Shirokanedai Daytime

So it was another morning stroll, fortunately after the practice walk the previous night I knew exactly where I was going.

In temple building wood has always been the material of choice and as in Greek and Chinese architecture, little use is made of diagonal supports; the framing is almost exclusively a system of uprights and horizontals. Elegance to the structures are comes in the form of the refined curvatures in the column outlines, in the shapes of rafters and brackets, and especially in the great overhanging roofs.

The opening of Japan to the West in the mid 19th Century led to the adaptation of the European architectural techniques. After World War I Japanese architects incorporated Western technical innovations into buildings combining traditional and modern styles during the period following World War II. This temple is a good example of the typical western house idea, and something more familiar to those of us from the West.

This building on the other hand is just a rip off of European architecture and has little or no Japanese influence. As a result it looks really out of place here!

I prefer the classic style of temple as seen here. Temples are common place in Japan with a minimum of one in every Municipality. Built up areas such as Kyoto and Tokyo house thousands of them. On this walk alone we saw at least half a dozen, an average of one every 5 minutes.

The number of temples easily outnumbers the number of Police Stations. Yes, this is a police station as clearly indicated by the cartoon rodent thing I mentioned earlier. I doubt we'd see cartoon animals being adopted by our police force anytime soon but if they do, I hope its a pig.

Temples typically consist of a number of buildings with the main building housing the sacred objects of worship, such as statues. In Japan, main halls are usually called kondo, hondo, butsuden, amidado or hatto. This was easily the larges temple I passed on this particular walk, and surprisingly one I'd missed completely the previous night because it wasn't lit up. Just around the corner and I was back at the one temple I had wanted to see here.

This is the Sengakuji Temple, the burial place of the 47 Ronin. Their story is one of the most famous stories of valour and the Bushido code. "Ronin" is the name given to Samurai who no longer have a master. The master, in this case was Lord Asano and he commited Seppuku following an altercation with Kira, one of the Shogun's high officials. When a Lord commits this act, his temple becomes the property of the Shogun and his Samurai become Ronin. Kira then prevented the Asano blood line from claiming their temple back and his behaviour became more and more unShogun like. The Ronin swore a pledge to avenge their Lord's death and went into hiding. Over a number of years they were able to garner enough information from Kira's people to make their attack. Following a lengthy battle in which they killed 60+ guards incurring no losses on their side, they eventually cornered Kira. Choosing not to commit Seppuku as their master had done, Kira was beheaded and his head taken to the burial place of Asano redeeming his honour.

Of course the Shogun wasn't too happy at what had happened but had to balance the act of murder against the Bushido code that the Ronin had followed. After a coincidental 47 days of deliberation he decided that they should also commit Seppuku but as honourable warriors, not criminals.

This they duly did and their bodies were buried beside their master. This story is still told in a very popular kabuki play written in 1748. The graves are cared for by the temple priests and December 14th is the anniversary festival of their revenge, and the temple because extremely popular.

Buddhist temples feature large bells and on New Year's Eve they are rung 108 times, each ring representing the wiping away of a wordly desire. The 108 figure comes from

The 6 senses (eye,ear,nose,tongue,body,mind) multiplied by preferences (like/dislike/neutrality).
The 6 dust (colour, voice, fragrance, taste, touch, object) multiplied by preferences (painful, joyful, neither).
Both of these exist within three dimensions (past, present and future).

Those of you who watch "Lost" will notice that the number 108 has significance in that show. Is this just a coincidence? Perhaps if the writers actually took the story somewhere we might find out!

Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines are both places of worship in the Japan but they differ in many ways:

The Shinto Shrines have always had a more simple building style. The Buddhist Temples are much more elaborate and complex.
Buddhist Temples are built out in the open. They are usually located in areas for all people to see. However, the Shinto Shrines are built in isolated, wooded areas. They are more oriented towards nature.
When worshiping in Buddhist Temples, the people go inside. When worshiping at a Shinto Shrine, the people stay outside, while the leader of the ceremony recites rituals inside.

The biggest difference between the two though is that while Shintoism believes that death is a sad and morbid topic, Buddhists believe the opposite and they believe death should be celebrated, rather then feared.

Most cemeteries in Japan are Buddhist and are located at a temple. The Japanese visit their ancestors' graves on many occasions during the year. Although the Japanese are short being buried would still take up a lot of space and with space being at a premium, especially in Tokyo, most people choose to be cremated. In fact only 1% of the population are interred.


At the end is the Asano grave and these other stones are the Ronin, although the small temple area does also house other memorials. Just knowing there is so much history told here made this worthwhile. A true Samurai story, which doesn't feature Tom Cruise.

The building in the background is our hotel, overlooking one of the temples I'd reported on earlier. It was time to head back and get the coach to Tokyo station as we were off to do another "must do", the Bullet Train.

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4:35 PM  

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