Monday, 20 May 2013

Gion, Part 3: Chion-in

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

The Buddhist master Hounen is one of the most famous Japanese philosophers in history, perhaps surpassed by only his own disciple, Shinran, who was a much more vindictive and exclusionary person anyway. Though he received his religious education from the Tendai monks of Hieizan, Hounen eventually broke away to form the Joudo-shuu or Pure Land school. Unlike its counterparts, the Joudo-shuu holds that the only thing necessary for salvation is recitation of the nenbutsu - basically invoking the name of Amida Buddha over and over again. This was quite a controversial theory at the time, as it implicitly denied the value of the multitudinous practices of other sects. Basically, unlike Shinran, who believed that the only road to enlightenment and shaking off this mortal coil was putting all of one's faith in Buddha, meaning the entire matter was out of mortal hands, Hounen insisted that you had to cut your own path, and locate the Buddha yourself.

Hounen lived a fairly eventful life for a monk, enduring the assassination of his father and experiencing periodic exile. Eventually he founded 知恩院 Chion-in (whose characters are a highly poetic way of saying that it is a place to achieve knowledge), where he propagated his beliefs, and died years later, penning a single page of advice on his deathbed. Hounen is, so far, my favourite Japanese philosopher, and Chion-in is, so far, my favourite temple.

 Unlike much of what has and will appear in this series, Chion-in is relatively unknown. That, and the Hounen thing, makes me kind of feel like it's my own special place. It's easily accessed via Yasaka-san, which looks like this, in case you've forgotten. The facade is stupidly photogenic.
 Turn left here and head down the road, through the wooden gate. You'll come to a roundabout...
 ...and see a much larger wooden gate. Like, really big. In fact the largest of its kind, apparently, although I seem to remember that Toudaiji has a much larger one that's incredibly similar, so there's probably dozens of these kicking around in various places. Asakusa almost certainly makes some claim to this effect, because Kantou thinks it has the best of everything.
 It's a giant, mazelike complex. It's great.
This is the plaza as seen from the top of the steps. To the left is some kind of museum or something; right in front of us is Chion-in-dou, which is probably another good way of getting here, though you might as well pull through Yasaka-san as long as you're here. The night I met up with those yankii, I drank out in the area to the right. Had a Phaedrus Moment when I turned around to take this picture. See that tree in the corner, up against the white wall? I pissed on it.

 Like many Buddhist temples, Chion-in features freakishly steep steps.

 Guest house.
 Unfortunately, the main building of the complex is under construction, and probably will be for some time, thus enclosed within this giant weird brown box-building thing. But you can still go inside! An old lady saw me looking back and forth, trying to see if you could, and came over to explain it to me, in Japanese no less.
 "Saint Hounen Something Something"!!

 At first I thought these people were praying. They aren't - they're putting their shoes in plastic bags.
 The beauty of the wooden art is somewhat marred, yet oddly complemented by the modern-style metal scaffolding.

 No idea what these are. But the couple walking in front of me took photos so I did too.
 The best photo I have ever taken. Everything about this is beautiful.
 The inner sanctum is quite impressive, and there was even a session in...session, but of course that wouldn't be appropriate to take pictures of. Instead I took a picture of my shoes, to underscore how ridiculous I felt carrying them around in a plastic bag.
 Outside again. The inner temple part leads you on a linear path, spitting you out somewhere completely different. You get to walk over a sort of bridge-path thing to get there, no matter where you start, so there's that. At the end you deposit your plastic bag in a receptacle for someone coming the other way to use, and don your footwear once more, ready to continue your walkabout.

Not pictured: A display on the "Seven Mysterious Things of Chion-in." My favourite is a forgotten umbrella, whose origin is unknown, and which is now regarded as being in some way holy (various different ways depending on the tradition being followed.)
 The front gate, viewed from higher up and farther back. See, it is pretty sizeable.
 The place was crawling with couples. It would be a pretty lame first date, but I bet it's awesome on a relaxed afternoon with somebody you care about.
 Some incense-burning going on in that background building.
 Foot traffic really dies off once you advance past that main building, and especially so if you follow the little path around behind it. Nothing much beyond that except for a ton of stairs. Hey - who's that?
 Hounen! It's him!!
 They lead here.
 A smaller temple off the left. A giant group of Japanese tourists eyed me with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion.

Back the other way, and it's just rows upon rows upon rows UPON ROWS UPON ROWS of Buddhist headstones, such as they are. The paths are all infested with spider-webs and it's never clear if you've reached the top or not, until you hit the electric fence and realised there's nothing spectacular up there at all. Well, maybe one thing: The views over Kyouto are pretty awesome.

That wraps up the big landmarks of northern Gion, so in the next installment, we'll be venturing a little further afield.

No comments:

Post a Comment