Toyokawa Inari: Zen and Shinto

Another trip we made during my recent visit to Japan was to see an unusual template named Toyokawa Inari, in the Akasaka district of Tokyo. This temple is a prime example of when Buddhism and Shinto religions blend. The blending of the two religions was more common in the early days of Japanese history, but during the early modern Meiji Period (1868-1912), the religions were forcibly separated by law.

Nevertheless, you can see that blending very much at Toyokawa Inari.

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When I first got there, I honestly thought it was a Shinto shrine, but I asked one of the nuns that worked there, and she clarified it was actually a Soto Zen temple. It is technically a branch temple of the main Toyokawa Inari temple in Aichi Prefecture, which was supposedly founded by one Kangan Giin. The plaque says it all:

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The temple itself isn’t terribly, but it is very dense with shrines and altars, many of them devoted to the Shino deity Inari. While Inari is a Shinto kami for agriculture, business, prosperity and so on, it was also adopted into Buddhism a long time ago as a kind of guardian spirit. This became known as a dakiniten (荼枳尼天) which comes from Indian-Buddhist dakini.

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Inari’s primary symbol is the fox, which serves as a messenger for Inari. There were many such shrines in and around the premises:

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You also saw the Seven Luck Gods too, such as this shrine to Benzaiten:1Untitled

We even found a small shrine to an obscure, esoteric Buddhist deity named Aizen Myō-ō hidden behind another shrine:

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However, that’s not to say there weren’t Buddhist elements either. The temple was roughly divided into two areas: the mainly Shinto one, and the mainly Buddhist one. At this building, you could walk in any time, and we saw the priests there chanting the Heart Sutra.

Also, there was a devotional statue to Kannon Bodhisattva too.

Finally, we wandered just outside the temple and enjoyed some inari sushi (the kind with fried tofu).

Finally, I took a chance and did an omikuji fortune here, but to my surprise I got kyō (凶) or bad luck:

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Per tradition, you can tie such fortunes onto a certain, designated wire fence so you can “leave behind” your bad luck at the temple. So, I did. It is already a yakudoshi year for me, and I didn’t need more bad luck. 😉

It was a pretty interesting trip and one of the more memorable Buddhist temples I’ve seen in Japan. The blending of so many different religious aspects into one temple may not appeal to everyone, but I like the idea of “something for everyone”. 🙂

P.S. This year I am full-on honyaku (本厄) which means I am in the middle of the most inauspicious time for a person in their life.

1 Again, you might be tempted to think that this is a Shinto thing, or local superstition, but if you visit Sojiji, one of head temples of Soto Zen Buddhism you will find a big altar to Daikokuten, one of the Seven Luck Gods, as well. Some Buddhists think this might be beneath them, but I do like this sense of community outreach. It also helps the coffers a bit too. 😉

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My Visit to Ikegami Honmonji

Hey guys,

Back from my trip to Japan, I am posting a few travel posts from my time there. Among the first places I visited was a Nichiren-shu temple called Ikegami Honmonji (池上本門寺). This is one of the head temples or honzan (本山) of the Nichiren-shu Buddhism sect.

I had actually wanted to visit last year but couldn’t find the time to get there, so this time around, with help from a friend we were able to visit this year.

Getting to Ikegami Honmonji in Tokyo was surprisingly difficult (at least from where we were staying) because it’s in a smaller neighborhood and so you have to make multiple train changes to get there.

Anyhow, one you get there, you’re greeted by a long staircase:

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I had to climb these stairs with a tired, sweaty four-year on my shoulders. I figured I probably had some negative karma to burn off (not to mention some calories), so I just did my fatherly duty and ascended the stairs.

Immediately to the right, I saw a Shinto shrine to Daikokuten:

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Followed by the main gate:

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…which leads to the main hall (hondō 本堂):

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Unfortunately, like most Japanese-Buddhist temples, photographs inside the main hall are discouraged. The inside was fairly small and had an elevated platform in the middle toward the back wall. There was a chain link fence in front of it with the donation box before it, which is common in larger temples because of the mass of people throwing coins in the donation box during peak holidays.

Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that there was a lot more to the temple complex:

Map of Ikegami Honmonji

So we only explored the bottom-right quadrant. Also, due to the heat, our kids were getting tired, so we couldn’t stay around too long either, and wanted to get some lunch for the kids. We did spot this small temple building to the left of the main one:

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This one was interesting because it contained a

In any case, as we made our way back, we stopped at another building devoted to Nitchō (日朝, 1422-1500), a monk from the later Muromachi Period, who helped compile information about the founder of Nichiren and other details of his teachings:1

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Also, on the way back, we noticed near the top of the stairs was a statue devoted to the founder, Nichiren:

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And finally, we saw these bells hanging above the courtyard at the stop of the stairs (near the shrine to Daikokuten, and the status of Nichiren):

By that point, we were getting both tired and hungry, so we left and enjoyed some excellent soba noodles at a nearby shop at the bottom of the stairs:

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All in all, it was a neat temple to visit, and I regret that we didn’t notice the rest of the complex, but now I know better for next time. 🙂

Also, one thing to mention was that the volunteers working at the temple were super nice. Since it just after Tanabata, and a very hot weekday, there wasn’t many people around, but a few elderly volunteers were helping maintain the temple. They were helpful in guiding us around, and were happy to see the kids.

1 Not to be confused with Nitchō (日頂, 1252-1317) a chief disciple of founder Nichiren. Notice the Chinese characters are different.

Back from Japan

Hey Folks,

Just an update, but I came back a few days ago from my yearly trip to Japan. For those not aware, my wife, kids and I travel to Japan yearly to visit her relatives (particularly her aging parents), and get the kids exposed to Japanese culture and language.

I can’t stay for the entire trip due to work, so I usually go for a portion of the trip and then head back home.

This year, Japan was unusually hot, even by Japanese standards, so even just walking to the train station left me and the kids sweating. Thankfully, everywhere in Japan has air-conditioning, so once you get to the train or the store, things get a lot more tolerable.

Also, this year I got to visit more temples and other things in Japan1 so I will be making future posts soon of some of my visits. I posted a few teaser photos on the Twitter feed too.

Right now though, I am going to get a good nap. Jetlag from Japan to the US is pretty intense because you’re wide awake all night, but sleepy during the day. It’s like living like a vampire for a week. :p

1 The past couple years were kind of dry. Our son was too small, so it was hard to travel, plus we had other obligations.

Happy Children’s Day 2018

May 5th in Japan is traditionally Children’s Day or kodomo no hi (子供の日). Although originally it was “Boy’s Day” in ancient times as a counterpart to Girl’s Day on March 3rd, it has broadened over the years to include all children.

Families still assemble displays of armor like so to wish for their sons’ success in life, but also people hang special windsocks that look like Japanese koi fish called koinobori (鯉のぼり 🎏) among other things. Children also enjoy kashiwochi which is a kind of sweet rice pastry wrapped in leaves of the White Oak tree.

The leaves are very tough and chewy, so make sure to unwrap those before eating. 😉

So to all children everywhere, Happy Children’s Day!!

No Curse Whatsoever

Another excerpt from the famous 12th-century Japanese text, the Essays in Idlessness (see here for details):

When they were leveling the ground to build the Kameyama palace, they came on a mound where a huge number of snakes were coiled together.  They decided that these snakes were the gods of the place and reported it to His Majesty [the Emperor].  He asked, “what should be done about it?” People all said, “these snakes have occupied the place since ancient times.  It would be wrong to root them up recklessly.”  But the prime minister said, “what curse would creatures dwelling on imperial property place on the site of a new place? Supernatural beings are without malice; they will surely not wreak any punishment. We should get rid of the snakes.” The workmen destroyed the mound and released the snakes into the Ōi River. No curse whatsoever resulted.

–translation by Prof Donald Keene

Superstition has its troubles.

