Thursday, August 27, 2015

Day 38 - Buddhas Happy and Buddhas Sad

Today we explored the far Northwest of Kyoto where the main attractions are two very different Buddhist temples. Both of them are built on hills, both of them display hundreds of small Buddha sculptures and both are situated on the same old road. But one is a very happy place and the other one is very sad.
For reasons I explain later, we started with the happy place. This temple invited believers in the 1980's to carve little Buddha sculptures. People were given quite a lot of artistic freedom and were not restricted to the traditional appearances of Buddha sculptures. As a result, one Buddha takes a photo with a camera, one has a cassette player (yes, the 1980's), one holds a tennis racket, and one even wears boxing gloves. If you're very attentive, you will even discover an Easter Island's moai sculpture who found its way into the temple. Because there weren't so many people visiting as it used to be in the other temples, I dared taking a seat on the outside veranda of the temple. How wonderful and peaceful! Rills gurgling, cicadas chirping, trees rustling. 

From Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, the happy temple, we walked on Toriimoto Street, an old road lined with old, sometimes even straw-roofed houses to our next destination. The whole village seemed to be busy with final preparations and arrangements for their evening showtime. Lanterns painted by children in every size and color with different motifs (especially the o-bon mountain fires) were spread all over the place. Of course the village festival was connected to the two biggest days of the year in the other temple, the sento kuyo ceremony. Because we had an hour before the the other temple opened for the ceremony, we killed time by having zvieri (meaning a small afternoon snack in Switzerland) in a little cafĂ©. 

The other temple's name is Adashino Nenbutsu-ji. Legend says that it was built at a remote site where poor people who couldn't afford a funeral, were just dropped and rotted. Around the year 800 a famous Buddhist monk started to build a temple and placed little Buddha sculptures there to honor the nameless dead. Today, on August 23 and August 24 of each year at dawn the sento kuyo ceremony starts with prayers, and then all visitors are asked to put a candle to one of the 8000-10000 Buddha sculptures. A nice gesture to remember the dead and an impressive sight.
Twenty minutes before the opening, we only were about the fiftieth in the queue, and it quickly grew. Thousands of people, mostly local, want to attend the ceremony. But visitors are welcome as well to attend and place their candle at a nameless grave. Fortunately we snatched a good photographing place at the wall in front of the field of Buddhas. Over the centuries, the sculptures' contours had vanished more or less - but that added to the morbid charm of that special place. I think we were standing at the same place for about one and a half hour. I nearly cooled my heels until it finally darkened. Of course, an extensive prayer and a procession were first. As people started to place their candles, the place gradually lit up - a very special atmosphere. Then we lighted two candles ourselves - for our dead ancestors. Although I watched people lighting their candles and praying all the time, the moment of my own candle in the dark was indeed deeply emotional.

After leaving the ceremony, we enjoyed all the lanterns along Toriimoto Street. With some emergency snack from the convenience store, we then walked to the riverside near the Arashiyama bamboo forest and monkey park. Luckily we were able to watch the last minutes of today's cormorant fishing (ukyo) on Katsura river. Cormorants are used by fisherwomen to catch fish and deliver it at the boat. Fish are lured with quite big bonfires on the boats. 

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