哲学の道 The Philosopher’s Blossom

This post will be part two of my visit to Philosopher’s walk 哲学の道 (part one here). All of these temples, including the two previously covered, were along a short forty-minute-walk stretch. There will be lots of pictures of cherry blossom, or sakura 桜 so if you didn’t get enough of that from my last post, here’s some more!

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The first temple we visited that day was also the smallest. Miroku-in 弥勒院 was a small courtyard with the stamp booth on the outside facing the path. There was a small market going on inside the temple with a few stalls selling pottery, purses and other hand-made objects. As such we did not spend much time in the actual temple courtyard as it was really crowded – a problem with being directly on the Philosopher’s walk is that the temple was far more crowded than those slightly apart from the road.

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Miroku-in is a temple from 1600 that was combined with another small temple in 1896 and was then moved in 1927 to its current location on Phiosopher’s walk. The temple is famous for the statue of Jizo, god of travellers and children, enshrined there which is known as the ‘Jizo of Happiness’ and is said to bring happiness to those that pray at the temple. This statue was inherited by the temple during World War 2. I got two stamps at this temple, one general stamp and a prayer to Jizo. There were lanterns hanging outside the temple that read ‘Jizo of happiness’ and the prayer tablets also showed a very merry looking Jizo. It was a nice quick temple with a lot of character, even if it was a little busy.

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In a bid to get out of the crowds and find some more temples, we ventured off the main path to the East where there are several temples nestled in the woods. The first we came across was Honen-in 法然院, which is a temple dedicated to its namesake, Honen, the founder of the Jodo sect of Buddhism. We have encountered Honen before when exploring temples; he was the monk that upset many other sects by stating that Buddhist chants were the only way to reach the Pure Land and by placing lay monks on the same level as those that had served many years, messing up temple hierarchies. This unpopularity was only increased when, in 1207, two female attendants of the retired emperor converted to Jodo Buddhism and became nuns – there were rumours that the two monks that had converted them had seduced the attendants and the two monks were put to death while Honen was exiled.

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Honen-in was founded in 1680 to honour Honen; though he fell out of favour with the imperial family during his lifetime, he was pardoned before his death and became a prominent figure in Japanese Buddhsim and is celebrated as the founder of Jodo Buddhism. The temple itself was beautiful and we were able to venture inside the sprawling temple buildings. Thankfully as it is now getting warmer my feet did not freeze on the cold temple floor this time – you must take your shoes off to enter a Buddhist temple which can be problematic in the winter when the cold floor causes your feet to go numb!

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This temple also had a beautiful collection of screens that were well worth visiting. Sadly photography wasn’t allowed but I have a few sneaky pictures. I would recommend going to check them out if you are in Kyoto!

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Our next stop, and tying in well to the history of Honen-in, was Anraku-ji 安楽寺. This temple is dedicated to those two young priests that converted the retired emperor’s attendants and were executed for allegedly seducing them. Their story is that they built a thatched hut in Higashiyama to pray to the Amitabha Buddha. Two ladies, attendants of the retired emperor Gotoba, came to hear their teachings and were sou touched that they became nuns and renounced the world. This incensed the imperial family and nembutsu prayers, the Buddhist chants key to Jodo Buddhism, were banned. The two priests were executed. It is unclear as to whether anything untoward or indecent actually went on, but in the already tense environment surrounding Jodo Buddhism, this was the final straw for the imperial family.

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This temple was constructed in 1532 in memory of these two young men. It is also well known as a temple that holds an annual festival on July 25th at which they serve pumpkin that supposedly cures paralysis. I have no idea where this myth comes from but it seems fairly obvious that the story would involved a paralysed man eating pumpkin. Strange, but worth a try I suppose. There is also a tea room at Anraku-ji if you fancy a rest and a drink. There isn’t really much else there; a small garden and a nice view of the main building is mostly what you will get out of this temple.

