SYNOPSIS:  About the most famous of all temples, the Kinkakuji, and a few others, and about Japanese Manga.


Ninja Museum was a note I had scribbled on my map.  All I remembered was that it was about popular culture.  And all I can think of when I think of popular culture in Japan is the Ninjas.  I figured that at some point in my temple marathon, I would need some comic relief.  The time had come.

Don’t get me wrong.  Today was an awesome temple day.  It seemed like I was on UNESCO fast lane.  Almost all of these temples were part of the world heritage list.  Today included the absolutely most incredible building in all of Kyoto:  The Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion.  And they are not kidding.  It’s not a little gold here or there; the entire three storied building, save the lowest floor with its white sliding doors, is gold plated.  As you enter the garden in which it is located and you expect to be led around various paths to the temple climax and then — it is literally the first thing you see as the path opens up — you can’t help but be awestruck!

The Golden Pavilion is a Buddhist hall with images — you can see from afar a Buddha sitting on the main floor.  You can see the building only from the outside.  Nobody is even going near it.  Years ago, it was still possible to tour the building until an arsonist set it ablaze…!  The hall is part of a larger Zen Temple formally known as Rokuonji and was built by a shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.  He had envisioned the pavilion, the pond and the surrounding buildings as a manifestation of Amida’s Pure Land, and he willed it to become a Zen Buddhist temple after his death.  Here is confusion again: a Pure Land representation was willed to become a Zen Temple?  Zen and Jodo teachings are quite different.  I am sure there is a history to this which I won’t figure out now.  But there is some Pure Land for you!  Here, you really get that sense of paradise.  I wonder if the no longer existing buildings which I visited in Hiraizumi, that were so disappointing, once came close to this?

Before I got to the Kinkakuji, I had stopped at the Daitokuji, expecting a temple.  Far from it.  It’s a city within a city!  I counted 4.5 city blocks square and over 30 walled-in sub-temples all collectively known by the name of Daitokuji.  That complex wore me out!  And after the Kinkakuji, there were two more temples…   A brief summary of each of those in the temple post script.

But I had started a day early and these temples were on a route conveniently connected by buses that ran close by.  Transit was minimal.

Why not clear my temple-bogged mind with a few Ninjas?  As I approached the Ninja museum, I read everywhere “International Manga Museum”.  Yes, manga, not mango.  What the heck was that?  I wondered if I had gotten mixed up somehow, but no.  Manga is about Japanese pop culture.  I just had never heard of it — I know this statement is probably going to make manga fans cringe — so I had labeled it “Ninja” museum.

I definitely was a fish out of water, dropping in at a place where I did not even know what to do.  I have visited hundreds of museums, but none like this.

The minute I got in, I was confused.  There were no displays.  This looked like a three-storied gigantic library with people everywhere sitting, standing, even lounging on the floor.  They were all reading!  Was I supposed to read?

There were other areas where people were sitting and drawing, table after table; little kids, teenagers, even adults.  Paint, papers, and pencils were strewn everywhere.  Some people were drawing others for a fee.  Was I supposed to draw?

I found a place to squat and study the museum guide map.  Ah, there were two areas that were marked as displays.  That sounded promising.  History of Manga.  I was obviously in desperate need of that.  But even in this exhibition area, there were more book shelves and people reading than there were people like me who were frantically trying to figure out what this was all about.

An hour later, I had some understanding.  But you’d better check this out online if you care, since I have no more than the barest rudimentary idea now.  If I had to sum it up in one word: comics.  Why didn’t they say so in the first place?  I was in a comics museum which has over 300,000 Japanese and international manga comic books.  People come here to read for hours.  Museum entrance fee is probably about the equivalence of a single manga magazine.  Here, fans have all the magazine volumes bound in books going back to the dawn of manga (if that could be defined).

What I could not figure out even after I had read through the entire history of the genre, was what exactly distinguishes comics from manga or manga films from regular animation.  But I am sure the more I learn about it, the more this will become clear.  It’s probably like one of my students saying to me:  There is a difference between Renaissance and Baroque?  But they all look alike.  They all are paintings!  You have to start somewhere…

One thing that immediately struck me is the connection between ancient Buddhist Zen paintings and even Buddhist sculpture and manga.  I am sure people before me have noticed that.  But that would be fun to investigate.  Some day.

I had a full day.  No.  That is an understatement.  This was a cram-packed full and long day.  Not even enough energy was left to archive and label photos.

I was ready to reach for my one-dollar noodle dinner, when boisterous Kaizasan knocked on the door and then immediately entered — she has that slightly unsettling habit — with a plate of homemade food.  She had a name for the dish which I immediately forgot.  I would have called it stir-fried rice.  She calls me “Number One” — that is for my room number.  She has come by with a few treats, which is really sweet of her.  I think, I am in her only single room.  I have been able to peek into a couple of other rooms — all dorm rooms with bunk beds.  But those rooms had a TV in the room and even a window.  Perhaps she feels sorry for me to be so cooped up?  Whatever the reason, I appreciate her little spoils even if they come with a somewhat rude entry.

