Friday, February 5, 2010

Shitennoji Temple

On 3rd January, hubby and I visited several temples and shrines in Osaka. In the morning, we left the hotel located near Shin-Osaka railway station at about 9.30 am and went to see Shitennoji Temple. From Shin-Osaka station, we took Osaka city subway Midosuji line to go up to Umeda railway station, and then after a five-minute walk reached Higashi-Umeda station. From Higashi-Umeda station, we took Osaka city subway Tanimachi line train to reach Shitennoji-mae-Yuhigaoka station. Shitennoji Temple is a short walk from this station.

Shitennoji is a Buddhist temple located in Osaka. The temple was originally built by Prince Shotoku Taishi in 593. It is the first Buddhist and oldest officially administered temple in Japan. Built by Kongo Gumi (world’s oldest construction company, operating for over 1400 years), the temple has been destroyed many times over the years due to natural calamities and wars. So the buildings of Shitennoji Temple are not original but have been reconstructed each time they were damaged by war or fire. The reconstruction was carried out according to the Buddhist style of original architecture of Asuka period in the decoration and arrangement of the buildings. The temple was last completely rebuilt in 1963, and was built with concrete to fireproof it. The temple precincts cover about 110,000 square meters and are designated as rare historic remains.

The temple owes its existence to a vow that Prince Shotoku Taishi made in 587 when he was just fifteen years old. The prince was known for his profound Buddhist faith when Buddhism was not widespread in Japan. The prince, under the reign of his aunt Empress Suiko, went to a war along with his father-in-law, Soga no Umako, the most powerful head of Soga clan. They fought against a rival clan named Mononobe who were opposed to the introduction of Buddhism in Japan. During the war, the huge army of opponents struck fear into soldiers and generals of the army on the side of the prince. The prince prayed for help to Shitenno (four Buddhist heavenly guardian kings) and promised them to build and establish a temple in their honor if they helped him to defeat the enemies. Freshly motivated, the army of the prince fiercely attacked the enemy and became victorious. So when the war was over and peace had returned, in 593 the prince started building a temple for the four heavenly kings in Settsu province, present-day Osaka.

From Shitennoji-mae-Yuhigaoka station, hubby and I walked for about five minutes and reached a gate named Nakanomon. We entered the premises of Shitennoji Temple through this gate. The usual stone Torii Gate (West Gate) entrance of the temple was another five minute walk down the road. After entering Nakanomon Gate, we saw a Jizo-dou (Jizo hall) to the right side of the gate. Jizo bosatsu (Ká¹£hitigarbha bodhisattva in Sanskrit) is one of the most beloved of all Japanese divinities. Traditionally jizo bosatsu is the guardian of children who died before their parents. However, in modern Japan, jizo is worshipped as the guardian of the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted fetuses. Jizo bosatsu also serves the customary and traditional roles as patron saint of expectant mothers, children, firemen, travelers, pilgrims, and the protector of all beings caught in the six realms of reincarnation. We prayed in front of many jizo statues arranged beautifully on stands and a big jizo statue named Honzon Tatsue Jizo. Hubby lit incense sticks at a large cauldron incense burner.
Map of Shitennoji Temple complex

Nakanomon Gate

Rows of jizo statues

More rows jizo statues

Statue of Honzon Tatsue Jizo

Hubby lighting incense sticks

After praying at Jizo-dou, we walked inside the temple premises and saw several interesting buildings and structures about which I will write later. After walking for about ten minutes, we reached in front of Saijumon Gate of Shitennoji Temple. Saijumon Gate is the entrance to Chushin Garan, a central complex of the temple. The temple is laid out in the ‘Shitennoji style’, in which Chushin Garan premise features a certain pattern of layout of the buildings. In its premise in a south-to-north direction, there is Chumon (middle gate), Gojunoto (five-story pagoda), Kondou (main hall), and Koudou (lecture hall) standing in a straight line with covered corridors enclosing the buildings in a Garan arrangement. Corridor is attached to the Chumon Gate as well as Koudou. In addition, the corridor contains two more gates, eastern gate and Saijumon Gate (western). This represents one of the oldest architectural styles in Japan. Although the existing structures were built after World War II, the origins of their design can be found in China and Korea, and retain a style of the Asuka period. At a ticket counter located near Saijumon Gate, we paid 300 Yen per person as admission fee to enter inside Garan complex.
Layout of Chushin Garan complex

