SYNOPSIS:  About technology and about the lack thereof.  About temples (in the post script) and one hall that boggles the mind and that should not be missed.


I did not think I would witness a low-tech scene like this in high-tech Japan.  So far I had been impressed by airport control systems that would scan my innocent milk-tea bottle and allow me to take it rather than force me to throw it out — why don’t we have something like this?

I was floored when the boisterous host of my kitchen hotel, Kaiza, whipped out her I-Pad, plugged in a little device and swiped my credit card.  On her phone!  It was phenomenal.

Given all this high tech stuff, it was almost embarrassing to watch the weekly round of money collection at the Nishi-Honganji today.  I just stumbled on it: four guys, a blue bucket, a wooden cart, and a few dozen cloth bags and you are in business.  Who needs more?  The team went from box to box, pole to pole, and can to can to collect a week’s worth of offerings and temple donations.  The first guy had the keys to all the locks.  The second would take the box, pole, or can and empty it into the third guy’s blue bucket who then would turn and empty out the content of the bucket via a funnel into a cloth bag.  The first or second guy now would swing into action again tying the bag, and into the wooden cart it went; which in turn was pushed by the fourth guy — in uniform.  I did not see a weapon, but he was the safety man of the team.  Occasionally, the bigger boxes had to be lifted by two of them and the other two would scoop out hands full of money.

The whole show reminded me of the infamous saying of the indulgence campaign in Europe:  “Sobald der Gülden im Becken klingt im huy die Seel in Himmel springt“ roughly translated:  “As soon as the coin makes a sound in the collection box, the soul will jump into heaven”.

It took them a long time to make the round through the temple, and by the end of it — I should have just gotten close to get a picture of the cart — there were dozens of bags lined up full of coins (and a few bills).  This must have been a heavy cart!  And now the monks will have to roll these up into neat bank-depositable chunks.   Or do they have a machine for that?

I had wondered about how this all worked.  Now I know.

I still wonder about some of the remote mountain shrines.  There are just so many…

There are temples and there are shrines, and there is the definite overload if you have to do these all in a row and in one trip.  But here and there something stands out as unforgettable and without comparison.  To me, the Sanjusangendo is one of those places and today, I saw it.  The original building dates from the 12th century, the one you currently see is from the 13th.   It is a hall of 130 meter length (or 33 bays) and 5 bays width.  Its official name is Rengeo-in.  The principal image is a colossal figure of Kannon flanked by 1000 near life-sized Kannon figures, 500 on each side.   Somebody took the idea of 1000 quite literally here!  Note, that three images where missing.  Why?

Typically, you have the 1000 armed Kannon represented with 42 arms of which 8 are principal arms and 36 are smaller scale.  These are impressive figures.  One and only one Kannon that I know attempts to show all 1000 arms.  That image is in Nara, at the Toshodaiji and from what I read, 953 arms have been accounted for.  But here you walk through a dimly-lit hall past 100, 42 armed Kannon figures long and 10 figures deep.  If you look at them straight on, the arrangement seems clustered.  But if you look at them at a slight angle, the neat arrangement of 10 becomes obvious.  These figures are all made of cypress wood in an assembly technique, but they are far from identical.  Attributes vary, folds differ and even the size of the head changes ever so slightly.  A row of guardian figures is lined up in front of the Kannons.  This is a site that can take your breath away.

The photo prohibition warning sites were stern — worse than I have seen anywhere else: if you get caught using your camera it will be confiscated!  If you have a camera it will be inspected upon leaving the building.  I was intimidated enough to not take pictures — the one you see here is a download.  At the end, there was no such inspection.  🙂

My recommendation if you are pressed for time in Kyoto.  Skip a temple or two, but do not skip this hall.  It is a one of a kind.

Another 10 hours in the heat.  At least there was no rain today.

I am falling asleep the minute I get home and I am falling behind in the blog…  Good thing, I have a few days of leeway to catch up…


Good night.


Post script on today’s temples, in addition to the Sanjusangendo.

Toji — with the 187 feet, five-tiered, tallest pagoda in all of Japan, the temple has become an icon of Kyoto.  An impressive image hall features a seated Yakushi figure seated on a most unusual pedestal decorated with the 12 sacred generals and surrounded by the usual candidates:  Nikko and Gakko, guardian figures and all.

You hear so much about all the many fires that have waged in these temples over the centuries, but it is just a line in the guidebook.  At Toji that line springs to life with the reality of four large-scale charcoaled Buddha figures.  A haunting site!

Nishi Honganji — this temple is mainly big!  It is a Pure Land temple attached to the Ryukoku university which presumably is a Pure Land teaching institution.

Higashi Honganji — within walking distance from the Nishi Honganji, the Higashi Honganji seems to try to compete.  It’s at least as big as the Nishi. It belongs to a branch of the Shin Buddhist Jodo sect…  As I said once before, I am losing it.  Some day I will map these sects out into a family tree of sorts.  This is getting out of hand!

Noteworthy is that it has a detached (three blocks away) garden, the Shosei-en, and abbots’ residence that is worth a visit for its tranquility and its interesting stone walls.

3 comments so far

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  1. I looked up the Sanjusangendo on the internet for some more images and immediately Huang di and his Terracotta Warriors came to my mind. I know it is a completely different thing, but were you reminded of the Warriors when you saw all the statues of Kannon?

  2. For your next trip, you might consider arming yourself with a spy camera that looks like a ballpoint pen.

    • It has crossed my mind! And a few other electronic gadgets that everyone seems to have like a GPS. Still walking around here with a paper map in hand…