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Monday, July 17, 2017

Old Temples

Sunday October 25, 2015

Breakfast, Ioan takes his test and then we leave for Biyodo-in, a World Heritage Site. We change the train and we sit in the new one, waiting for the scheduled time to leave. A young man, while entering the wagon, juggles his many possessions and his iPad cover slips in the space between the train and station. Immediately he deposits his phone and iPad on a chair, but takes his backpack and runs to get an attendant. The other people are calm, there is nothing wrong with leaving your things behind. We, foreigners, are more concerned about his things and start calling him. He bows and makes signs that he will return, not to worry… No one is interested in stealing a phone and an iPad just sitting there…This is the second time in Japan when I think this is a safe country. The first time was when I saw a pigeon sleeping on the rail of the bridge in the middle of the traffic. The attendant comes armed with a mighty claw, but he is not able to grasp the cover. Our young man collects his possessions and waits for our train to leave, so he can have his cover back.

There is a line to enter the temple grounds, and after we enter another line and people are just sitting idle. Curious…We visit the garden, observe the heavily scaffolded cherry trees, the lake that reflects the Phoenix Pavilion, everything ordered, clean, how it should be. 

   The flyer says that the temple was built by the Regent in 1052, by rebuilding the villa of Michinaga, his father. And in 1053 he built the Phoenix Hall in the image of the Palace in Jodo, depicted in the Buddhist scriptures, to host the Amitabha Tathagata. The garden is also in the Jodo style of “borrowed landscape” having waves of sand, a flat bridge and arched bridge. There are some cultural artifacts that come from the Heian Period, including the temple bell, a painting, a pair of phoenix statues and 52 bodies of Unchu Kuyo Bosatsu (Buddhist Saints) riding the clouds and playing a variety of musical instruments. 26 of them are on display at the Hoshokan, the museum, and the others are in the Pavilion surrounding Amitabha Tathagata. Unfortunately for us we can’t see the latter ones, as the tickets for the Pavilion are offered later in the day, when we plan to be somewhere else (and that explains why all those people were idle, they we’re waiting for their scheduled visit).

This is how a phoenix looks like!

The museum is a modern building that offers, beside the exhibit in itself, numerous screens and computers on which we can see almost everything that could interest us from the Biyodo-in Temple. We watch the building of new western doors of the Pavilion that had to replace the real ones while they were restored. They have a unique structure, a frame on which boards are attached from both sides, fixed with iron nails that sink below the wood surface and after that lacquered with vermillon (this one really red, and not orange).The left door is painted to depict the sea and the setting sun, with the sea dyed the colors of the horizon and the right one, a Buddhist temple in the mountain and outside of it, a woman who prays toward the sunset. (you can see them here)

Next, we’re trying to find Ujigami-jinja, believed to be the oldest standing shrine in Japan, that was designed to be the guardian shrine of the Byodō-in and, evidently, a World Heritage Site. We pass many tea-shops, all selling the famous roasted tea, and mochi (a sweet), and ice-cream made from tea. 

The pictures show how mochi with green tea and sweet bean paste is made.

Different kinds of tea, including coarse and barley tea.

Not unusual to walk your dog in a pram.

   The shrine is similar with many others, but it has explanations for the use of the sand.

The town of Uji stayed on the national and international tourist map because of the Tale of Genji, a literary masterpiece written in 10th century by a lady, Murasaki-Shikibu. The last ten chapters (of 54) are taking place in Uji and in time, the places that she talks about came to preserved because of her writing.

 And I think that because of that, other things came to be important, like the bridge. For me it is a simple bridge, but I find out from the plaque that this is a reconstruction using the highest quality materials like Japanese cypress and attention was paid that the Giboshi, ornamental knobs with a shape like an onion that protect the structural posts from the rain water, will look exactly like the ones made in 1636. The oldest record of the Giboshi bridge is a drawing in the History of the Ishiyama Temple from the 14th century.

Now you can find the image of the bridge on the manholes.

Last thing on our to-do list for today is Daigoji, several subway and 19 bus stations away. 

A World Heritage Site, it was built by Shobo, a Buddhist monk in 874. When he climbed the sacred mountain Kasatori (or Daigo), the local god appeared in the guise of an old man with white hair and gave him the mountain and a spring water. As a way of thanks, Shobo carved two statues of Kannon and dedicated them to the top of the mountain. 

In time the whole mountain became covered in temples and halls, some burned, some were reconstructed, some survived, like the Goju-no-to (five storey pagoda) from 936. It was built for the repose of the Emperor Daigo’s soul.

This is where they pray for many things, including world peace.

The inside of the praying hall from above.

Part of the temple is the Sanboin, that was built in 1115, and reconstructed by Toyotomi Hideoshi in 1598. It is a pavilion with its walls covered in cherry paintings or from the Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival, one of the three main festivals in Kyoto) with an interior garden. The forced perspective is at home, giant bonsai trees, erupting atop a moss covered island from a sea of parallel waves of gravel, connected with wooden bridges. We’ll just stay here and take it all in.

See you next time!

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