Monday, August 26, 2013

Tōshōdaiji Temple in Nara

Although Tōshōdaiji Temple is located in what today seems to be the outskirts of Nara, 1200 years ago when Nara was the capitol of Japan, this area was a central block of the city. It was in 759 A.D. that Emperor Tenmu’s son, Prince Neetaby Shin-no granted the land for the establishment of this temple. The name Tōshōdaiji is derived from the fact that it’s first chief abbot, Ganjin, was from Toh, of the Tang Dynasty in China, and that this temple (ji) was founded as a place for Buddhist training under his guidance. Tōshōdaiji Temple is also known as Kenshoritsuji, which comes from the fact that it was the first temple in Japan to be devoted to one of China’s Buddhist denominations, the Nanzan sect. Today, Tōshōdaiji is regarded as the Head Temple of Japan’s Ritsu-shu denomination of Buddhist teachings.

As a high priest in Daimyōji Temple in China, the founder of Tōshōdaiji, Abbot Ganjin (also known as Kakai-taishi) was invited to Japan by Emperor Shōmu to teach Chinese Buddhism doctrine. Ganjin accepted the great task and his determination was unfettered as it took him twelve years and five unsuccessful attempts at crossing the ocean and ultimately suffering from blindness before he arrived in Nara in 754 A.D. In Japan, Ganjin had an ordination platform created in front of the Temple of the Great Image of Buddha at Tōdaiji Temple, where he initiated the Buddhist teachings to not only many Japanese priests of high standing, but to the Emperor Shōmu and Empress Kōken in person (one of three ordination platforms created by Ganjin, one was established in Kyushu and the third at Tōshōdaiji). It is during this time that Japan was gradually forming itself into a Buddhist country, and it is said that it was the arrival of Ganjin that gave Buddhism the importance in binding it to Japanese culture. Ganjin’s contributions were so influential to bringing Buddhism to Japan that he is a revered figure in Japanese history.

Retiring from Tōdaiji Temple, Ganjin had Tōshōdaiji Temple built and remained there for four years until May 6, 763 A.D. when Ganjin died at the age of 76. Ganjin’s disciples had a statue of him carved of wood and lacquered at the time of his passing. It is a national treasure and only on display one day a year in Miedo Hall to commemorate the anniversary of his death on May 6. Ganjin’s tomb resides among the eastern woods surrounding the Miedo Hall. After 1200 years it is still prayed to.

The lecture hall was originally part of the Imperial Palace of Nara. It was donated to this temple. The Kondo or “Golden Hall” is the best building representing Tempyo Era architecture remaining intact in Japan to this day. Tōshōdaiji Temple buildings and artifacts are designated as National Treasures and Important Cultural Assets. The Temple is listed with World Heritage as a Historic Monument of Ancient Nara. 

Temple going under renovation during visit

World Heritage Site

Burial location for Gainjin

Temple Bell

Historic artifacts

Monday, August 19, 2013

Takamatsuzuka Mural Hall - Asuka Village, Nara Prefecture

Takamatsuzuka Kofun

Takamatsuzuka Mural hall – Once identified with Emperor Monmu (697-707) was permitted to be excavated in 1972 after the Imperial Household Agency dropped this tomb from their list of imperial burial places. The tomb was looted at some time in the distant past and the tomb experienced erosion as a result. Damage was worse on the south (entry) hall. None-the-less, the tomb was found with brilliant paintings that ties in Japanese past by showing Korean influence.
Mural Hall
The tomb depicts four guardian spirits in four directions (shishin) were also found on fresco bearing tumulus graves in China and Korea. The names of the spirits are Seryu (blue dragon) in the east, Byakko (white tiger) in the west, Suzaku (red bird) in the south and Genbu (black snake tortoise) in the north.

The men in the frescoes hold sunshades, chairs and pouches for swords and bows and also carry pouches around their necks. The women carry round fans and Buddhist staffs of authority. The style of skirt is similar to that from Korea during this period.

Grave Goods
Inside the crypt there remained a coffin ornamented with metal nails and fittings, a Tang Chinese mirror whose reverse was worked in so called Kaijubudo patter, and ornamental fittings for a tang style sword. Reproductions of the grave is on display along with reproductions of the artifacts from the site.

