Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ryukoku and Mibudera

The grant that allows me to stay here in Japan comes from Ryukoku University, a large Buddhist university located on the grounds of Nishi Honganji. The university was founded during the 1600s and is among the oldest in Japan. Like Harvard, founded around the same time, it began as a seminary and developed into a major learning institution covering virtually every subject in the modern world.

Near the entrance to the university is the famous Kara-mon gate of Nishi Honganji, considered one of the most beautiful such gates.

It is also called the “sunset gate” because you could allegedly stare at in until the sun went down without getting bored. Indeed, it is covered with people, animals, mythical beasts, and all sorts of symbols.

On Wednesday I decided to bike over to Mibudera, a temple not too far from Nishi Honganji but one I’d never visited. It belongs to the Risshu school, an ancient sect of Japanese Buddhism that believes enlightenment is achieved by perfectly observing the bodhisattva precepts.

On the grounds were numerous Jizo shrines. In fact, you see these little shrines everywhere, especially on street and at intersections.

Inside one of them were two cute little kesho Jizos. Kesho Jizo is a local form of Jizo. He wears lots of white face powder.

Probably the main attraction of Mibudera is the large stupa covered with 1000 weathered Buddha statues.

As usual, I was there to hunt for Jizos, especially mizuko Jizos. The most prominent Jizo has his own chapel.

He is a mizukake Jizo, meaning that people throw water on him as an offering. He is somewhat generic, taking prayers for mizuko, easy childbirth, good fortune, safe travel, etc. I saw mothers, children, men, and old ladies all doing mizukake by tossing water on him respectfully with metal dippers.

Nearby, I was in for a shock. There is a second smaller stupa that is festooned with Jizo images. Right in the front in the center was one I immediately recognized as being manufactured by a temple in Oregon that does mizuko kuyo, one of my main study sites for my dissertation.

“Hello Stone Buddhas in MIBUDERA! I am an American Jizo from Oregon U.S.A.” (In Japanese: This is a Jizo from Oregon state in America, bestowed on the stone Buddhas of Mibudera by Jizo Mountain Great Vow Monastery, headed by Chozen Bays, on March 10, 2005)

It was amazing to see this American Jizo displayed so prominently at a Japanese temple. The Jizo is well cared for, with a clean surface and new bib and rosary. It makes a striking contrast to all the worn-down old Japanese Jizos around it. In particular, this one is such much more feminine than the Japanese Jizos. I didn’t realize this until I saw it in this context. Jizo is always somewhat androgynous (though male), but these American Buddhists (led by a female abbot) are clearly taking Jizo in a more female-oriented direction. This was great stuff, virtually worth the whole three-month trip all on its own!

And sure enough, around back on the same stupa were many mizuko Jizos.

On Thursday I had a bad head cold and didn’t go out during the day, meaning I missed some of the stuff I wanted to do. But I did go out at night to check my email. On the way back I passed Enmusubi, one of the temples I visited on Sunday, glowing in the nighttime.


Blogger Seskenite said...

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4:10 PM  

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