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Posts Tagged ‘temple’

What does Nishiarai mean?

In Japanese History on July 17, 2013 at 2:04 am

西新井
Nishiarai (West New Well)

Main street leading to Nishi-Arai Daishi. In the Edo Period and earlier, this would have been a typical monzen-cho.

Main street leading to Nishi-Arai Daishi.
In the Edo Period and earlier, this would have been a typical monzen-cho.
Now it’s just shitamachi (the lower city).

I have no idea why this name is officially written in rōmaji as one word. It seems to me, one would write it Nishi Arai or at least as Nishi-Arai[i].

But no one ever consults with me.

Oh well.

Let’s jump way back to the Heian Period (of which I know very little) to talk a bit about the spread of Buddhism in Japan (of which I know even less). At that time there was this supermonk named 空海 Kūkai. All sorts of amazing shit is attributed to him, including the invention of 仮名 kana the Japanese syllabary. Of course, since he was a supermonk, we can believe this at face value. C’mon, religious people never make shit up, right?

Anyways, after homeboy died, he was referred to as 弘法大師 Kōbō Daishi Great Teacher Who Spreads Buddhism, which sounds generic in English, but it’s pretty specific in Japanese.

So he came to this area when it was in the middle of a massive epidemic and people were dying all over the place. Instead of helping the people, he did what religious people love to do. Nothing. So he commissioned a temple with a statue of an 11-faced Kan’non[ii] and he knelt down and prayed in front of the statue for 21 days.

11-faced Kan'non. Note all the spooky heads on her head.

11-faced Kan’non.
Note all the spooky heads on her head.
(yes, kan’non is female)

Luckily for him, by chance (or more likely because someone started digging), a well magically appeared and water started bubbling up and gushed forth and the people had drinking water. Even more magical was that fact that when the sick people drank Kūkai’s magic well water they were instantly cured (praise jeebus!) and they all lived happily ever after.

The magic well was located on the west side of the temple[iii], so it was called 西新井 Nishi-Arai West New Well. The temple took its name from the well. (Or so they say…)

Main prayer hall of Nishi-Arai Daishi

Main prayer hall of Nishi-Arai Daishi

The temple still stands today. In fact, it’s a very famous place in Tōkyō for 初詣 hatsumōde the first temple or shrine visit of the year, so it’s very crowded during the New Year holiday. The temple is called 西新井大師 Nishi-Arai Daishi Nishi-Arai Great Teacher. I’ve never been myself, but it seems to be a pretty cool place. They have ponds and gardens in the precincts and the surrounding 門前町 monzen-chō[iv] looks pretty interesting.

Main gate of the temple

Main gate of the temple

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[i] I prefer the hyphen, so for here on out, I’m using Nishi-Arai as the name.

[ii] Kan’non-sama is a Buddha. I see her explained as a goddess of mercy. But my understanding is that technically Buddhism doesn’t have gods per se, but examples of enlightened souls upon which to reflect. It’s a question of semantics in my opinion, but maybe “goddess” isn’t really the most accurate word.

[iii] Very convenient, since the temple could control the well.

[iv] C’mon, you guys remember what a monzen-chō is, right?

Taiyuin

In Japanese History, Japanese Shrines & Temples, Tokugawa Shogun Graves on May 30, 2013 at 1:58 am

大猷院
Taiyūin
(Divine Prince Who Built Up the Great Government)
三大将軍徳川家光公
2nd Shōgun, Lord Tokugawa Iemitsu
Nikkō

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Honden (main hall) of Taiyūin. It's built in the same Gongen-zukuri style as Daitokuin's honden. You can see the Nakamon (middle gate) and sukibei (latticework fence).

Honden (main hall) of Taiyūin. It’s built in the same Gongen-zukuri style as Daitokuin honden. You can see the Nakamon (middle gate) and sukibei (latticework fence).

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Yesterday’s post was a monster. But it was a real labor of love. For the first time, I was able to really visualize the size and grandeur of the Daitokuin funerary complex. I had never seen photos of all of those buildings and the maps together in the same place before (definitely not in English), so I felt like I really succeeded in resurrecting the temple. I hope everyone else felt like that too. So far, that may be the article I’m the most proud of.

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Sukibei (latticework fence) around the the honden (main hall).

Sukibei (latticework fence) around the the honden (main hall).

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Compared to that, today’s post may be a little disappointing. The reason is that Nikkō Tōshō-gū and Nikkō Taiyūin are both so well known. There are volumes written about them online and in books in every major language. The sites are wonderfully preserved and can be enjoyed year round. I don’t want to just repeat what everyone else says about this mausoleum, so I’m having difficulty coming up with unique information.

