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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Japan - Tokyo, Part 5

(Photo from Wikipedia)
Hozomon Gate of the Buddhist Senso-ji Temple
Home of Kannon Bosatsu
Pagoda (not open to public)
Asakusa District, Tokyo

Asakusa district has been preserved as the historic old Tokyo.  Within this area lie the largest percentage of shrines and temples in the city.  The Meiji Shrine in the previous post is Shinto, entered through the tori gate indicating the sacred ground of a nature religion.  Here we enter through the first gate, Kaminarimon Gate or the "Thunder Gate" proceeding through Hozomon Gate or the "Treasure House Gate" pictured above, to an inner courtyard.  From there forward we enter the Senso-ji Temple, which is Buddhist, a religion of personal enlightenment.  Far from conflicting, these two disciplines compliment each other well.

Buddhism came to Japan from India through China.  It follows the teachings of Gautama Siddartha, an Indian Prince who rose from the sufferings of all sentient beings through to true enlightenment or Nirvana.  Because it is unfamiliar, most westerners view Buddhism as being far more complicated than it really is.

Like Christianity with it's many denominations, Buddhism has several sects.  And like Catholicism with it's saints, Buddhism has it's gods or helpmates.  The Buddha is not a God.  He is One Who Has Reached Enlightenment, a state which is possible for every human being.  Buddhism's gods (in Japan, 'Kannons') are not historical beings as was the Buddha nor are they worshipped as gods in and of themselves.  Rather, they are viewed with tremendous honor and respect and used as a vehicle for supplications through which relief is sought from human affliction.  They are capable of Buddhahood, but have postponed that final step to stay in the world to help all humanity achieve Nirvana as well.  The same diety may be either male or female and assume the characteristics peculiar to the Asian country where it is located.  Thus there appear many manifestations of the same god throughout many Eastern countries.

Shrines and Temples should be treated primarily with respect as sacred spaces.  Historically and architecturally they are illustrative of the building capability and aesthetic preferences of the various shogunate periods.  However, their true brilliance is evident in the soaring heights of human imagination when contemplating the unknown.  They are all, truly, works of art. 

Due to crowds and accessibility issues on the Saturday I visited, my entrance was directly into the inner courtyard through an unremarkable side gate watched over by two guardian pigeons.

The incense burner is typical of temple furniture.  The incense is burned as an offering and the smoke is then fanned toward oneself as a good luck omen.  Senso-ji Temple is through the entrance and to the right. 

Senso-ji Temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo originating in the year 645AD, although a large part was destroyed in W.W. ll and rebuilt.  A form of Mahayana Buddhism called Tendai is practiced here.  The Temple has traditionally been the primary focus of several Shoguns in what has always been the most densely inhabited area of Japan, so it is far more ornate than most.

The Kannon Bosatsu is Guan Yin, the Goddess of Love, Mercy and Compassion, whose duty it is to listen or witness the cries of those in distress in this earthly realm. The image would normally sit in the red throne under it's gold canopy, however a 17th century Temple priest had a dream in which he was told that the Kannon should be hidden from public view.  And so for the last 300 years, it has remained behind the curtain. 

Coins in supplication may be placed in the receptacle.  Arrange your hands in prayer and clap twice.  Then chant, "namu kanzeon bosatsu".
"Kannon Bosatsu, I place my trust in you."

With the Temple behind us, my traveling companion, Kay, and I are now preparing ourselves to jump into this sea of humanity in the courtyard, pass through the Treasure Gate with it's three hanging lanterns in the distance and into the Nakamise-dori shopping area beyond.  The crowds will be even more condensed than where we are now.  The Nakamise-dori, which sells typical Japanese food and souvenirs, connects the Treasure Gate with the Thunder Gate more than a half mile away.  We will need to negotiate this in an hour and half to rejoin the rest of the group. 
Lets go!

And here we are, about to pass through the Treasure Gate to Nakamise-dori.