Stay Flexible

Something interesting that I recently stumbled upon from the famous 12th-century Japanese text, Essays in Idleness, which I talked about at length here.

211) We cannot trust in anything.  The foolish man places great trust in things, and this sometimes leads to bitterness and anger.

If you have power, do not trust in it; powerful men are the first to fall.  You may have many possessions, but they are not to be depended on; they are easily lost in a moment.  Nor should you trust in your learning if you have any; even Confucius was not was not favored by this times.  You may have virtue, but you must not rely on it; even Yen Hui1 was unlucky.  Do not trust the favor of your lord; his punishment may strike before you know it.  You cannot depend on your servants either; they will disobey you and run away.  Nor should you trust in another person’s kind feelings; they will certainly change.  Do not rely on promises; it is rare for people to be sincere.

If you neither yourself nor in others, you will rejoice when things go well, but bear no resentment when they go badly.  You will then have room on either side to expand and not be constrained.  With nothing too close before or behind you, you will not be blocked.  When a man is cramped for space, he is broken and crushed.  When the activity of the mind is constricted and rigid, a man will come into collision with things at every turn and be harmed by disputes.  If you have space for maneuvering and are flexible, not one hair will be harmed.

Man is the most miraculous of creatures within heaven and earth.  Heaven and earth are boundless.  Why should man’s nature be dissimilar?  When it is generous and unconstrained, joy and anger cannot hamper it, and it remains unaffected by externals.

–translation by Prof. Donald Keene

Compare this with one of the sutras in the Pali Canon, such as the Kakacupama Sutta (MN 21) or the Lokavipatti Sutta (AN 8.6) also mentioned here.

1 Yen Hui, or Yan Hui, was Confucius’s most treasured disciple. He was very poor, but virtuous and dedicated. He died at a young age due to disease. Confucius lamented his loss often in the Analects.  More on Confucius many disciples here.

Happy 2018

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Dear Readers,

Happy New Year! 2017 had been a good year overall, and I am looking forward to 2018. We had a good time for New Year’s, too. Folks might remember a recent post where I talked about Japanese New Year or oshōgatsu.

I wanted to briefly share a few things that happened for New Year’s.

First, my daughter “Princess” celebrated her birthday just after Christmas and just before New Year. She is no longer a little girl, but has grown up into a fine, intelligent young lady. We are very proud. She enjoyed her birthday with friends, got to have a makeover at a health spa, and got her ears pierced.

New Year’s Eve itself, Ōmisoka, was tons of preparation followed by tons of food brought by friends:

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We watched the yearly special on Japanese TV, Kōhaku Uta Gassen, but I was so busy playing with all the kids, I missed most of it. Plus, my favorite act, Golden Bomber, was not on, so there wasn’t much motivation to watch it. Amazingly though, we did manage to stay up until midnight (unlike past years).

Just in the nick of time we also enjoyed toshi-koshi soba:

Toshi-koshi soba

Finally came New Year’s Day itself. We all woke up late that morning, but we still managed to have a traditional Japanese New Year’s breakfast:

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The white and orange thing in the middle is a kagami-mochi, which is a kind of display for New Year, the same way a Cornucopia is used for Thanksgiving in the US. Inside the kagami-mochi is a real mochi rice-cake though, so on the 11th, you can open it and use it for soup and such.

Other foods shown here are associated in some way with good luck or something auspicious. For example, the baked snapper fish (or “tai” in Japanese) is associated with gratitude/joy which is medetai. And other such things like that.

Finally, we did hatsumōde, or first temple visit of the year, at the usual Shingon-Buddhist temple. More on that in a later post, since this year is a “yakudoshi” year for me! 😮

On the 2nd, I took that day off too, and spent some time visiting my grandmother, who lives in a nursing home. My kids were happy to see their great-grandmother too. We had a great time together, and then the family and I did a bit of shopping for the kids and went home and relaxed for the first time in probably 2 months.

Anyhow, hope you all had a great New Year’s Day too!