Saijumon Gate used as an entrance to Garan complex

All the structures inside Garan complex looked relatively new as they were completely rebuilt using concrete in 1963. First, we visited the main hall named Kondou. The architecture of the building looked wonderful. Kondou was rebuilt in 1961. Inside the main hall, there was a calm, quite, and holy atmosphere. A large statue of Guze kannon bosatsu hankazou sits on an altar inside this hall. Prince Shotoku was in later times believed to be the incarnation of this kannon. Guze kannon statue has a half-cross-legged seated image and is 2.7 meters tall. At the four corners of the altar of Guze kannon, stand the statues of four heavenly kings Shitenno. Shitenno are believed to be protectors of Buddhist law and humankind. From eighth century onwards, Shitenno are depicted as warriors, wearing armor, carrying military weapons, standing with one foot crushing a demon beast, and are usually very ferocious looking. Paintings displaying scenes from the life of the Buddha and Prince Shotoku decorate the walls inside Kondou. For many people, that day was the first visit to the temple (hatsumode) during the New Year. Visitors prayed in front of the statue of Guze kannon. However, visitors were not allowed to photograph inside the main hall as it caused disturbance to the priest, so I took a photo of an image from the pamphlet of the temple that we purchased while buying tickets to enter the Garan complex.
Hubby standing in front of Kondou main hall

Kondou main hall

Statues of Guze kannon bosatsu and four heavenly kings Shitenno

Next, we visited the five storied pagoda called Gojunoto. The five levels of the pagoda represent the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space (heaven). We entered inside the pagoda and prayed at the first floor. The pagoda looked remarkable from outside. It is a concrete structure and was reconstructed in 1959. The height of the pagoda is 39.2 meters, and it has a 12.3 meters high roof-top ornament called sorin. We took several photos of the pagoda from various angles. We walked on the covered corridor called Kairo and got a beautiful view of Kondou main hall and pagoda standing together in a straight line.
Five storied pagoda

Another view of the pagoda

Me standing in front of the pagoda

Kondou main hall and pagoda

After that we went to see the lecture hall called Koudou. While walking on the covered Kairo corridor, we saw that two sides of Koudou hall are attached to Kairo. Kairo surrounds the central courtyard housing Kondou main hall and Pagoda. Lecture hall Koudou is a concrete structure which was rebuilt in 1963. Inside the hall, there is a statue of eleven headed kannon (Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit) bosatsu called Juichimen kannon bosatsu ruzou who is considered to be a god of compassion and mercy. It is a gold coated standing wooden statue and is 4.2 meters tall. Inside the lecture hall, there is another sitting statue called Amida nyorai zazou who is considered to be Buddha of infinite light, life and beyond, and ultimate bliss. This is also a gold coated wooden statue and is 3 meters tall. We prayed in front of both these statues for our health and happiness. Paintings displaying scenes from the life of the Buddha decorate the walls inside Koudou.
Lecture hall Koudou and attached covered Kairo corridor

Statue of Juichimen kannon bosatsu

Statue of Amida nyorai zazou

After seeing the Koudou lecture hall, we went out of the Garan premises to see the front outer view of Chumon Gate, which is also a part of Garan complex. The sides of Chumon Gate are attached to Kairo corridor. This gate is a concrete structure and was rebuilt in 1963. It is also known as Niomon Gate as the gate has a pair of large guardian statues called Nio, one on either side of the entrance. These fierce looking Nio statues are supposed to protect the temple from evil spirits. One of the guardian Nio statues called Agyo has its mouth open as if saying ‘ah’ which symbolizes ‘opening’ or ‘birth’. The other Nio statue called Ungyo has its mouth closed as if saying ‘um’ which symbolizes ‘closure’ or ‘death’. Ungyo deity is seen on the left side and Agyo deity is on the right side of Niomon Gate. Each Nio statue weighs about 1000 kilograms and is 5.3 meters tall. We took a few photos of the gate from various angles.
Chumon Gate and attached Kairo corridor as viewed from outside the Garan complex

Another view of Chumon Gate. Pagoda is seen behind the gate.

