There are some 40000 Buddhist Temples in Japan, and many people may think that if you have seen one, you have seen them all. Well, that’s not the case for me.
It may be a very far right kind of an example, but Buddhist Temples are like extremely expensive Lodges. Each lodge has it’s own personality and each is located in a different and unique environment. The same is with Buddhist Temples. Some maybe on the top of a hill, some maybe small, some maybe extremely large and some maybe very old. But depending on where that Temple is, the things that if offers visitors is totally different.
This time I was fortunate to go to a temple I had never heard of before and I was blown back. After the day had finished, I was all high tensioned up, and this lasted for the next few days.
I’ll tell you the conclusion now, so it is up to you if you read this right to the end or not. All I want to say is that no matter how long you have been in Japan, or how many times you have been to Japan, there is always something new to see, and on many occasions these can be found very close to where you are based. Plus, they all play a part in Japanese history and have unique stories to tell visitors.
I visited Kakurin-ji Temple which is in Kakogawa City, in the Hyogo Prefecture. Hyogo prefecture is famous for Himeji Castle and hence many other Temples, Shrines and other attractions maybe overlooked. My second home is Himeji, so I have no qualms at all, in fact Himeji Castle is probably my most favorite place in Japan, however I was fortunate to find a new and inspiring location in the likes of Kakurin-ji temple.
There are only 7 Japanese National Treasures in Hyogo prefecture (if you count Himeji Castle and all its treasures as one). And at Kakurin-ji Temple you can see 2 of these in the same complex. Other than the National Treasures there are several National Important Cultural properties and Prefectural Designated Cultural properties.
You all don’t have to know who Shotokutaishi was, even the Japanese have a hard time to follow this. But, just think of this Prince (who was 12 at the time) and was leading the way in the new religion of Buddhism which was mainly brought in from Korea and China. This little guy came to Kakurin-ji Temple to meet another high ranking Monk from Korea. Before they met, Shokutokutaishi created a statue out of respect. That statue is still in the 900 year old Tashi-do (Prince Hall). It is not usually open to the public, but people know it is inside the relatively large Japanese Cypress wood Hall, and they still come from all over the country to pay their respects. Well! I was one of the fortunate. I honestly don’t know how many people have seen the actual statue or how many times the Tashi-Do has been opened, but as I had been asked to come to Kakurin-ji Temple, the head Monk here opened the Hall up, and I was even allowed to take photos(see main photo).
We were told about the history of the hall and even though the walls and roof of the Prince Hall are black due to the incense and candle flames, there are actually paintings still under the black soot painted some 900 years ago, and they were rediscovered by using an ultra infra-red camera, and even the colors used were found (you can see a replica of the paintings in the museum). The monks today can’t see the paintings in the hall, but they know they are there and can feel their presence in their hearts. In the Prince Hall, there is even a tiny statue of the Shotoku Prince himself. The Prince Hall itself is quite remarkable as it is still the original building of 900 years ago, and hasn’t once been burnt down or refurbished in any way.
After seeing the replicas of these paintings in the museum, we were also shown a very special Statues called Aitaita, The statue was originally in covered in Gold and one person stole it and tried to melt it down to have the gold for his own. It was then that the Kanon Statue spoke to the robber and told him that is was hurting her when he tried to melt her down. The robber, was thrown back by the event and hastily returned the statue to the Temple and became a better man. You can still see a little of the Gold on the back of the statue, even though she is some 1350 years old. The statue is of importance to all Japan and has been to America, Germany, Belgium to represent Japan’s History and Art.
Next was a bit of fun with a Zazen (Meditation) session in the main hall (The main hall is a National Treasure of Japan, so just to be able to sit in it was something to remember). Not being very flexible, I did struggle a little and was the only one to have my posture fixed by the Monk (Twice!). However, I learnt the way to do proper Zazen, and it may well help me out in everyday life. After Zazen, was a Japanese Caligraphy lesson. Even for the ones who can’t read or write the Japanese Characters, it is very simple as you just trace a pre selected Japanese word or four.
After 3 hours in the Temple, my first look at Kakurin-ji Temple was over, but being a person that loves Temples and Shrines, it wasn’t enough for me. It was a great chance to take photos also, and I did get the privilege to see the Kanon Statue which makes up one of the Japanese National Treasures here. I can highly recommend this Temple to anyone coming to Japan, but it may be more interesting to those who have been to Japan before.