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The next two temples we visited were covered on my previous post about Philosopher’s Walk, so we will jump to the final stop on our trip. Before that, though, I’ll tell you a little about the walk itself. It is called Philosopher’s walk because it was the favourite walking spot of famous Kyoto philosopher Nishida Kitaro (1870 – 1945). I don’t really understand the nuances of philosophy well enough to properly convey his ideas, but I can tell you that he focussed on bringing Eastern and Western philosophical concepts closer, while also taking an interest in the Japanese concept of ‘nothingness’. He founded the Kyoto school, which is a group of influential Japanese philosophers based in Kyoto. I can see why he would walk down this path, it is serene and beautiful (especially when it isn’t packed with tourists looking at the blossoms).

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The walk itself was indeed packed with tourists as I had expected. There were also at least 4 different brides and grooms getting their photos taken among the blossoms; cherry blossom season must be very popular for weddings, and I can see why. We also saw some fish in the stream as well as some cats sitting in what looked like a pram being fawned over by a crowd of tourists. I was pretty hungry half-way through our walk so I picked up a potatornado, a spiralled potato that had been deep fried, like a long crisp. It was really tasty and it goes without saying the name is fantastic.

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Our final stop is Nyakuo Shrine 若王子神社, another smaller shrine close to Philosopher’s Walk. The reason for the small size of this shrine is that it was founded in 1160 as a combined Shinto shrine and Zen Buddhist temple, but when the government decreed the division of Shinto and Buddhism in 1868, only the Shinto elements of the complex remained (more information on this decreed split between Buddhism and Shinto in this post).

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We only got to see the best part of this shrine because I got my stamp done – the man that did the calligraphy told me that just up the hill around the back of the shrine there was a grove of sakura. We went to have a look and sure enough, there was a grove of the beautiful darker pink cherry blossom trees as well as a fairly good view of Kyoto. I think I prefer the darker pink blossoms as they contrast so well with the blue sky whereas the white ones, though beautiful, tend to look a little washed out in photos – the camera doesn’t capture their subtle light pink colour.

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Thus ends our stroll down Philosopher’s Walk, I hope you enjoyed the blossoms and the temples. If you haven’t quite had your blossom fix, there are more spring blogs coming, so never fear. I still have a huge backlog of material to write about!

哲学の道 Trial by Fire, Snake and Pillow

The last few weeks in Kyoto have been the weeks of 花見, hanami – the time when you can see the spectacular cherry blossom or sakura that coats the city in a pale pink cloud. My parents and I took the opportunity to visit Philosophers walk, 哲学の道 (Tetsugaku no michi), a path from North to South down the Eastern portion of Kyoto that is awash with sakura in the spring. That day we visited 6 different temples so I will cover all of them in a few different posts. Today I want to focus on one temple and one shrine, both with a rich history and links to interesting people from throughout Japanese history. This kind of temple is always fun to research because you find out about figures in Japanese history that are not considered pivotal enough to be covered in any lecture, but have their own amusing aspects and kept the historical thread running, even if they didn’t alter the pattern.

These happen to be the fourth and fifth temples we visited, so they are located pretty close together. I will start with Reikan-ji 霊鑑寺, a nunnery belonging to the Rinzai-Zen sect which was founded in 1654 by Retired Emperor Gomizunoo. This Retired Emperor, whose name when ruling was Emperor Go-Yozei, oversaw the end of the sengoku-jidai, the century of civil war faced by Japan in the 16th Century, and was still on the throne when the country came under the control of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the final unifier of Japan and the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that would rule Japan for 250 years.

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The main temple building was donated by Tokugawa Ienari, the 11th and longest serving shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. He was not a great unifier like Tokugawa Ieyasu, and his reign was characterised by natural disasters, court excesses and a great famine. This excess should really have been anticipated when, upon succeeding to the title of shogun, Ienari locked himself in the inner sanctuary of the castle and refused to leave for 18 days. When bakufu councillors tried to force him to do his duty, he held them off with 600 women of the harem armed with pillows. These women held the entrance to the inner quarters for three days before he was captured.

