The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Visiting Sensō-ji Temple

While Grace is in class at International Christian University, I have the morning to explore the Asakusa region of Tokyo, and so naturally I head to the large Buddhist Temple and Shinto Shrines nearby. 

The Sensō-ji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest Temple dates from the 600s when two fishermen found a statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy) and created a shrine so the local villagers could worship it.  Largely destroyed during the fire bombings of World War II, and rebuilt in the 1950s to 1970s,  today the Temple and Shrine it is a proud monument to the faith of this area.

I’ve been to a Hindu Temple in Atlanta earlier this year, but this was nothing like that experience.  For such a reserved and proud people, the Japanese I see here openly and emotionally express their faith.

[Main Gate to the Temple]

[Man reading to the deity]

[Offering of food, to the deity]

[bronze statue, with good luck if you touch the knee and foot]

I see three ways spiritual expression
1)      Omikuji or stick fortune
2)      Incense burning
3)      Praying to a deity.

A Good Fortune - Drawing a OMIKUJI (written fortune)
 Throughout the complex, I see Omikuji booths, or places where one can (for roughly $1) receive an immediate (if not random) answer to their prayers.  It works like this: deposit a 100 yen coin, and shake a six sided metal canister until a sticks comes out of the hole. This is the answer to your prayer.

Actually, the stick isn’t the answer, it just has a number on it (in character) that corresponds to a drawer that holds a stack of printed fortunes.

Before I deposited my 100 coin, and shaking the canister, I had found someone else’s fortune in a stick that was not returned to the canister.  I looked up its drawer and was surprised to find the fortune was a great curse.  I later learn there are many permutations from great blessings…half blessings…future blessings…half curse all the way to great curse.  No wonder this fortune was not accepted, I’d run from it too.
[Omikuji booth]

[Omikuji instructions]

[Omikuji canister]

I spend a few minutes putting together a prayer for the Omikuji.  Its for a former Christian who has who has been seeking God through a Buddhist expression of faith.  I pray for her, asking that God become real to her, become a meaningful part of her life, and bring her the peace that I hope she seeks in this life.  I figure if one is going to receive an answer to their prayer in the form of good (or bad) fortune, one must be clear and pray for something significant.
[the stick fortune]

[the drawer of fortunes]

[the fortune]
It says: “Everything you worry about and trouble some affairs are almost over.   (I like this answer, and it fits my prayer well). If you do your best, you will be successful in this society and become well known (Maybe this applies to me, in helping her find God? I’m not sure how this applies).

The wealth and treasures will be in your hands as you wish.  (ok – not relevant at all) You may need a good senior who helps you to become a splendid man.  (Japanese isn’t gender specific, so maybe she needs a mentor in the faith?)

The fortune continues with a sort of catch-all of answers, some seeking questions.
*Your hopes and desire come true.
*Being free from sickness. 
*Find the things you lost.
*The person you are waiting for will show up soon. 
*There are no problem of building a new house and removal.
*Making a trip will be good.
*There are no worry about marriage and employment.

I know this isn’t consistent with my understanding of how prayer works, and yet I find is some degree of comfort in way it is answered on this sheet;  and wouldn’t it be great if everything did work out just as it said.

Incense as Symbol
Another form of spiritual expression I see is the burning of incense.  Walking into the Temple grounds that is all one smells.  Beside each of the shrines there are small sand filled incense burners.  A large one stands in front of the Temple, and that is where you can purchase the incense bundles, and light them.

What you notice first is the symbol on the bundle.  It’s a swastika

 [lighting bundle]

[close-up bundle lighting]

[incense burning]

 [incense bundle burning]

I’ve seen swastikas before, like in some Native American artwork in North Dakota, and Asian Indian artwork, but at this temple they are everywhere:  On the huge lanterns, on the roof supports, on the bundles of burning incense.  It disturbs me.
[swastika on the roof]

 [swastika on entrance lanterns]

[swastika on inside lantern]

People stand in the incense as it burns, putting their hands in it, pulling it to them, rubbing it in their cloths and head.  It is as if the smoke is good fortune, and by being bathed in it’s smell they will be lucky.

[washing area instructions]

Beside the incense burning of the Temple is a ceremonial washing area, and there is even a signage explaining how to bathe.   The progression seems to be to wash first, purchase an incense bundle and light it, and then be bathed in its smoke.

In the Temple

At the entrance to the Temple and inside there are grated boxes about a meter high.  I watch individuals, couples and families stand in front of the box, throw some coins in it, put their hands together, bow, and then clap twice.  Some clap with much vigor, others embarrassingly so, but the ritual is the same each time: toss coins, bow, clap twice. 
[couple bowing]

Inside the Temple, one sees monks working and there are notices posted everywhere (in many languages) forbidding the taking of picture, and yet everyone is doing it, as the expression goes, like a bunch of “Japanese tourists.” I wonder if here in Japan their expression is like a bunch of “American tourists.” In the temple one hears the clang of coins, two claps, and the murmur of people.  It is quiet, but too much business is going on to feel sacred to me. 

[family bowing]

Outside the temple there are different deities around, some that survived the war, some that are dressed up.  I enter a much smaller shrine, where the ban on photography is enforced and I watch a monk folding brochures with careful precision, measuring each fold after it is made.  In the next room over, another monk is stamping pieces of paper with a red circular character.  He carefully organizes the stamped papers so they have time to dry in offset piles.  It looks like an incredibly mundane job; yet this monk takes pride in his work and does it with precision, filling the stamp with ink by stamping it three times, and then stamping the paper, over and over and over.  I am reminded of Paul’s word to the Colossians “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

 In this Shinto Shrine, I learn that I am born in the year of the wild boar, and see the deity (alone with deities for other years) in this temple devoted to that year.  I have the opportunity to purchase a trinket of the wild boar for good fortune, but I pass, after all the fortune stick has told me “your hope and desire come true.”

[fortune folded and tied and left in the Temple]


Blogger Grace Buchele said...

Loved to hear about this (again).

Although Japanese is, in fact, gender specific, the English translations are rarely accurate. It was supposed to say that they will grow up to be a wonderful "adult".

As for the swastika - it is a Japanese peace symbol called the gyaku manji

If you look closely, you can see that it is not actually a swastika - it is disturbingly similar, but not exact. It is a sort of "mirror" image.

1:51 PM, August 19, 2012  

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