The ceiling of the crypt is dotted with small bits of gold leaf, which are in turned joined in various patters by reddish cinnabar lines to represent star charts with 28 constellations.

The Takamatsuzuka Kofun was excavated by the Kashihara Archaeological Research Institute. The wall paintings were designated to national treasures and the crypt was tightly sealed to preserve the wall paintings. The Takamatsuzuka Mural Hall was created to exhibit the reproductions of the paintings that are closed to the public.  Visitors can see copies of the wall paintings, partially restored and fully restored along with a life size replica of the crypt and burial goods.

Approximate walking time from the Kintetsu Asuka station is 15 minutes. Bike rental is available at the Kitetsu Asuka station (5 minute bike ride). Vehicle traffic is not permitted to the mural hall.

The Asuka Preservation Foundation
439 Hirata, Asuka village, Takaichi gun
Nara prefecture  634-0144 Japan
Tel/Fax (0744) 54-3340
Koren influence shown in clothing

Star Constellations

Mural placements

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Obakusan Mampukuji - Uji-shi, Kyoto

Obakusan Mampukuji is the head temple in Japan of the Obaku sect of Zen Buddhism, and the teaching monastery for the sect’s student monks. Obaku is one of three Zen sects found in Japan, the other two being Rinzai and Soto. Obaku has some 460 branch temples throughout Japan.

The founder of Manpukuji was a Chinese Zen Master, Ingen (Chinese Yin-yuan, 1592 – 1673), who at the age of 29, entered the temple Mampukuji (Chinese Wan-fu-si) on Mt. Obaku (Chinese Huang-bo) in the Chinese provine of Fukien (Fujian), eventually becoming its head monk.  Having been invited to Japan, he arrived in Nagasaki in 1654. At that time, Nagasaki was the only seaport in Japan where trading with China and Holland was allowed.

Master Ingen spread the Dharma, the true teaching of Rinzai, in Japan, attracting many Japanese monks who came and studied under him. The Japanese were impressed by the new Chinese type of monastic life he introduced, characterized by a rigid and literal translation of the Buddhist precepts and the sandakaie (triple platform ordination ceremony), a superior ordination method new to Japan. Those whose respect he gained included the abbot of Myoshinji, Ryokei (1602-1670), was to become a disciple, the retired Emperor Gomizunoo (1596-1680) and the fourth Tokugawa Shogun, Ietsuna (1641-1680).

In 1661 Master Ingen built a temple, Mampukuji, on a hill he called Obakusan, at Uji. The name was chosen to commemorate the Chinese temple of the same designation, and because of the number of Obaku (Chinese cork trees) found there. The Obaku was a useful tree to have in the environs of a monastery, for it has medicinal properties, being effective against abdominal disease, and is used to dye paper and textiles yellow. Mt. Obaku in China was where Zen Master Obaku Kiun (Chinese Huang-bo Xi-yun
deceased 850), the master of Rinzai (Chinese Lin-ji) was ordained. The temple name, Mampukuzenji, translates as “ten thousand-fold happiness Zen temple,” had been given under imperial ordinance in 1614 by Emperor Shen-zong (1573-162) of the Ming dynasty. Ingen died at the age of 82; later emperors of Japan honored him with six posthumous titles granted in his memory on every fiftieth anniversary of his death. The Obaku sect achieved rapid progress at that time, and many branch temples were erected all over Japan by both Chinese and Japanese disciples.

The introduction of the Obaku monastic regulations to Japan represented an attempt to revitalize the Rinzai and Soto Zen, and it was to promote further reform movements during the middle Edo period. Obaku had an important influence on many aspects of Japanese culture, including calligraphy, painting, design, architecture, publishing, diet and medicine.

Ever since the Ming dynasty, Chinese Buddhism has moved toward syncretism. The dominant ideas and teachings of each period have adapted to that syncretism. A strong religious trend among lay people during the Ming dynasty  was faith in the Pure Land (afterlife). Echoes of this faith are still to be found at Mampukuji in the daily service and the memorial services for the laity.

