Tuesday, July 03, 2007

shibamata vol. 2


I SPENT a good thirty minutes buying, looking, and eating. Upon reaching the temple gate, I rested in the shade. The pressing heat and humidity made my white Oxford feel like damp tissue; there were widening sweat marks under my camera bag strap. I scribbled a few pre-notes and watched two Japanese tourists chatting with a monk, sitting cross-legged by the entrance. I was surprised at how casual his demeanor was, and by extension how much he seemed to have in common with the husband and wife couple - as if the three of them had been taking weekend yoga classes together since college. Though I could not make out what the monk was saying from where I sat, I could tell he was rather into it from the way his long-brimmed white hat bobbed up and down genially.

Top: temple entrance; above: washing statue; right: small fountain in Japanese garden

Like most larger temples, the temple building itself is surrounded by a wall and a large gate. To my left as I entered I saw three old women washing an old stone statue. The statue apparently had healing powers - I've never seen this ritual before. What were they silently hoping for as they ladled holy water over the venerable ancient? I'll never know, because I didn't ask.

Taishakuten is a temple truly worth visiting. Unlike so many other Buddhist temples that start to fade into the scenery through overexposure and ubiquity, Taishakuten is a living building: many monks work and live here. You can hear them chanting through the paper walls of the sanctuary. The temple is connected to the monks' living quarters by long, wooden walkway. For 400 yen I can entered, slipped off my shoes, and padded quietly over red carpeting. The walkway took me through a small Japanese garden, saturated by deep greens and silence. Afterwards I peeked into the dormitories and got an eyeful of Buddhist ascetic life: sparse furniture, infrequent but beautiful pictures alongside the walls.

The highlights of Taishakuten are the incredibly intricate and beautiful wooden carvings on the temple's outer walls, now preserved under a glass canopy. Each pane tells a parable of Buddha, encouraging his followers in their faith.

Close up: a solitary ascetic monk receives the respect of angels and demons alike (demons in this case). I found it interesting how art styles like this continue to influence anime, etc.

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