Saturday August 1, 2009
Overcast, Warm and Humid with lots of Mosquitoes
Now that I only have 5 months left on my assignment, I am re-prioritizing my life so that I make time to discover fascinating areas of Japan. One town I always wanted to visit was Kawagoe which is only about a 40 minute trip from where I live.
Kawagoe is known as Little Edo (Edo is the ancient name of Tokyo) because many of the cultural properties of Kawagoe were influenced by Edo and they were fortunately not destroyed during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and WWII bombings. So even today a few dozen of the traditional fireproof warehouses built in the 1700s still exist. It is also home to the temples of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune and each temple is also home to a special fall flower. So I thought it would be fun to do a discovery tour of the town by searching and visiting the seven temples that house each deity of Good Fortune.
So on a hazy and hot Saturday my friends Mary and Barbara joined me on a visit to Kawagoe to search for Good Fortune.
Getting there was quite easy where we took an express train from Ikebukuro to Kawagoe station. Now once in Kawagoe station we had a bit of a challenge looking for our first temple which is the Myozenji temple. After asking for directions several times we made it to our first temple of good fortune - Myozenji. Myozenji is home to the Bishamonten, the deity of Power and the Ominaeshi - a very pretty yellow flower bush.
Ominaeshi plant from Myozenji:"Hold one in your hand and even your sleeve will smell of Ominaeshi. It's a shame to let it scatter among the white dewdrops"／ Yamanoue no Okura
The Myozenji temple itself was very quiet and it was pretty obvious it is not a tourist destination. There were some cute statues though including the one below of a baby looking like its ready to jump and some nice Jizo statues.
After paying our respects to the first temple of good fortune, it was time to head to our next temple of good fortune - Tennenji. Again, it was pretty difficult to find but after asking a few people we found it.
While walking towards the Tennenji, we saw this beautiful house with a gorgeous garden. I like the way the pine tree was trained to create a very beautiful entrance.
Tennenji is a very charming temple. Again, it a neighborhood temple but the grounds were gorgeous. It is home to the Jyuroujin deity and the Chinese Bellflower plant. The Jyuroujin is the deity of Long Life. I really liked the Tennenji as it was quaint and peaceful.
The beautiful fountain to wash your hands
The Chinese Bellflower: "It seems as if you can hear the bellflower blossoms snap open"／Chiyojo
Beautiful Koi pond at Tennenji
The Buddha Image of Tennenji
There was also a small Inari Shinto shrine in the temple grounds
I found this statue interesting as the Bodhisattva is sitting on an elephant which is typically a symbol of Hinayana Buddhism (Japan is mainly Mahayana)
Again there were some interesting statues. I liked the jizo statue below.
The statue below was atop a hill overlooking the graves. I'm not sure what is symbolizes but seems it has something to do with motherhood.
Our next temple to find was Kitain. And found out it is a major temple. It is the head temple of Tendaishu Buddhist sects in the Kanto District. It was built in 830!! Although most of the temple was destroyed during a fire in the 1600s the main gate escaped fire and still stands today. The deity of good fortune that resides here is the Daikokuten- The Deity of Wealth. Something that I need! The fall flower is the Hagi or Japanese clover bush which was found all over the vast grounds of the temple. The grounds of the temple were gorgeous. It is also home to the Gohyaku-Rakan Statues: 538 stone statues of the disciples of Buddha. Unfortunately, we arrived late so the gates were closed so could not enjoy them but it became a reason to visit Kawagoe again!
The wood carvings are from a gate we found. The wood carvings were gorgeous and intricate.
The grounds of Kitain: Gorgeous!
Hagi: Japanese Bush Clover - The Hagi rigdge seems not to spill a drop of white dew/Basho
The museum was closed so could not go in but I like the way they used curves in the design of the building.
Our next stop was the modern Narita-san Betsuin. Apparently its a popular temple and most people call it Ofudosan and it is dedicated to Fudo-myoo which I have no idea what he/she is. Anyhow, it is also famous for the antique market that is held on the 28th day of each month. I'll have to check it out before I leave!