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While Ienari was certainly a fun-loving guy, the series of natural disasters under his rule and a series of revolts due to famine caused people to lose faith in the Shogunate. His rule was 1773 until 1841, and as the shogunate fell in 1868, it seems his rule laid the foundations of problems that led to the bakufu’s destruction. While he could not prevent American involvement in opening up Japan, the shogunate was already on shaky footing due to its inability to cope well with internal disasters, causing some to feel like the shogunate may have lost its mandate to rule.

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Ienari was also the shogun that expelled the first woman to visit Japan, Titia Bergsma, a Dutch woman that travelled with her husband to trade with Japan (the Dutch were allowed to visit Japan in limited capacity, and women were not allowed). While she was on Dejima, the man-made island that the Dutch were permitted to stay on while trading with Japan, over 500 images were made of her, making her an icon in Japan at the time. She was expelled within 5 days of landing in Japan. Unfortunately for the Tokugawa Shogunate, expelling foreigners became much harder after the ‘friendly visit’ paid by the American ‘black ships’ in 1851.

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The temple itself was beautiful, with spectacular gardens full of camellias. It is said that the founding Retired Emperor Gomizunoo loved camellias so he had many planted there. His patronage also ensured that princesses and granddaughters of the imperial line were priestesses here for centuries. The stamp I got at Reikan-ji is one of my favourite stamps in my stamp book. I would strongly recommend this temple if you visit in late winter or spring, though check when it opens as apparently it is shut for most of the year.

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Just along the road from Reikan-ji is Otoyo-Jinja 大豊神社, or in my mind, ‘the mouse shrine’, founded in 887. This is because rather than the standard foxes, this shrine also has mouse guardians, kite guardians and guardian monkeys, making it a little more interesting than the Japan standard Inari shrine. There are foxes too, of course.

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This shrine’s mice come from a legend surrounding Okuninushi-no-mikoto also known as Taikoku, whom we have met before, remember the story of the white rabbit? Well our hero went on to fall in love with a beautiful princess, but, as many young men have found, he had issues with her dad. In order to win Princeess Suseri, Okuninushi had to pass a series of tests. First, Suasanoo, her father, challenged him to sleep in a room full of snakes. Luckily Princess Suseri gave him a scarf to wear and it protected him. You may say he would be fine as gods cant die anyway right? But actaully this particular god had already died twice before chasing a different girl, but that is a story for another time.

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Having survived the first trial, Okuninushi was then challenged to find an arrow that Susanoo had shot into a vast field. As he was hunting for the arrow Susanoo set fire to the field and it looked as though Okuinushi may die for a third time. He was saved by a small mouse, who showed him a hole in the ground in which he could hide. Once the fire had passed overhead the mouse brought him the arrow and he was able to marry his princess. Thus the mouse became his symbol and guardian.

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Also enshrined at Otoyo-jinja is Emperor Ojin, the 15th Emperor of Japan. Though he falls into the category of ‘legendary Emperors’ meaning he was potentially made up by the authors of the Nihonshoki and Kojiki (early historical chronicles) to make Japanese ancestry seem longer, he is towards the more believable side of the timeline, and historians believe he probably ruled around 200AD. He was allegedly the son of the 14th Emperor, however it is said that he was conceived and then the Emperor died. While pregnant his mother went on a quest to find the ‘Promised Land’ for three years, and upon her return gave birth to him. As such it is pretty unlikely that this was a miraculous birth and it is more likely that he was not a descendent of the imperial line. This is one of many probable breaks in the chain of the Japanese ‘continuous imperial line’.

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While not the most exciting shrine in comparison to the garden of Reikan-ji, it is pretty and has lovely statues so I would definitely stop by if you are taking a stroll down Philosopher’s walk. I’m not sure why there are monkey and kite guardians so if anyone knows please enlighten me.