Monday, May 6, 2024

Gateways to Heaven


Sensoji Temple Tokyo

A recent trip to Japan was an opportunity to peek into the rich past and culture of Japan. An insight into the hundreds of shrines dotted around the country and how it is interwoven with the beliefs could be better understood. There are approximately 100000 Shinto shrines and around 80000 Buddhist shrines in Japan. How are these different from one another? The shrines built to serve the Shinto religious traditions are characterised by a torii gate at the entrance. 

A painting on the roof of Meiji Jingu temple, Tokyo

Temples built to serve the Buddhist religious traditions are characterised by a Sanmon gate at the entrance. Apart from these differences, a few things are to be observed when visiting these shrines or temples. Every shrine has a torii gate that separates the shrine from the secular world. Some practices followed are bowing before the gate, purifying hand and mouth, bowing and clapping twice before the deity and saying the prayer, which are things one would observe at every shrine. Many temples have incense sticks lit and the emitting smoke is said to have healing powers. Remove the shoes and be respectful when entering the sanctum sanctorum.

Five Storey Pagoda at Sensoji Temple

Our sojourn started with the massive Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. A tip for the visitors is to arrive early to avoid crowds and enjoy the peace and serenity offered. This place is popular with locals and tourists and swarms of people can be seen. One can feel the Edo era in the atmosphere around a five-storey pagoda, Kaminarimon, and speciality shops around Nakamise-Dori. 

Asakusa Shrine, Tokyo

As it was Cherry Blossom bloom time the foliage of these verdant trees made a perfect photo shoot opportunity. The main hall of Sensoji is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The temple was initially built in 628 AD and has been rebuilt over 20 times. The large red lantern at Kaminamoron Gate weighs over 700 kg. As one steps out of the huge gate of Sensoji shrine a short walk through the market selling delicious food and souvenirs the Asakusa shrine is visible. 

Tokyo Sky Tree as seen from Asakusa

This is a gateway to modern Japan where the Tokyo Sky  Tree building looms large on the horizon and a walk along the River Sumeda is another rewarding experience.

The Main Entrance of Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo

Meiji Jingu Shrine in the heart of the green belt of Tokyo at the intersection of Harajuku and Shibuya is a perfect destination where history meets modernity. 
The Caskets of Wine as offering in Meiji Jingu shrine, Tokyo

A calm walk through the wooded area which is man-made with a plantation of over 100000 trees brings to hundreds of caskets of wines that have come as offerings from France. 

The Meiji Jingu Shrine

This shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji(1852-1912) and Empress Shoken and was built in 1920. We were fortunate to witness a Shinto ritual while visiting the place. Many people write their wishes on the ema tablet and purchase an amulet or fortune. 

The coupled Camphor trees at Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

A pair of Camphor trees were planted in 1920 at the time of the enshrinement of Meiji Jingu and have grown under the protection of deities to become huge and vivid. and are considered to be sacred. Well known as 'Meoto Kusu' or husband and wife, the coupled trees have become a symbol of a happy marriage and harmonious life within the family.

At the Yoyogi Park, Tokyo

Yoyogi Park a stone's throw from the shrine is a delightful place with hundreds of flowers and walkways that add lustre.

Hanazon Jingu shrine in Shinjuku, Tokyo

Another famous Shinto shrine in the heart of the Shinjuku district of Tokyo is the Hanazono Jinja or shrine. It is said to guard the residents, businessmen, traders, craftsmen and artisans in the area

Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto

Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, has some of the most alluring shrines. After arriving there by the Bullet train we headed straight for Ryoanji Temple. The garden of this temple is one of the finest examples of 'dry landscaping' using only the rock formations amidst fine pebbles in linear patterns that facilitate meditation. It was built in the year 1450 AD by a warlord Hosokawa Katsumoto. 

Dry landscaped Rock garden at Ryoanji Temple

The temple's name is synonymous with the 'Zen Garden' and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple has a pond garden, a water garden and plenty of cherry blossom trees that add to the beauty.

At The Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto

A short distance from the Ryoanji Temple is the Kinkakuji Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple. The pavilion is three stories high. The top two stories are covered with a pure Gold leaf. 

The Pond at Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto

The pavilion extends over a pond that reflects the building. The pond contains 10 small islands The beauty of the gardens which surround the pond is to be seen to believe its beauty.

The Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto

There are many small and big shrines in Kyoto and the fitting finale to the day was a visit to the Yasaka shrine, around sunset. Yasaka or the Gion shrine was founded over 1350 years ago and is one of the oldest ones in Kyoto. The shrine's main hall has a huge stage in its front with hundreds of lanterns lit up in the evening. 

The garden festival at Maruyama Park in Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto

The shrine had an ongoing festival in a huge 'cherry blossom' garden, Maruyama Park where hundreds of visitors had descended. It is a must-visit place, especially to see the cherry blossoms.

At Shitennoji Temple in Osaka

Our last destination Osaka has some fine shrines of which Shitennoji and Sumisho Taisha are prominent. Shitennoji temple is a testament to its long-standing Buddhist heritage. This was founded in 593 by Shotoku who is revered for his role in promoting Buddhism in Japan. The temple comprises a five-storey pagoda, a main golden hall, and a tranquil garden.
Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka

Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine is one of the oldest Shinto shrines characterized by straight roofs, having no upward curves at eaves. This shrine is a part of Sumiyoshi Sanjin, three gods important for sea voyages and maritime safety, making it a crucial site to visit by seafarers. It is a peaceful retreat with expansive gardens, ancient trees, and an iconic drum bridge.
Suyomishi Taisha Shrine in Osaka

The list is almost endless and recounting and visiting these heavenly destinations on a single trip was a huge blessing. On any trip to Japan, a visit to some shrines is a must to get a true feel of the culture of this beautiful country. 

PS- All pics are mine

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