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This gate is called the Nitenmon (2 heaven gate), but if you notice the plaque with kanji on it, you'll understand that this is the second gate to the temple and that it is essentially a chokugakumon (imperial scroll gate). The characters say Taiyuuin and were supposedly written by the emperor before being incorporated into the architecture.

This gate is called the Nitenmon (2 heaven gate), but if you notice the plaque with kanji on it, you’ll understand that this is the second gate to the temple and that it is essentially an imperial scroll gate.
The characters say Taiyūin and were supposedly written by the emperor before being incorporated into the architecture.
I’ve heard it’s the biggest gate at Nikkō… but I’ve never measured it. If ya know what I mean…

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Well, anyways, let’s start at the beginning.

Iemitsu was the first shōgun born since the establishment of the Tokugawa shōgunate. As such, he was the first heir to be groomed from childhood to be shōgun[i]. He established, or at least codified the sankin-kōtai system, which increased the size and population of Edo, thus transforming it into a sprawling metropolis with an unprecedented concentration of samurai elite. His father began restricting travel and trade with other countries, but Iemitsu is the one who essential closed off Japan from the outside world[ii]. Furthering his father and grandfather’s policies against the irritating Christians missionaries and their converts, Iemitsu set about de-christianizing Japan. He expanded Tōshō-gū in Nikkō to its current size and he is said to have visited the site about 10 times. It’s said that he lavished so much money on embellishing Tōshō-gū that some advisors feared he would bankrupt the shōgunate. But the early Edo Period was a booming time economically, so it all worked out in the end.

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A ridiculously ornate suibansha (water basin). It's used for ritual cleaning of your hands and mouth before entering a shrine. Usually they're not very interesting, but when we go back to the Edo-Tōkyō buildings, you'll find that in some cases these are all we have left.

A ridiculously ornate suibansha (water basin). It’s used for ritual cleaning of your hands and mouth before entering a shrine. Usually they’re not very interesting, but when we go back to the Edo-Tōkyō buildings, you’ll find that in some cases these are all we have left.

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According to his wishes, his body kept for a while at Kan’ei-ji – establishing an alternating policy of burial between the two Tokugawa funerary temples. After preparations had been made at Rin’nō-ji in Nikkō, his body was transported there[iii]. Then his son, the 4th shōgun, Ietsuna, began constructing a lavish mausoleum. Iemitsu had ordered that no mausoleum ever surpass that of Ieyasu’s, so Taiyūin was made with darker colors, less adornment, and the size is smaller than Tōshō-gū. Actually, I think it’s the more beautiful of the two. Oh, the buildings face Tōshō-gū out of respect.

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Copper lamps at Taiyūin. Love this shot because the mist reminds me of Nikkō and the ghostly B/W shots of Daitokuin.

Copper lamps at Taiyūin.
Love this shot because the mist reminds me of Nikkō and the ghostly B/W shots of Daitokuin.

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Tōshō-gū is extremely ostentatious. And while Taiyūin has much in common with it on the surface and in terms of size and craftsmanship, I think it really is reflecting a mode of architecture closer to that of some of the early Tokugawa shōgun mausolea in Edo. Unfortunately, the Edo buildings were destroyed and we can’t get a feel for how they interacted with the terrain. But the Taiyūin structures definitely work with the lay of the land for dramatic effect. Judging by the map of Daitokuin we saw yesterday, it’s obvious the architects of Edo were also incorporating their masterpieces into the natural curvature of the land.

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I don’t have anything more to say on the topic of Taiyūin, except that it is a masterpiece of Japanese art and architecture of its day. If you have the chance to see it, you should. I guarantee you’ll love it.

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Edo Period engineering built this.Freaking amazing!

Edo Period engineering built this.Freaking amazing!

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For More Information About Nikkō Tōshō-gū

Nikkō Tourist Association:
http://www.nikko-jp.org/english/taiyuin/index.html
(Notice the list of buildings they mention. You’ll notice the same ones at Daitokuin and every other funerary temple.)

This woman has a nice piece on Taiyūin:
http://en.japantourist.jp/view/nikko-s-taiyu-in-mausoleum

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[i] Remember, both Ieyasu and Hidetada were products of the Sengoku Period.

[ii] Since the bakumatsu (1850’s-1860’s), the Japanese have used the term 鎖国 sakoku closed country (literally, “locked” or “chained”). Recent scholarship of the Edo Period has come to favor the term 海禁 kaikin maritime restrictions. While I’m cool with both words, the average Japanese person still uses the term sakoku to describe this isolationist policy. I’ll leave this one to the scholars…

[iii] Rin’nō-ji still oversees Taiyūin to this day.

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