Day T minus 1 – a crash course in Shingon Buddhism

I’ve had a very pleasant last couple of days in Kyoto viewing 3 more [insert adjective] temple gardens and a visit, by appointment, to the exquisite Katsura Imperial Villa where the stroll garden is fit for an emperor.

This afternoon I was fortunate to attend a special opening of Kyoto’s oldest Shinto shrine, the Shimogamo Jinja, which dates back to 675 although excavations have retrieved artifacts from 300BC. It sits in an area of ancient woodland right in the heart of Kyoto. And, nearby I saw another gem or Important Cultural Property, the Old Mitsui Family Shimogamo Villa which has only recently been opened to the public.

In between the gardens I had an adventure in Kyoto station to buy my bus ticket. The station is a city in itself. After an hour or so I managed to find the bus ticket office and secured a seat for Friday’s 7.40 departure to Shikoku, next to the driver.

For breakfast in my little apartment, I have a giant bag of muesli and milk from the local convenience store, bread from one of several local bakers, butter and a small pot of marmalade. But who can resist a real French Cafe opposite the main station? One cappuccino? Non. Cafe au lait and a pain aux raisin. Delicious, as the French say. Or oishii desu works here.

Now, just a few words about the Shikoku 88 Temple pilgrimage.

In Japan the native religion is Shinto and it involves the worship of spirits to assist in all aspects of life, particularly romance and harmony with nature. You find Shinto shrines everywhere, fronted by the distinctive orange torii gates which separate the living from the spirit world.

Buddhism arrived from China in the 6th century. It nicely supplements Shinto and to this day, many people follow both religions. In 774 UK time, Kobo Daishi was born in Shikoku. He studied politics and business studies at Nara university but dropped out to concentrate on Buddhism. For 7 years he roamed the temples of his native Shikoku performing esoteric exercises in the mountains and eventually achieved enlightenment. He took the name Kukai and emigrated to China to study Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. He was made leader of the sect but then the emperor recalled him to Japan. Shingon Buddhism became one of the two main sects of Japanese Buddhism.

Kobo Daishi is revered in Japan and his legacy continues to inspire people to visit Shikoku and to worship at the 88 main temples. Every pilgrim is seen to embody KD so people are especially kind to pilgrims.

Perhaps the most important objective of the pilgrimage is to visit the 88 temples and most pilgrims do this on an escorted bus tour or by slowly visiting temples as the opportunity arises. But more merit is obtained by walking. Of the 100,000 pilgrims per year there are about 6000 who walk and of these only about 10% are non Japanese.

Well that’s enough for now. The pilgrimage has a long and fascinating history and I think we’ll find out quite a lot more about it once we get started.

Katsura Imperial Villa

Sake is offered to the main shrines
Ice cream with red bean paste
Locals hop over the river

The magnificent Old Mitsui Family Shimogamo Villa

Approaching the old Shimogamo Shrine
The visit to a shrine or temple starts with the cleansing ritual

6 comments on “Day T minus 1 – a crash course in Shingon Buddhism

  1. Roger Clarkson

    Hi Tim, seems like your having fun on your holiday. I remember Shinto from a comparative religions class at school and If I remember correctly Buddhism became popular because Shinto has no concept of afterlife.

    • Hi Roger, I think you are right. I’m no expert but it would appear that Shinto is more concerned with this life. Didn’t you take the train to Japan? A bit ahead of our time.

  2. Tassie Kaz

    Hi Tim,
    The torii gates are magnificent…such impact in any setting.
    Nice you’re already acquainted with ‘KD’…to me, he’s ‘Kobes’ & along with Jizo (protector of travellers…amongst other duties) they will be your NBFs (new best friends) along The Way.

    Although much more time & effort is required to walk, all methods of undertaking the 88T pilgrimage are deemed of equal merit; the emphasis being on the Temples & rituals rather than how you got there. You won’t find any Camino-type judgements on this trail!
    As you love your frozen creamy treats (great photo) 😇 look out for melon bread icecream…yes, it’s served in a bread roll!

    • Hi Karen, yes it’s not about walking every step of the way. That’s very much secondary to visiting all 88 temples. It’s difficult to get worked up about melon bread ice cream but I’ll let you know when the time comes. I’m now on the bus…

  3. So, want to be sure you’ve taken into account that “before look around you should go over there”! I have to giggle at how Japanese gets translated into English!

    Sounds like you’re going to be a living guru by the time you’re done with this one. We’ll all just come sit at your feet and receive darshan in London.

    Looking forward to following this journey, as with all the others.

    Ī hōhō (did you know that’s Buen Camino in Japanese?) 🙂

    • Hi DJ it’s truly wonderful to hear from you and now I know another pilgrimage is starting. I’ll be listening out for that greeting but it doesn’t quite have the same ring as Buen Camino.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.