Good night.


Temple Post Script:

Daitokuji — Zen temple complex with 4-5 sub-temples open to visitors.  Definitely worth stopping by especially if you appreciate Zen gardens; that means sand and rocks arranged in very sparse and careful ways meant to aid in deep and long meditation.  Due to the individual temple visits (and charges), this temple takes a lot longer to visit than any of the other single temples.

Zuiho-in — The most “wavy” of the Zen gardens at the Daitokuji with sand lined up in quite distinct three-dimensional profiles.  A bit too busy for my taste, but memorable as much as wavy sand can be memorable.  However, this garden design is quite recent (1960’s).  Interestingly, the feudal patron of the monastery had converted to Christianity for a while (as it was still legal) and somewhere in the garden a statue of the virgin Mary is symbolically buried to commemorate the persecution of Christianity in Japan.  Nice touch.

Ryogen-in — One of the oldest of the sub-temples at the Daitokuji with no less than five different gardens, one dating back to the 13th century and one being the smallest in all of Japan.

Daisen-in — The most elaborate of all the Zen gardens at the Daitokuji with complex “iconography” of turtles, ships, reclining oxen, etc.  The most stingy temple regarding photography.  Even the garden is off limits and a guide leads you around.  You will hardly be left alone.

Koto-in — The only fully “green” garden at the Daitokuji with most of the above ones being “dry”, or rock and sand gardens.  The approach to this temple through a corridor of maple trees, moss and bamboo is magical.  In the fall this must just blow you away as the maples turn orange and red, setting themselves off against the dark greens.

Ryoanji — One of the most famous Zen gardens can be seen in this temple.  The overall gardens are wooded, with a big lotus pond.  But the focus is a small rock garden set off against a faded yellow wall prized for its natural aging.  A unique wash basin displays four characters that spell something like:  I learn to be content.  This is to ponder spiritual wealth versus material wealth.  Well worth a visit.

Ninnaji — An old temple (9th century) with a unique mix of palace and temple architecture.  My absolute favorite spot in Japan — because time and place and the weather just came together for me for a brief, perfect time: it was the end of the day, no more temples ahead of me.  There was time to slow down.  I found myself in one of the buildings of the Ninnaji, when one of those summer down pours started.  Instead of fighting it, I decided to wait it out.  I happened to be sitting at a Zen garden veranda with greenery and the peak of a pagoda behind me.  There were hardly any people around; a few came and went.  But for more than a half hour I listened to the rain and watched it coming down in big heavy streaks onto the sand, into the pond, off the roof, onto the rocks.  It was a perfect ending of the temple part of the day in Kyoto; simply divine!


3 comments so far

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  1. This might be of interest:

    Saudi Student Destroys Old Buddhist Temple Statues in Japan

    A Saudi Arabian man has been arrested for vandalizing Buddhist statues at a temple in downtown Tokyo.

    Police say they received an emergency call about a foreigner behaved violently at the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Taito Ward at around midnight on Wednesday.

    They say officers who rushed to the scene found 4 Buddhist statues lying broken on the ground.

    Police say they questioned a 31-year-old Saudi Arabian graduate school student nearby, and the man admitted that he had destroyed the statues.

    The vandalism involved 3 stone statues measuring 60 to 100 centimeters tall and a 200-centimeter tall bronze one that was made about 300 years ago.

    It has been designated as the ward’s significant cultural property.

    Police say the man told them that he has conducted similar vandalism at another temple.
    This is not the first time that a Moslem destroys Buddhist art. Remember the Taliban in Afghanistan? In Islam, Buddhists are considered subhuman pagans who must be either converted or killed.

  2. …you’re making me wish I was there once again – you’re certainly making me feel as if I’m right there with you, seeing everything through your eyes.


  3. Interesting…I am glad to know what manga is, though comics are not exactly my thing. However, I do remember reading Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi. Not a Japanese experience, that’s for sure, but a graphic novel, a comic book, if you please. If the manga are anything like that…and from the internet it seems like some are…then they would be a quick read, visually appealing and quite absorbing.

    Apparently there are manga displays in most bookstores, like Barnes and Noble, though I have never looked for or noticed them. In the US, comics…our spin on manga…are more for younger people, and I think mostly young males, but it would appear that their appeal is more universal in Japan. Why? Something else interesting to research…

    Kaizasan reminds me of doctors…they knock on the door of your little exam room then without waiting for a reply just enter. At least she brings goodies and not a “white coat experience”.

    Lovely…your time-out at Ninnaji in the rain. Meditation without meditating…if you know what I mean.