This pair of straw sandals, one on either side of the gate, are called O-Waraji, a charm against evil.  If they came in my size with arch support, I might have considered them for the plane ride home.

Hmmmm....what's over here?

"Ah," said I, nodding and smiling enthusiastically while taking two unobtrusive steps backward.  I will be forever thankful for the young couple who appeared between myself and this display a moment later.  Please understand, my seafood sensibility was formed in the Midwest.  Mrs. Paul's fish sticks were an adventure to us.  I will not try to identify these creatures.  I will never need that information.

This is fun.  All the little charms here will find a home on cell phones.  Actually, the furry ones make a lot of sense.  If you feel that texture among all the things a purse may hold, the phone will always be on the other end.

A break in the crowd!  We have a chance to see what's on the other side.

What a surprise.  The backyard of a little school peeks through between the busy stalls on the street.

Kay, in the foreground, is busy checking out a stall where we found some lovely postcards.  And in the distance is Thunder Gate.  We made it!

This smiling guardian god is a real cupcake compared to the slashing swords and fearsome glares those on the other side.

Here we are on the other side of Thunder Gate looking into one of the many streets that radiate out from Nakamise-dori.  Although it is important to keep track of your bearings and the time, both Kay and I felt perfectly safe in crowds like these all through Japan.  I would take the time to experience the sights and sounds of Tokyo, a vibrant city just on the other side of the Pacific Rim from us here in the U.S.  You will part as friends.

All editorial and photographic rights reserved by Arizona Skies.
Senso-ji Temple and Nakamise-dori, April 10, 2010


  1. i like the term 'helpmates'. that says what it should.

    and those fishy things, linda. i'm with you. YUK. your comments made me laugh just now. double YUK.

    ms. emily rabbit has a little surprise for you. please come to my blog when you have a chance. you will have to scroll down a post or two but you'll see it.


  2. Linda this was a trip to remember. Your pictures are gorgeous. I need to take the time to read my camera manual and learn how to edit my pictures, maybe I’ll get better ones – but I still don’t know when I’ll do that. We stopped in Tokyo two days in 2002 on our way back from Bangkok. It was too short really but it gave us a feeling. I did not have a digital camera then, but a regular film camera. Your explanations go so well with your pictures – I really feel that I am taking a walk with you. My daughter loved the sushi, the noodles, etc., but I am not a sushi fan. I did try some ice cream at Baskin Robbins there – one of their special Japanese flavor – it was green and not too sweet. I like the politeness of the Japanese – I guess I am old school but I get so distressed by young people talking too loud, swearing or rude people. It is much more pleasant to eat in a restaurant where people are polite and gentle. For my husband’s birthday we went to a restaurant here where two tables had children – they kept running around our table and shrieking – we could not have a conversation – and the parents were not caring at all.
    If I went back to Japan I would like to go to a small island or close to Mt Fuji. I am enjoying your trip. Thanks for coming to my blog and leaving such kind comments.

  3. kj,

    Miss Emily Rabbit is a sweetheart - when she hasn't landed her furry little tail in jail! Thanks to Ms. Em.

    There are comparative religion studies that compile attribute lists of a specific god in all countries to show how cultural differences indirectly influence and aid in structuring belief systems. Fascinating.

    Bet your sushi place doesn't serve these sea creatures. I couldn't even watch someone else eat it.



    It was a wonderful experience, one that was on my bucket list. I'm glad you like the pics - I tried to be guided by all the information displayed on the LCD screen. It helped when I used the photo editing software. The histogram is the key, apparently. That was info from my son.

    There were several times when members of our group were embarassingly loud. My travel buddy and I noticed the Japanese thought it rude and so did we. So we tried to be on our own frequently. No one wants to be unable to block out someone else's noise. I try to be hyper-conscious of my behavior. It seems to allow me a closer personal experience with people I'm trying to know.

    Even the fish! I couldn't do it. And I was apologetic enough that no one seemed offended.