Feb. 27th, 2014

sechan19: (anne)
Today found Team Ise exploring the precincts of the Kongōshōji—a temple located on Mount Asama (not the one that's a volcano), just above the city of Ise. It was a rainy day that started off at a drizzle but ultimately developed into a bit of a downpour, but for all that it was another wonderful trip.

Rainy days can be annoying when you want to be out and about, but I've often thought there's no better way to see a temple or shrine (and particularly one located in the mountains) than when it's cold, and misty, and atmospheric. Kongōshōji, with its majestic gates and gardens and graves, really delivered on the otherworldly atmosphere, and though I spent the hike huddled under my umbrella, I couldn't help being struck by the pure, unadulterated drama of the scenery. A sunny day, though easier in terms of comfort, simply would not have been the same. Sometimes you have to suffer for beauty.

Our tour begun with a thorough lecture on the treasures of the temple and their role in the syncretic fusion of Shinto and Buddhism. Kongōshōji is famed for being an alternate dwelling of the sun goddess, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, who dwells primarily at the Inner Shrine of Ise's Grand Shrine complex, and there are a number of objects housed there that are related to her presence there. In particular, Kongōshōji holds a number of bronze sutra burial canisters, dating from the Heian period, which were unearthed after a typhoon leveled several buildings in the City of Ise. These canisters were actually buried by the priests associated with the Inner Shrine rather than Buddhist priests, and are important artifacts of Shinto and Buddhism's early syncretic ties.

After the lecture, we were privileged to be invited into the inner sanctum of the main temple building to stand before the primary object of veneration, a hibutsu (hidden Buddha) of the bodhisattva Kokūzō (Ākāśagarbha) who represents the great void and the boundless knowledge contained within that void, and to pay our respects. Behind the altar, was the shrine to Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, which we were also allowed to approach and pay our respects to. Generally, casual visitors are not allowed to pass beyond the public space into the inner sanctum of a temple building, and it was a great honor to be allowed to do so at Kongōshōji.

We took a walk along the cremation grounds of the temple, which lay on the other side of the Gokuraku-mon (the Gate to Paradise), to the Oku-no-in, a temple dedicated to the souls of the dead. The cremation grounds were lined with sotoba (wooden memorial tablets that symbolize the stupa) of varying sizes that had been made in honor of deceased loved ones. In many cases, the tributes were accompanied by the placement of personal or comfort items, and cans of beer dotted the ground—as common as flowers. The Oku-no-in was dominated by a sotoba-filled open-space that featured a collection of statues of the bodhisattva Jizō (Ksitigarbha), who is particularly revered as a savior of children. It was another beautiful sight, but one tinged with sadness, as I knew that the sotoba there were memorials to dead, beloved children—left in the care of Jizō by their bereaved parents.

With the visit to the Oku-no-in completed, we made our way back to the bus and wound our way back down a mist-covered mountain to the city below. I think there were plans on the drawing board to go to a scenic view spot, but the rain's increasing ferocity made such plans impractical. Still, I didn't feel as if I had missed out on anything. The day was beautiful in its way, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world.

May 2014

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