit if yu are into mingei.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Anrakuji Revisited


Anrakuji is temple number 6 on the famous Shikoku pilgrimage known as Ohenro. I had visited many years previously while walking that pilgrimage, but this time it was the second day of my walk along the Shikoku Fudo Myo-O pilgrimage.

It is not a part of that pilgrimage, but the first day and half of the Fuso pilgrimage folows roughy the same route as the Ohenro so I took the opportunity to revisit any temples and shrines I passed. For some pilgrims the main focus is on visiting the @ilgrimage temples, but for me the space between temples was just as important and I visited every shrine and temple I passed. In fact on the Ohenro I visited many times more shrines than temples.

It was very early in the morning and no-one was about. The honzon, pictured in the first photo, is a Yuakushi Nyorai, supposedly carved by Kukai himself. The temple is also known for the shrine and pond dedicated to Benzaiten, and there is also a nice pagoda.

Later on this second day the Ohenro route heads south and crosses the river, but the Fudo pilgrimage route continues to head upriver for a few more days.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Kikuya Residence South Garden


The Kikuya family were wealthy and powerful merchants in the old castle town of Hagi. They were financiers of the ruling Mori Clan nd also were the de facto mayors of the town. Their Edo Period residence is open to the public and I have posted about it before. The gardens are rather nice, especially in the Autumn.

Starting in the Meiji Period, they built two new hpuses to the south of the main residence, one a single storey, and the later one with two storeys and a little more Western.

These were used as guesthouses for wealthy and powerful guests, and in the 1930's a Prime Minister stayed here as did minor members of the imperial family.

Over the years, well into the twentieth century, they created and expanded the gardens around these new houses, and they are now open to the public, though only in the Spring and Autumn.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Izushi Castle


Izushi Castle in northern Hyogo was built in 1604 by Koide Yoshihide after he took of the domain formerly controlled by the Yamana Clan. The Yamana had built a small castle on the mountaintop, and Yoshhide built fortifications down at the base of the mountain.

A few years later the Tokugawa government outlawed domains having more than one castle so Yoshihide dismantled the castle on top of the mountain and strengthened the defences of the lower castle, although he never built a keep. A path goes up to the top of the mountain to where the earlier castle stood.

A town, Izushi, grew up around the castle. Like most Japanese castles it was dismantled in the first years of the Meiji Period, though in 1968 two turrets, yagura in Japanese were reconstructed and later still the castle gate.

There are now two shrines in the cstle grounds, and from the castle great views looking over the old castle town and to the north.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Yoshiura Beach


Unable to finish a couple of long pilgrimages I have started because of the pandemic, my explorations and walks this past year have been along the coast here in Shimane. I have been trying to explore every single little nook  and cranny of the coastline, as much as is possible from the land.

A few minutes' walk up the coast from Kuromatsu port is a tiny settlement of Yoshiura. There is a small shrine, but other than that only residences, many uninhabited, and some well advanced in decay.

There is a small beach, accessible by a narrow sandy path between some houses. On a sunny day I imagine it would be quite pretty.

There is no harbor of any kind but there were a bunch of small boats well above the high tide level. They didnt look as if they were used much.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Lot More Fudo at Myo-on-ji Temple


I usually limit the number of photos in a post to just 5. This time I post a lot more, mainly because I realize that at my current rate of posting I will be dead long before I get to post everything. I previously posted 5 different Fudo Myo statues from Myo-on-ji temple, a small temple near the start of the Sasaguri Pilgrimage near Fukuoka.

All 11 photos in this post are also just from Myo-on-ji temple, and just statues of Fudo-Myo-O. My guess would be that while walking this 4 day pilgrimage I encountered at least 1,000 statues of Fudo Myo, probably much more. My fascination is with the wide diversity of forms that this deity takes and his incredible popularity.

The statues come in all manner of sizes and are made of a range of different materials, and of course, some of the sculptors will have been made by  highly skilled professionals and some by less than gifted amateurs. This in itself makes for a complex diversity, but there are other factors at play I think that means there is no one single identity for Fudo, but many, and this is why a single site like Myo-on-ji temple can have so many different altars to Fudo and statues of Fudo.

Fudo in Japan has an incredibly complex and rich history, and this has led to a wide set of fluid identities. Most commonly Fudo began as a Hindu deity, though some sources suggest an even earlier origin. Adapted into Indian Buddhism, Fudo spread with Buddhism to China and Korea. In China he picked up attributes from Daoist deities. before coming to Japan where, especially in the medieval period,  he picked up connections with an array of what are now called Shinto kami.

Within Japan he is most commonly associated with the two esoteric schools of Shingon and Tendai, but also within other sects. most notably Shugendo. His cult, or cults, spread through individual lineages and sub sects and his form and identity changed at specific temples and locations.

He appeared in a variety of different rituals and mandalas, as well as varying forms as statues. When researching his identity and attributes, as with any of the deities in Japanese religious traditions, one comes across all kinds of associations, for instance a particular figure may be ..... conflated with....., equated with......., identified with......., symbolizes......., an emanation of....., trace of....., manifestation of....., identical to....., representation of...., reincarnation of....., coresponds to...., interpreted as....., are all common phrases explaining identities and attributes of Japanese deities, not least Fudo.

These one-to-one relationships among deities come about for a variety of reasons, similar attributes etc but a common one is through language. Homophones are words that have the same sound but different meanings. With a relatively small range of sounds the Japanese language is rife with homophones and is why puns are so very common in Japanese humor. Another linguistic convention is the use of kanji, Chinese characters, which each have multiple meanings and pronunciations. A clear example of the latter is the conflation of the Buddhist deity Daikokuten, originally a Hindu deity, with Okuninushi, the famous Izumo kami, both names written with the same kanji.

As well as one on one identities of different deities, Fudo, like most others, exist in patterned relationships with groups of other deities in such things as rituals and mandalas. Pairing is very common, obviously reflecting the very basic yin-yang, male-female, light-dark, heaven-earth, structure. Triads are also common. Patterns of 5 are very common in Japan, and China too, with Fudo being the head of the five Wisdom Kings. patterns of seven are quite common and 12 is very common. With Fudo, 36 plays a part. All Fudo Myo-O pilgrimages are of 36 temples, whereas Kannon pilgrimages are 33.

So each statue of Fudo obviously shares many common features and attributes with other Fudo statues, but each identity can have multiple meanings, right down to each individual one being different. Oaths in historical Japan were not made to universal deities like Hachiman, Amida, or Amaterasu, but to the specific deity of a location, the Hachiman of a particular shrine, or to a particular Buddhist statue.

Karen Smyers excellent book "The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and private meanings in contemporary Inari worship." shows this rich and complex set of identities of Inari, one of the most popular deities in Japan. Bernard Faure"s book "The Fluid Pantheon" is an excellent source for digging into the meaning and identity of Fudo Myo-O. I am currently reading it so that's why I ramble so much in today's post.

A gentle reminder........ if you download and share any of my photos without supplying a link back to the original here, then you are in fact stealing. I am happy if you share my work, but I keep finding my photos around the interweb without any link back to my original, and that is sad.