鎌倉 Do not be Defeated by the Rain (or Surf)

In between visiting the great Buddha and Hase-Kannon Temple, we also checked out some of the smaller temples of Kamakura. Like many of the small temples I’ve visited, though the pictures are not as spectacular as the famous ones, their history reveals so much about the area I’m visiting. These temples are worth visiting for their insight into the past alone.

These temples are actually a perfect pair in terms of history, as both tell the tale of Kamakura Buddhism, namely the tale of the founder of Nichiren Buddhism, Nichiren himself. Both temples were run by disciples to Nichiren. The first, shuzen-ji (修禅寺), was the home of a devout desciple of Nichiren, whos residence was made into a temple upon his death. The second temple was originally the residence of someone keeping Nichiren’s desciple prisoner, but was converted to Nichiren buddhism and created the temple.

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The first temple, Shuzen-ji (修禅寺) was on the way to the Great Buddha. It was deserted and I couldn’t get a stamp, but when we walked around the back of the temple we discovered several surfboards. As it was a rather windy day, I have a sneaking suspicion that the monk had snuck off to catch some waves. Can’t say I blame him, Kamakura bay looks perfect for surfing. From this point it was ‘surfing temple’ in my head.

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The owner of Surfing temple had tried to convert his lord to Nichiren Buddhism and as a result was ordered to abandon his faith. He had resolved to kill himself on the anniversary of Nichiren’s death but his lord fell ill and needed his help. Shijo Kingo Yoritomo, for that was his name, was well versed in medicine and nursed his lord back to health. He was granted three times the land and forgiven his attempts at conversion as a result. His house became a temple when he died.

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The second temple belonged to a man named Yadoya Mitsunori. To understand this temple one needs to know a little about Nichiren himself so let’s have a brief look at his life.

Nichiren studied a variety of schools of Buddhism but became convinced that none were the right path. He read the lotus sutra during his studies and decided that its study was the only way to attain enlightenment. He founded his own school and began to petition the government to ban all other forms of Buddhism because they were not ‘correct’. Clearly this did not make him any friends and he was summoned for questioning in 1271. He was kidnapped by a group of scholars who tried to behead him but stopped when they witnessed a great glowing orb in the sky that appeared like the moon. He was exiled several times throughout his life for insulting other buddhist sects and eventually went into voluntary exile in 1274 because the government had ingored his treatise 3 times.

This is considered the most accurate drawing of Nichiren

The second temple, Kosokuji (光則寺), was owned by a man named Yadoya Mitsunori. He was imprisoning a disciple of Nichiren while Nichiren was in exile, however, this punishment led to the owner converting to Nichiren buddhism and leaving his house to become a temple upon his death.

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The stone in the middle of the temple garden has the poem ‘Ame ni mo Makezu’ 雨にも負けず which means ‘do not be defeated by the rain‘. Certainly Nichiren was determined not to be defeated by those that disagreed with his teachings and succeeded in founding a sect of Buddhism that still operates today. Read the full text of the poem here.

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These two temples taught me about a sect of Buddhism I had only heard of. Though this post only covers the life of Nichiren and not the history of his sect, I think its a good place to start in looking at this strand of Buddhism. I haven’t even attempted to delve into scripture as I can’t pretend to know anything about Buddhist texts and interpretation.

長谷観音 Treasure from the Tide

The temple I enjoyed most when I visited Tokyo, and possibly one of the most varied temples I’ve been to, was the Hase-Kannon temple (長谷観音). This temple was founded in 736, and is dedicated to Kannon, the favourite Bodhisattva of the Japanese. Hase-Kannon has a huge gilded wooden statue of Kannon enshrined there, but alas I was not allowed to take any pictures of it.

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The statue, which is 9.18m tall, is said to have been carved from a huge camphor tree by the monk Tokudo in 721. He carved two huge statues from the same tree, enshrining one in Nara, and casting the other statue adrift at sea, to allow it to find a place with which it had a karmic connection. It eventually washed ashore near Kamakura in 736 and a temple was built to enshrine it. The statue is huge and impressive but also serene, I would strongly recommend going to see it; it’s a something that you really have to experience rather than just read a description.

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Hase-Kannon temple also had a cave! This was the first temple I’d been to with a cave, so it was pretty exciting. The cave roof was quite low – I had to duck a lot and I’m not exactly tall.

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The cave is dedicated to Benzaiten, a Buddhist goddess of “everything that flows”, making her goddess of water, words, music and knowledge. She is said to bring feminine beauty and has become somewhat of a Shinto Kami as well as a Buddhist goddess – like the god Kannon, she is often worshipped at Shinto shrines as well as Buddhist temples. She is one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods (and the only female among them); these gods ride the Takarabune 宝船 (literally ‘treasure boat’) and bestow monetary fortune upon worshippers. It is common at new year for children to receive red envelopes with the Takarabune printed on them.

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The cave also had many shrines dedicated to smaller Kami and Buddhist gods, though there were no signs denoting who they were – you just have to know. The cave was pretty busy but definitely worth a visit.

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Outside of the cave, there was also a room full of prayer wheels – you spin the wheel and it’s counted as the karmic equivalent of reading the scripture inside. It seems a lot like cheating to me, but I must have gained quite a bit of Karma so I’m not going to complain too much.

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This is one of those many-layered temples, which is my favourite temple layout. At the ground level there were a few large ponds where we made friends with some koi. These were brightly coloured monster koi, not the smaller black koi that you usually see. Judging by their size they must have been quite old. The fish were interested in us but eventually realised we weren’t going to feed them and lost interest.

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I also got my stamp done at the ground level, I really like this one – the calligraphy is beautiful.

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Walking up the steps of the temple I began to notice the many small stone statues placed everywhere. These are Jizo statues – they are said to protect the souls of aborted or miscarried children and bring them to Buddhist paradise. The god Jizo is said to be their guide and so mourning parents will buy the statues to help the soul of the ‘mizuko’ 水子 (literally ‘water child’ – stillbirth). Sometimes these statues are dressed in bibs and hats like children.

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Hase-Kannon is a popular temple to place Jizo statues, and it has to bury or burn the statues once a year in order to make space for new ones. It is estimated that since World War II about 50,000 Jizo statues have been placed at the temple.

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About half way up the temple path there was a small shrine with a tori and Inari statues. I assume that this is another ‘shrine within a shrine’ that separates Buddhism and Shinto. There was an inscription next to the shrine that said that as the statue enshrined in the temple “was drifting the sea with oyster shells”, there are oyster shells enshrined there. I assume this means that this Inari shrine contains oyster shells.

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At the top of the temple, there is a great view of Kamakura bay. It was a really windy day and we could see windsurfers taking full advantage of the weather. The view was spectacular, especially for me as living in Kyoto I don’t get to see the sea very much. The temple has a short ‘sea view path’ that gives you a slightly better view of the sea.

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There are also a couple of food stalls by the sea viewing platform. We bought some vegetable buns 野菜饅 (yasai-man). There were signs everywhere warning about the kites – they will swoop down and take the food straight from your hands. Luckily we weren’t targeted but we saw a few circling.

P1030760 P1030756P1030580Kannon-Hase Temple ticks off pretty much everything you would want in a temple: cave, giant buddha, great view and statues everywhere. I would strongly recommend visiting if you go to Tokyo. Even compared to Kyoto temples it’s fantastic. Entrance fee was 300円 (£1.60) which is very reasonable, the stamp was also 300円.