Monday, January 16, 2012

Zenkoji Temple and Inaba Shrine

During the New Year holidays hubby and I had been to hubby’s ancestral home in Ichinomiya city of Aichi prefecture for about a week. We reached Ichinomiya on 30th December in the afternoon and had dinner with relatives. The next day hubby, father-in-law and his wife went to play golf. I stayed at home and watched television programs the entire day.

The next day was the first day of 2012. Japanese New Year called shogatsu is considered to be one of the most important annual festivals in Japan and is celebrated with many unique customs. There is a tradition during the New Year to visit a shrine or temple. This first trip to a shrine or temple is known as hatsumode. Hatsumode festivities are held at practically every shrine and temple across the country. People often visit a shrine after midnight on December 31 or sometime during the day on January 01. January 1st is considered to be an auspicious day, and so hubby and I decided to visit Zenkoji Temple and Inaba Shrine in Gifu city of Gifu prefecture. We borrowed father-in-law’s car and left hubby’s ancestral home at about 10 am. The shrine and the temple are located about 19 kilometers north of hubby’s home and it took us 50 minutes to reach there by car.

After parking our car at a car parking lot, we walked on a narrow street for about 10 minutes and reached Inaba Shrine. Zenkoji Temple is located within the shrine premises. We saw that a huge crowd had come to do hatsumode and there were many police officers to guide people. The shrine precincts had many food stalls for the special occasion and it was very lively. On entering the premises, we saw a small temple named Anrakuji where many visitors offered their prayers.
A huge crowd inside the shrine premises

Anrakuji Temple

After walking for a few more minutes inside the premises, we reached Zenkoji Temple. Zenkoji is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect in Mino province which is the modern-day Gifu city. The temple is also known as Inaba Zenkoji as well as Gifu Zenkoji. Although it is not known when this temple was built, it is assumed to have been built in the late 16th century when Oda Nobunaga lived in nearby Gifu Castle. The principal image of worship is a statue of Zenkoji Nyorai. The main hall of the temple was burnt down during an earthquake in 1891, and was reconstructed in 1912. We walked up the stairs that led to the verandah of the main hall. On the verandah, we saw a glass structure that looked like a floor lantern with many lit candles inside. Next to it, there was a small stall selling various kinds of white candle charms. I bought a white candle worth 200 yen with ‘shintaikenzen’ (body health) written on it. I lit the candle, placed it inside the lantern, and prayed for good health and well being of my hubby. I hope he continues to have a body which is free of any sickness and disease. Next, I prayed at the altar of the main hall for the peace and well being of my family. Afterwards as we were walking down the stairs of the main hall, we saw a big crowd of people in the temple complex.
Zenkoji Temple and the crowd

Zenkoji Temple

Hubby standing in front of Zenkoji Temple

A floor lantern located on the verandah of the temple

I am holding a white candle with ‘shintaikenzen’ written on it

After lighting the candle, I am placing it inside the lantern

Altar of the temple main hall

Crowd of people as viewed from the verandah of the temple main hall

Next, we walked further up inside the shrine premises and visited Inaba Shrine. Inaba Shrine is a Shinto shrine located at the base of Mount Kinka in Gifu city. This shrine is thought to have been established when Emperor Keiko dedicated the land of Tsubakihara (currently Maruyama in Gifu Park of Mount Kinka) in the year 85. The shrine has a history of more than 1925 years. Though the shrine was originally located in Maruyama, it was moved about one kilometer south to the present location by Saito Dosan in 1539. The god Inishiki-Irihiko-no-mikoto is enshrined and worshipped at this shrine. This god is popular as the general guardian deity of the birth place of Gifu. The shrine is also a very popular spot for hatsumode.

As we walked up towards Inaba Shrine, we saw a huge banner with hatsumode written on it. After walking for a few minutes, we saw a torii gate named Otorii. Walking past this gate, we came across another torii gate. There was a large crowd around us. Many police officers were employed to ensure a smooth and orderly flow of people. We had to wait for almost 30 minutes near the second torii gate. As we started moving again, to our right we saw a beautiful statue of a horse called Shinme-zou. Shinme horse is considered to be sacred and divine in Shinto religion.
A banner with hatsumode written on it

Otorii Gate

Another torii gate

A statue of Shinme horse

As we walked further up, we saw a sacred bridge named Shinkyo. This bridge is traditionally the gateway to the shrine. It is a very short stone bridge with a steep graceful arch. Visitors are not allowed to walk over the bridge. So we had to walk up the stairs located adjacent to the bridge. Afterwards we had to wait for 15 minutes for the crowd to move forward. While waiting, we turned around and took a few photos of the bridge and the crowd.
Shinkyo Bridge and torii gate along with a big crowd of people

Shinkyo Bridge

Another view of Shinkyo Bridge

Next, we saw a flight of stairs that led up to a beautiful huge wooden gate named Romon. There were many visitors waiting on the stairs. We took a few photos of this gate.
Romon Gate and the flight of stairs

Romon Gate

Romon Gate and the crowd of people

After passing through Romon Gate, we saw yet another flight of stairs that led to a second wooden gate named Shinmon. Here also, there were many visitors waiting on the stairs. We took a few photos of Shinmon Gate from outside as well as from inside after passing through it.
Shinmon Gate and the flight of stairs

Shinmon Gate as viewed from inside after passing through it

Next, we saw the main prayer hall named Haiden. It is a wooden building with intricately carved roof. Beautiful rotund Shimenawa straw rope hung at the entrance of Haiden Hall. Here again, we had to wait for almost 30 minutes as there was a big crowd in front of us waiting to offer prayers. Finally when we reached the altar of the prayer hall, I offered some coins into the offertory box, clapped my hands twice, and prayed. I prayed for the well being of my family as well as friends. But I could not pray properly as the people standing behind me pushed and shoved to reach the altar. So I moved slightly to the side of the hall and prayed again. Hubby compiled a video of me praying at the altar of Haiden Hall. While moving out of the hall, I noticed that the offertory boxes were full of coins.
Haiden prayer hall

Another view of the prayer hall

Shimenawa straw rope hanging at the entrance of Haiden Hall

People praying at the altar of Haiden hall

Offertory boxes full of coins

A compiled video of me praying at the altar of Haiden Hall

Afterwards we went to a shop located near Haiden prayer hall, and bought a pair of omamori amulets called fuufu-omamori which is supposed to bring good fortune and happiness for husband and wife. We also bought a pair of cute dragon dolls called Kaiun-shofuku which his supposed to beckon better luck. Dragon is this year’s zodiac animal.
Shop selling omamori amulets

Fuufu-omamori amulets

A pair of dragon dolls

After staying near Haiden prayer hall for about 15 minutes, we walked down the stairs and left the shrine precincts. While walking back towards the car parking area, we saw a seemingly endless crowd of people coming to do hatsumode.
Crowd of people we saw while leaving the shrine premises

It felt nice to begin the year by visiting Inaba Shrine. Later in the day we visited Gifu Castle located nearby about which I will write in the next post.

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