Kyoto to Osaka: 1001 Kannons and onsen

We got up early this morning to go to the main temple at Miyoshin-ji to see a service by all the abbots of the temples in the enclosure. I wished I had my camera as the abbots in their violet or saffron and black robes hurried to the main hall. Each had his formal red or black shoes on a two pronged stick, to change into before entering the temple. No outsiders were allowed in for this service, we peeked in through the outside. It was a very male enclave, no women at all, just the young Buddhist priests in training along the back, and the abbots. Taka, who had given us a lesson in Zen meditation on Thursday, played a leading role in the service (if I were mapping this onto Western practice I would call him the deacon). Midway through the service we noticed a priest peering through the back windows, checking off names on a clipboard. Taking attendance!

After breakfast we packed up and headed to Sanjusangendo which has a long hall filled with 1000 statues of the Buddhist deity Kannon, each slightly different (and a main image, so really 1001). It’s a stunning sight, and included a collection of the 28 guardians. No photos inside (and a reminder about every 10 feet not to take photos, and I can see why, it’s hard to resist). The building is about 800 years old, and built to withstand earthquakes with foundations that will let the building slide. The site is famous for formal archery contests, testing not only the archers’ accuracy, but also their endurance. One young man was said to have short 13,000 arrows over a 24 hour period.

We go from here to Koya-san on Sunday, many of the temples will be of the same era, it will be interesting to compare the architectures of these urban spaces in what was then Japan’s imperial captial with the then very remote mountain enclave. For my class we have read “The Ten Square Foot Hut” which is written by a 13th century Buddhist priest (Kamo no Chomei) where he contrasts life in the capital with life in the mountains. When we get back, we will be looking at the way life is structured for the Carthusian monks, a eremetic order from the same period in Europe. What are the ways in which silence and solitude are provided for? What role do the mountains play, and how is it different or similar to the role the desert played for the early Christian hermits and monks?

On the trip by bus from Kyoto to Osaka, where we will spend the night before taking the train to Koya-san early tomorrow morning, we took a detour to Arima, an old natural hot spring or onsen. We spent a good part of the afternoon soaking in the silver waters, and the gold waters, trying out the traditional Japanese bathtubs (which look like tulips) and lounging on cedar benches in the sun. It was a challenge for the women, since all the signage was in Japanese and we have no fluent Japanese speakers in the crowd. With a little help from our two Chinese speakers, and our students studying Japanese we figured it out. One of the young Japanese women in the tub told me she thought we were quite courageous to give this a fly. I thought the students who ventured to put their feet in a tub fileld with little fish that nibbled off the dead skin were truly courageous. Hot springs are traditionally associated with Buddhist temple sites, and the waters were certainly a delightful blessing for us!

Now we are threading our way through Osaka on the bus, headed for a hotel with Western beds and dinner.


Photos of dinner in Osaka, and the fish bath!

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