Most magnificent temples of Japan - part I
There are quite a lot of temples exist in Japan. In fact, each place in Japan has a number of temples that differ in structure and spirit. The traditional shrine temples and the Buddhist temples are so beautiful and are famous for their serene nature in many places. Each one of the temple is famous for some classic structure and for its cleansing power. They need such elaborate description and in-depth understanding to realize how important these temples are in Japanese spiritual life.
Chuson-ji Temple: This temple is really popular temple in Hiraizumi. It is also the largest in Hiraizumi. This temple is supposed to represent the Tendai sect of Buddhism. The Golden Hall, called as Konjikido, is such a renowned structure and it is built inside a very large glass area. It is covered by gold and is well protected. The inside of the shrine is so extensively decorated with the golden lacquer and the mother of pearls and with three classical Buddha images. Further this temple came into prominence during the Fujiwara clan period. There are many interesting buildings around Chusonji. It has a treasure hall and this hall houses such an impressive array of artifacts. And the spectacular Noh stage is still amazing. There is also another hall known as Kyozo Hall. This hall served as a repository for sutras, which were Buddhist scriptures.
Motsu-ji Temple: This temple is the second largest temple in Hiraizumi. It belongs to the Heian era and was actually constructed in 800 AD. The pure Land Garden is one of the amazing Gardens of that era and truly it is not purely Japanese. In fact these gardens were created with the idea of pure land which is known as Buddhist Paradise. The garden uses such wide and grassy spaces so liberally. Almost all of the well-spread spaces are having many scattered rocks. In the middle of these rocks are marked by small posts as well. These posts indicate the exact locations of the destroyed temple building years ago. Added to these, these destroyed foundations were the inspiration for the well known poet Basho who composed one of his best poems as well. There are some interesting halls around the temple like Hondo, a repository of Cultural Assets and a treasure house that displays Motsuji’s cultural and historical artifacts.
Takkoku no Iwaya Bishamon temple: This temple is a beautiful cave temple and is built partially under the rock face of a cliff. This is supposed to be fifth incarnation of the temple. It was built in 801 AD. Bishamon is the God of war in Japan and so this temple was dedicated solely for Bishamon. And very interestingly this temple is called as Iwaya Bishamondo which actually means a place to pray for the peace. There is a giant stone carving of Buddha, Ganmen daibutsu, which is amazing in nature. But now only the head is remaining after an earth quake which destroyed the whole body. The way to the temple is filled with lovely fields that are quite fresh and greenish.
Yamadera temple: This is a scenic mountain temple. It is situated in the Yamagata city of the Yamagata prefecture. The temple area is in fact named after this common name called Risshakuji. It was founded in 860 AD by the priest Ennin, who is better known as Jikaku Daisi. He was the chief priest for the Tendai sect of Enryakuji. As a mtter of fact, this Risshakuji was built as a branch temple of Enryakuji. So even in all ritualistic function only the fires brought from thie Enryakuji temple are burning in this main temple. This main temple is called Konpon-chudo and it was actually built later in 1356 AD by the Lord of the Yamagata Castle, Shiba Kaneyori. But Risshakuji temple was almost destroyed during the local wars and then it was rebuilt in 1543. The main hall Konpon Chudo is quite rare construction. Even the temple looks like clinging to the hills. This is amazingly unusual concept. The steps that carry people to the top go through the deep cedars trees and they are astonishingly silent and beautiful. The wooden image of Yakushi Byorai, which is the Buddha Bhaisajyaguru, is the powerful image of this temple. More specifically, this belongs to the Heian period and is a cultural asset of Japan.
Churenji, Dainichibo: These two temples are quite interesting temples of Dewa Sanzan area. They are in fact, the sites of Sokushinbutsu. These Sokushinbutsu are Buddhists who actually went into enlightenment through transforming themselves into mummies. It is an incredibly divine effort and it needs some understanding to know the importance of these temples. Actually there was another Japanese religion called Shugendo, which was a mountain religion that combined the primary tenets of Shinto and Buddhism. Mental and physical toleration of the elements is the base of this religion. Once thorough with this, self mortification or mummification comes at the end. It is a tedious procedure.
For this purpose, the monks adhere to three different 1000 day endurance of dietary restriction, self control, intensive physical activity and meditation. During the first period of 1000 days, monks eat only mountain vegetables. They continue the Shugendo physical endurance practice. In the second 1000 day ritual, they eat only roots and barks. Sometimes some water containing arsenics, which is poisonous in nature that provides a preservative effect on the bodies of the monks. In the third 1000 day period, these monks are sealed in a cedar box and then the box is buried. A little tube is inserted for breathing and a bell to ring is also placed which is the only worldly contact for them. Once the ringing of the bell is stopped, the mummified bodies are opened and preserved.
Those monks who were successful at this practice are revered as Buddhas. Presently, there are 15 Sokushinbutsu available in Japan.
Dewa Sanzan: The three sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan, Mount Haguro, Mount Yudono and Mount Gassan are collectively called as the Sacred Mountains of Dewa Sanzan. They are the holiest mountains of Shinto religion. In fact, they were the special joly places for the mountain ascetic religion Shugendo. These mountains were originally opened by prince Hachiko as the religious centers almost 1400 years ago. All the three mountains have the shrine of their own. But the primary Shrine called Dewa shrine is located in Mount Haguro only. Mount Haguro is also the smallest of all the mountains. It generally serves as an entry point to the other two mountains. Mount Gassan is the tallest one. The place feels so eternal. Mount Yudono is is believed to be the heart of these three mountains. Every monk and ascetic considers his life incomplete if he has not visited Mount Yudono in his life. Another important thing about mount Yudono is that it is so popular for its Goshintai which a sacred object. This Goshintai is believed to be directly connected to the God.
Rinnoji Temple: This temple is situated in Nikko town.The Buddhist monk, Shodo Shonin, who introduced Buddhism to Nikko during the 8th century, founded this temple. Sanbutsudo, the main building of the temple houses the largest gold lacquered wooden statues of Senju-Kannon, which is kannon with 1000 arms, Amida and Bato-Kannon, which is Kannon with a head of horse. These three deities are considered as Buddhist manifestations of Nikko’s Kami, which are Shinto Gods that are enshrined in Futarasan Shrine. Opposite to this place stand the treasure house with great exhibits and a spectacular Japanese style garden, Shoyoen.
Mizusawa Temple: This temple was founded about 1000 years ago. It is one of the 33 sites of the kanto-Kannon pilgrimage visits. It is constructed on a mountain side and offers excellent panoramic view. Kannon is the Goddess of compassion in Buddhism and this temple is devoted to Kannon.
A thousand handed and eleven faced statue of the deity is the main object of worship in this temple. One of the interesting rituals is rotation the two-storied hexagonal Pagoda. This is supposed to bring good luck.