Hubby standing in front of Chumon Gate

Statues of Nio deities at Chumon Gate

Surrounding the central Garan complex are three gates named Great South Gate (Nandaimon), Great East Gate (Higashi-no-omon), and Great West Gate (Saidaimon). We visited only two of these gates. First we saw Nandaimon Gate which is located just in front of Chumon Gate. There is a car parking in front of Nandaimon Gate.
Nandaimon Gate

Afterwards we walked back up to Saijumon Gate, which is the entrance to the Garan complex of the temple. Facing this gate, about 50 meters away is Saidaimon Gate which is also known as Gokurakumon (paradise) Gate. We walked up to Saidaimon Gate and went outside to see the front outer side of the gate. People generally use this gate to enter the temple premises and so there was a big crowd of people around this gate. There were many small stalls selling souvenirs and food items. Outside the gate, to our left we saw a statue of a Buddhist monk named Shinran Shonin. Shinran was born in Hino (in Kyoto) at the close of Heian period and lived during the Kamakura period. He was the founder of Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism and also a follower of Prince Shotoku Taishi. Statues of Shinran are usually present at the temples established by Prince Shotoku.
View of outer side of Saidaimon Gate

Statue of Shinran Shonin

Saidaimon Gate is rather wide. There are tenporin wheels attached to the gate. Tenporin wheel of dharma represents Buddha's teaching of the path to enlightenment. While crossing the gate I spinned the tenporin wheel, which is supposed to have the same meritorious effect as orally chanting the prayers. There was also a large cauldron incense burner placed at the gate, smoke from which is believed to bestow good health. We saw many people lighting incense sticks to the already fuming stock and with their hands wafted the incense fumes over their bodies. We also wafted incense fumes over us.
I am spinning the tenporin wheel located at Saidaimon Gate

I am wafting fumes over my body from an incense cauldron at Saidaimon Gate

On entering Saidaimon Gate, I turned around to see the crowd of visitors entering the temple premises. We could see the stone Torii Gate (West Gate) in the background behind Saidaimon Gate. After entering Saidaimon Gate, to our right we saw a statue named Kobodaishi Shugyozou. Kukai or Kobodaishi was a monk, scholar, poet, artist, and founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism. There was also a stone wheel called rinneto in front of the statue. This wheel indicates the endless cycle of suffering caused by birth, death, and rebirth, i.e., reincarnation.
View of inner side of Saidaimon Gate

View of inner side of Saidaimon Gate from a different angle

Stone Torii Gate (indicated by arrow) in the background behind Saidaimon Gate

Statue of Kobodaishi

Stone wheel rinneto

After staying near the Garan complex for some more time, we started walking back to the railway station via the same route that we used for entering the temple premises. On our way, we saw an amazing looking North bell tower (Kita shoudou). Just in front of the bell tower was another building named Rokujidou worship hall where religious services are conducted six times a day. This building was reconstructed in the beginning of Edo era and is one of the oldest buildings on the temple grounds. Rokujidou is now designated as an important cultural asset. In front of this building there is a huge permanent stone stage called Ishi no butai, which is used during festivals for Bugaku court dance performances of the Imperial Court of 7th to 9th centuries. Walking further we saw another building named Eireidou. This structure for big bell was constructed in 1906 as a mark of respect for Prince Shotoku. It has a biggest hanging temple bell in the world which weighs 168 tons. After World War II, the bell is used for praying for peace of the world. We did not enter inside the building and left the temple premises from Nakanomon Gate.
North bell tower

Rokujidou hall and stone stage Ishi no butai

Rokujidou hall


Next, hubby and I went to see Taiyuji Temple located in Taiyujicho of Kita ward about which I will write in the next post.


deepazartz said...

Pretty pics, Manisha.
Nice place to be:)


Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your comment Deepa. Hubby and I loved visting Shitennoji Temple.

I visited your blog. It also has wonderful pictures of your artwork!

Tseten Sherpa said...

Hi Manisha,

I loved your details of this Temple and fascinating images... one question, Is there any female monks living there or dwellings for monks.


Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Hello Testen Sherpa. Thanks for the nice comment. Nowadays, usually there are female monks in most of the temples in Japan and have living quarters within or near the temple premises. However, I am not sure of this particular temple as I did not look for specific information related to this temple.

FunCreation ho said...

Thanks a lots for you reply... god bless you

Johnny said...

Thanks for the very detailed writeup about Shitennoji Temple!

Your unique Buddhist perspective on it certainly helped explain a lot about the place; our experience in visiting it was that there was little documentation in English so we had no idea what much of the complex was about.

(We also failed to pick up a brochure so that might have had something to do with it.)

Anyway, most blogs and even the Wikipedia article don't go into much detail about Shitennoji or its history, so kudos for going well above and beyond! Yours is definitely the most thorough writeup I've seen to date.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your nice comment Johnny. Hope you found the post useful.

Sydney Solis said...

This is such an excellent post about the temple! So very informative and detailed. Thank you so much! I loved visiting and you really helped me understand everything better!

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thank you very much for your nice comment Sydney Solis.