The Narita-san is home for deity of good fortune - Ebisuten, the deity of Integrity. The fall flower of the temple is the Nadishiko or Pink Fridged Flower (that is what I've been told is the English translation)
Pink Fridged Flower of Narita-san: "Whenever I see Nadeshiko / The blossoms remind me of the beautiful smiles of young maidens." ／("Manyo-shu" vol.18)
After Narita-san, we headed toward Kenryuji. The walk took us through the old town of Kawagoe where the old fireproof warehouses are lined. The main street is called Ichibangai and is lined with very quaint shops. We all felt like we were a bit in the twilight zone as the look and feel was Japan 200 or so years ago.
I luv that the yukata is making a comeback. Here are 2 girls walking the hot, humid afternoon in yukatas.
We also walked by the symbol of Kawagoe - Tokino Kane (Bell Tower). The first bell tower was built in 1624. But it burnt in 1890s and was rebuilt in 1893. It is 16 meters above the ground and the bell chime rings 4 times a day: 6am, noon, 3pm and 6pm!
Once we past the bell tower, we were in old town Kawagoe which maintains the classic atmosphere of the Edo era.
We also visited Kashiyayokocho (small lane of tiny candy shops). It was so quaint with many types of old style Japanese candies. Mary bought some caramels to share and both Mary and Barbara were struggling with the delicate paper each caramel was wrapped in. I then remembered it is sugar paper so you eat the paper! I used to love the caramels when I was growing up in Japan.
Kids buying their favorite candies.
Very cute boy enjoying his treat - sugar coated rice cracker.
Kawagoe is known for sweet potatoes. I bought a sweet potato manju (dumpling) from this guy. He makes them fresh everyday.
After satisfying our sweet tooth, we headed to the Kenryu-ji. It is home to the deity Hoteison - the deity of "mass". Not sure what it means but it was a pretty small non-descriptive temple. The fall flower of the temple is the arrowroot.
Arrowroot of the Kenryu-ji: "The arrowroot blossoms scenting the mountains / are even more touching than rows of wisteria flowers" ／Mokichi Saito
Although we were getting tired, we were determined to visit the seven deities of good fortune so off we went to find our sixth temple the Renkeiji. Renkeiji is home to the deity - Fukurokukujin, the deity of Popularity. The fall flower is the Silver Grass.
On the way to Renkeiji we saw this cute store with a rickshaw in front.
We got to Renkeiji just as dusk was settling in. The lamps were lit which created a very serene atmosphere.
We didn't know what silver grass looked like but assumed it was the plant below as it was everywhere and we did not see the plant below in the other temples we visited.
Silver Grass (we think): "The sun sets on the mountain / The fields are in twilight / Silver Grass" ／Buson
Then it was time to go to our last temple - Myoshoji. Again it was confusing to find so I asked two ladies who were surprised to see us again. Of course, Mary, Barbara and I had no idea what they were talking about but given we were pretty much the only foreigners doing the temple visits, I guess we stood out. Anyhow, they were very kind and gave us the directions to our final destination. The temple is in the middle of the residential area and is not a tourist destination. We also happened to visit it while they were getting ready for a Bon Odori - Dance to celebrate Bon. Japan is in Bon season now which is the season the spirits of the dead return home. So there are lanterns everywhere so the spirits can find their way home.
Myoshoji is home to the deity of Benzaiten which we found out is the only female deity and she is the deity of Charm. How apropos for 3 women to embark on this search and end the search with a female deity! The fall flower of the temple is the Fujibakama which has no English translation. We could not figure out which one was the flower so asked a grounds keeper who showed us. A few other people from the temple started talking to us as it was very unusual to see foreigners visit their temple. They kindly invited us to stay for the dance but we were quite tired and hungry so gave our respects and told them we will definitely be back again.
The Fujibakama: "Fujibakama blooms / An unforgettable scent arises / The reminder of someone special" ／Ki-no-Tsurayuki
Preparation for the Bon Odori at Myozenji.
Mission Accomplished! We found all seven deities! I was told it is about a 6 km walk but found out its more a 10-15 km walk! We arrived in Kawagoe a little before 2pm and finished our last temple around 630pm. Although we enjoyed the temples and look/feel of the town, we decided we have to come back again because the people of Kawagoe were SO nice and very approachable. Everyone we asked went out of their way to help us and also took the time to explain things we were interested in. Its so hard to believe its only an hour's away from Tokyo. This is the Japan I really love and am so glad to have been able to introduce real Japan to Mary and Barbara.