After taking a long lunch-break followed by coffee near Ueno Station in Tokyo, we were ready to make an extended trip out to a famous Shingon Buddhist temple: Takahata Fudō, more formally called Kongōji (金剛寺). It was here that I experienced the Goma fire ceremony for the first time, as described in a previous post. This post is to provide a tour of the temple itself.
At the entrance was this helpful map:
This temple is not in easy access for foreign tourists, so there’s nothing in English, but as you can see from the map, there’s actually quite a bit here. Probably the most famous is the replica of the 88 Kannon Pilgrimage of Shikoku to the left. It is a small mountain path where one can simulate the real pilgrimage, though from what I’ve been told it’s still a tough climb.
As for us, we were greeted right away by the usual characters guarding all Buddhist temples, the Niō (仁王). Here’s A-gyō (阿形) with his mouth open:
And here’s Un-gyō with his mouth closed:
Immediately after stepping through the gate, we spotted a gorgeous weeping cherry tree to the right:
Close by is the main altar room, where they are housing a temporary image of Fudō Myōō, the main figure of this temple:
Later, it was inside here that we experienced the Goma fire ritual. Behind this building, and to the left, along the main path, was the five-story pagoda which was quite lovely in the setting sun:
Further up the path on the left, was a small hall for veneration of Kukai (a.k.a. Kobo Daishi), the founder of Shingon Buddhism, where I tried to light an incense stick in the charcoal brazier, but completely failed. By then, the Goma service had started, so we ran off to attend that, and I forgot to take a picture, let alone light the incense stick (sorry Kukai). Later, I came back, but then noticed this adjacent Shinto Shrine devoted to Inari Kami:
What’s remarkable is all the little fox statues, instead of the standard two guarding the shrine:
As we saw earlier in the day at a small Tendai Buddhist temple, Shinto Shrines existed on Buddhist premises, which surprised me a little, though I get the impression in the past that Tendai and Shingon are pretty syncretic and not overly concerned with such things. In contrast, Shinto Shrines are never found in Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temples, nor do they provide charms or stamp pilgrim books, so Buddhism in Japan is a pretty varied thing and approaches the native Shinto religion differently.
Anyway, if you pass the Inari shrine, you come to the entrance of the mountain “pilgrimage”, but as it was late in the day we opted not to go. Instead, we moved down the path a bit further and came across this sight:
This is six statues of Jizo Bodhisattva, representing the six realms of rebirth,1 and his efforts to rescue all beings in each. The red bibs were likely tied on by parents who lost a child and are praying that Jizo will guide and protect them before moving onto another rebirth. Hopefully those parents fond some solace…
Further down the path, we came upon this statue of what we believe is Kannon Bodhisattva:
The statue stood to the left of a special altar room for Dainichi Nyorai himself, the main Buddhist deity in Shingon Buddhism, which for some reason I forgot to take a picture of. As with most temples in Japan (except Jodo Shinshu ones), pictures were not allowed inside anyway.
From there, we circled back around and found this small Shinto altar:
It’s not clear who the shrine was for; perhaps someone originally affiliated with the temple. It lacked the usual iconography associated with well-known kami, so perhaps it was something or someone more local. We circled all the way back again, while I took another photo of the pagoda:
Along the way, we also found a small altar room, where outside we noticed this small porch-side altar to Fudo Myoo:
And then stopped near the entrance to admire the pond and bridge there:
Which led to a small shrine devoted to the Kami Benzaiten, whom we encountered earlier that day at Ueno Park:
Thus ended our visit to Takahata Fudo temple, but before we left the area, we stopped at the shop just across the way to pick up some of the famous senbei crackers that are well-known at Takahata:
The large calligraphic letter at the top is the seed-syllable for Fudo Myoo, which just means it’s a visual, symbolic representation of him at least for lay-Buddhists. Seed-syllables in esoteric Buddhism are always written in Japan using bonji (梵字) script which is a relic of India no longer used elsewhere.
The crackers were quite good, believe me, and I brought back two bags home to my waiting wife and in-laws. This also ended my adventures in Japan as the following days were spent with wife’s friends or running more mundane errands. “Johnl” definitely helped end this trip with a bang, as I worried I might only see the sights of Kyoto/Nara and otherwise miss all that Tokyo had to offer, so thanks again for the tour!
Also, thanks to everyone who read through these travel posts, until my next trip. I hope they’ve been a good read.
1 In order from “best” to “worst”:
- The heaven realms (e.g. a deva or divine being)
- The human realm
- The realm of war-like asuras, or “titans” (due to their constant struggles against the devas)
- The animal realm
- The realm of hungry ghosts
- The hell realms
As a reminder, in Buddhism these are all seen as ultimately undesirable due their impermanent nature, even as a deva (sooner or later you have to be reborn as something “lower”). Human realms are seen as the best balance and the most conducive to Enlightenment.