The Mampukuji temple complex has characteristics of Ming-style temples and contains a large number of cultural properties – twenty-three main buildings, the cloister between the Hatto and Tennoden and attached buildings dating from the mid-seventeenth century. There are also numerous well preserved important images, hanging wooden boards and carved calligraphy, paintings, wood-block copy plates of the Tripitaka and other artifacts.

Unique to Obaku is fucha ryori, vegetarian cooking in Chinese style. It originated from the special dishes cooked by monks and served after ceremonies to participants. Many visitors to Mapukuji have enjoyed this “taste of the Zen mind.”

Another cultural pursuit associated with Mampukuji is a tea ceremony called senchado (the way of steeped tea>, in which high quality green tea leaves of two typles (sencha and gyokuro) are steeped in a small pot of water. This ceremony is different from the more well-known chanoyu ceremony, which features powdered tea (matcha) whipped in a bowl. Senchado is based on Chinese Ming dynasty tea preparation methods introduced to Japan by Ingen and his followers. An Obaku priest, called Baisao (old tea merchant) popularized senchado in the eighteenth century and is enshrined at Mampukuji. The All Japan Senchado Association located at the temple hosts a large scale sencha tea ceremony twice a year and many sencha schools perform tea ceremonies at various locations within Mampukuji in the spring and autumn.

Obakusan Mampukuji
Sanbanwari 34, Gokanosho
Uji-shi, Kyoto 611-001
Tel: (0774) 32-3900
Fax: (0774) 32-6088
Obakusan Web Site in Japanese

Indian Sanskrit overlooking Zen rock garden


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hōryūji Temple in Nara - Temple of the Flourishing Law (of Buddhism)

Hōryūji, founded by Prince Shōtoku during the early seventh century, still proudly displays its main buildings which are the oldest examples of wooden architecture in existence in the world. Hōryūji is a world famous treasure house of sculpture, painting and decorative arts. It survived World War II intact thanks to the efforts of many people as well as to the good understanding of the Allied Forces, and the UNESCO International Pact for Protection of Cultural Properties, enacted on May 14, 1954, provides for the protection of the area surrounding Hōryūji as part of Japanese cultural heritages. In December of 1993, Hōryūji was considered the first monument in Japan to be registered as part of World Cultural Heritage.
Temple Compound

The compounds of Hōryūji consist of the Saiin (Western Precinct) centering around the Kondō (Main Hall) and the Gojū-no-Tō (Five Story Pagoda), and the Tōin (Eastern Precinct) with the Yumedono (Hall of Visions) and the Denpōdō (Hall of Buddhist Teachings) as its central buildings.

The importance of Hōryūji from the viewpoint of cultural history lies in its continuity: in addition to the many superb works of art from the Asuka Period (552-645 AD), it has innumerable cultural properties of successive periods. It is a treasure house of Japanese art covering the respective epochs of Japan’s history.
Yakushi Nyorai

The origin of Hōryūji is described in the inscription engraved on the back of the halo of the Yakushi Nyorai Buddha statue in the Main Hall, which states to the following effect: “The Emperor Yōmei, falling ill in the first year of his reign (586 AD) wished to have a stature of Yakushi Nyorai, of the Buddha of Healing, made for him, but he passed away prior to the realization of the project. His sister, the Empress Suiko, and his son, the Crown Prince Shōtoku, fulfilled his will. The statue was finished in the fifteenth year of the Empress Suiko’s reign, and the temple was established for the stature.” This is the origin of Hōryūji.

Map of Temple Grounds
Saiin (Western Precinct)
The nucleus of the Saiin is a block of buildings encircled by the Kairō (Cloister-Gallery), namely the Chūmon (Central Gate), Kondō (Main Hall), Gojū-no-Tō (Five-Story Pagoda), Daikōdō (Great Lecture Hall), Kyōzō (Sutra Repository) and Shōrō (Bell House). To the left of this block is the Sangyōin (Hall of the Three Sutras); to the right, the Shōryō-in (Hall of Prince Shōtoku’s Soul); and to the back, the Kami-no-Midō (Inner Sanctuary) and the Saiendō (West Round Hall). To the east of the Shōryōin are the Tsumamuro (Gabled Quarters), Kōfūzū (Government Sealed Repository), Hosodono (Narrow Hall), Jikidō (Refectory) and other buildings. Still east of these is the Daihōzōin (Galleries of Temple Treasures) with the Kudara Kannon Hall as its nucleus, and storage for the conservation of the mural paintings of the Kondō.

