Saturday, August 20, 2011

Japanese Temples

The Japanese Buddhist temples are rather distinctive.  The torii (鳥居, literally bird perch) is a gate that is simple, elegant, and ubiquitous.  The giant torii at the entrance to Meiji Shrine (明治神宮) in Tokyo is one of the largest.  The second one on the way to the shrine is said to be even larger, but I could not really tell the difference between them.  They are both huge.

Kencho-ji (建長寺), a Zen temple in Kamakura (鎌倉市), is almost 800 years old.  Chinese Buddhist temples are usually painted bright red and green.  The wood of Japanese temples, on the other hand, are usually stained grey or black but not painted - such that the wood grains are clearly visible.   The sanmon (山門) of Kencho-ji was very well-preserved and impressive.  In Chinese temples, the first main gate is often protected by statues of the 4 heavenly kings (四大天王).   They don’t appear as often in Japanese temples. 

In Japanese temples, there is much less candle and incense burning.   There are usually more trees, flowers, ponds, and beautiful gardens - much more peaceful. 

At the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū (鶴岡八幡宮) in Kamakura, banners remind people to pray for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.  Everywhere we go, most of the tourists seemed to be Japanese - foreign tourists were still shying away.  

We don’t like the Japanese aggression and cruelty against the other people in war.   We don’t particularly enjoy their popular culture.  But we have great respect for their preservation of culture, courtesy, artistry, and insistence on quality in many aspects of life.

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