The Saiin is the original and essential part of Hōryūji. Its central buildings, namely the Main Hall and the Five Story Pagoda, are arranged side by side on an east-west row instead of the usual south-north row. This unusual layout reveals one of the characteristics of the Asuka Period.

South Main Gate
The Nandaimon, literally meaning the South Main Gate, is the front entrance to the temple compounds. Built in 1439 during the Muromachi Period, it is a well balanced building of powerful form.

Central Gate
The Chūmon or Central Gate is the front gate of the central block of the Western Precinct. It is a two storied gateway, from either side of which extends the Kairō (Cloister Gallery). With its upper story made conspicuously smaller than the lower, and its unusual plan of four “bays” (intercolumnar spaces, i.e. five pillars) frontage and three “bays” in depth, it is quite different from temple gateways of later periods.

Temple Guardian
The statues of Niō (Vajradhara, two temple-door guardians) installed on the east and west “bays” of the gateway were carved in 711.

Five Story Pagoda
The Gojū-no-Tō (Five-Story Pagoda) is three “bays” square in plan, and over 105 feet in height. Like the Main Hall, it stands on a double terrace, and its detailed parts show the same architectural style as the Main Hall and the Central Gate. It tapers conspicuously upward, the ratio of the roof sizes from the bottom to top stories being 10: 9: 8: 7: 6. The deep overhang of the roofs is another characteristic of this pagoda, giving it a dignified, impressive form.

Scene of Nirvana

The ground floor of the pagoda houses four groups of clay statuettes in its four sides illustrating stories concerning the life of Buddha the Savior, and the Pure Land of Miroku (Maitreya), the Future Buddha or Messiah. Though including some which were replaced during later times, the statues are fine works of sculpture dating from 711 together with the Niō in the Central Gate.

Main Hall

The Kondō (Main Hall) is the central building housing the principal object of worship in the temple. It is a two-storied building with a plan of five “bays” by four, the lower story being surrounded by mokoshi (lean-tos). The roof is hipped and gabled (irimoya).

Its architectural characteristics showing Asuka-Period style are similar to those of the Central Gate, Cloister-Gallery and Five-Story Pagoda. The upper story is skirted with railings which, like those of the Central Gate, are ornamented with inset swastika patterns. The inverted V-shaped posts supporting the railings are also characteristic of the age. These architectural features are similar to those found on the Tamamushi Zushi preserved in the Daihōzōden.

Shaka Triad
In the Kondō are the bronze statues of Shaka (Śākamuni) Triad at the center, Yakushi (Bhaisajyaguru) on its right and Amida (Amitābha) on the left. The Shaka Triad is a typical example of Asuka-Period sculpture. The inscription engraved on its halo states it was made by the sculptor Tori in the thirty-first year of the reign of Empress Suiko (623 AD) for the peaceful rest of the Prince Shōtoku. Tori was one of the Buddhist sculptors active during this period. His art was after the style of Chinese sculpture of the Northern Wei Dynasty as is evidenced by the smiling faces, the double pedestal, the rather flat representation, and the large halo covering the three statues. This Northern Wei style was a primary influence of Japanese sculpture during the Asuka period. The Yakushi shows similar influence.

The Kondō was formerly decorated with mural paintings on its twelve walls. The majority of the murals were destroyed by accidental fire in 1949. These paintings, comparable with those in Ajantā in India, were world famous masterpieces. The damaged original paintings are now kept in the storage hall. Reproductions are attached to the walls of the Kondō.

Great Lecture Hall
The Daikōdō (Great Lecture Hall) is the place where the monks of the temple study. The original building was burnt in 925 during the Heian Period, and the present structure was built in 990. It therefore differs in style from the other earlier buildings in the compound.

Yakushi Triad in Great Lecture hall
The building houses the statues of Yakushi Nyorai at the center, Nikkō Bosatsu (Sūryaprabha) and Gakkō Bosatsu (Candraprabha) on its right and left, and Shitenno at the four corners. Dating from the same period as the building, they are typical examples of Japanese Buddhist sculpture in the middle part of the Heian Period.

The Kyōzō (Sutra Repository) and the Shōrō (Bell House) are situated to the right and left of the Kōdō. The two are largely similar buildings of an elegant form, but the former dates from the second half of the Nara Period and the latter from the early part of the Heian Period. Their difference in age is revealed in the pillars and eaves.

Hall of Prince Shotoku
The Shōryōin (Hall of Prince Shōtoku’s Soul) occupies the south end of the Higashimuro (East Quarters), a building for accommodation of the resident monks like the Nishimuro (West Quarters). It was a part of the east quarters and was converted, at the reconstruction of the building at the end of the Heian Period, into a hall dedicated to the soul of Prince Shōtoku. In it are enshrined the statues of Prince Shōtoku, his sons, his teacher, the monk Eji and other persons associated with him. The Tsumamuro (Gabled Quarters) which is to the east of this building is also a dormitory in the Heian Period.
Prince Shotoku
Tōin (Eastern Precinct)
The route passes the Todaimon (East Main Gate) and leads to the place originally occupied by the Ikaruga Palace, which was the home of Prince Shōtoku. The palace was constructed in 601 AD but after the death of Prince Shōtoku the palace fell into decay. In 739 AD the monk Gyōshin Sōzu constructed an octagonal hall (later known as the Yumedono) as well as the Denpōdō (Hall of Buddhist Teachings), Sōbō (monks’ dwelling quarters) and other buildings, and a statue of Kuse Kannon (Avalokitesvara the Savior), revered by the Prince during his lifetime, was enshrined in the Yumedono. With the wide spread of worship of the Prince in the Heian and Kamakura Periods, the Eastern Precinct was furnished with more buildings such as the Eden (Hall of Paintings), Shariden (Reliquary Hall), Shōrō (Bell House), Raidō (Hall of Worship) and Kairō (Cloister-Gallery).

Yumedono Octagonal Hall
Yumedono is a building standing on a double terrace and is the oldest example of an octagonal hall in existence in Japan. Of note is the roof ornament consisting of a lotus flower, a sacred vase, a canopy and a sacred gem. The double terrace was a style of the Asuka Period. It may have had its origin here as the Yumedono was built on the site of Ikaruga Palace.

E-den Hall
The present E-den Hall (Hall of Painting), which is connected to the Shariden hall (Reliquary hall), was rebuilt in 1219. It is part of a structure formerly known as Shichijōya. The painting depicting various stages of Prince Shōtoku’s life on the sliding doors of the building was painted by Hata Chishin in 1069. The painting was designated as an Imperial Treasure and has been kept by the Imperial Family. The current painting housed at E-den hall is a replacement copy.

Interior of Hall of Buddhist Teachings
The Denpōdō (Hall of Buddhist Teachings), similar in nature to the Kōdō (Lecture Hall) of the Western Precinct, was donated by Tachibana-no-Konakachi, wife of Emperor Shōmu, in 739. Repair work done (1939-1943) revealed that the building was originally a residence of nobility at the time and was converted into a Buddhist building. As such, it holds insight into the history of Japanese residential architecture. In the hall are twenty statues, all of which are works of Buddhist sculpture from the Nara and Heian Periods. Included are the central Amida Triad and a group of kanshitsu (dry-lacquer) statues from the Nara Period.

Bell House
The Shōrō (Bell House) of the Eastern Precinct is a shapely building with its lower part in a trapezoidal form known as hakamagoshi (spreading skirt). The bell hung in it, dating from the Nara Period, has an engraved inscription reading “Chūgūji.” It is registered as a National Treasure by the Japanese Government.

1-1 Hōryūji Sannai, Ikaruga, Ikoma District, Nara Prefecture 636-0115