Monday, October 28, 2013

Amanohashidate Chionji Temple

On 11th August, hubby and I traveled from Akita to Tsuruga City in Fukui prefecture by sea on a cruise ferry named Azalea. We reached Tsuruga seaport at about 5.45 am the next day. Later we traveled by our car towards Miyazu City in Kyoto prefecture. Miyazu City is located about 140 kilometers west of Tsuruga seaport and it took us 2.5 hours to reach a place named Amanohashidate in Miyazu City.

Amanohashidate is a pine covered sandbar in northern part of Kyoto prefecture. It is considered to be one of the three most scenic views of Japan (Nihon Sankei), along with Matsushima in Miyagi prefecture and Miyajima in Hiroshima prefecture. Hubby and I had been to Matsushima in May 2010 about which I have written two posts (please check here and here). Amanohashidate Sandbar is a thin strip of land located in Miyazu Bay and connects the two opposite sides of the bay. The sandbar is 3.6 kilometers long and its width varies from 20 meters to 170 meters. It is covered with about 8000 pine trees. The sandbar can be viewed from mountains on either side of the bay or it can be traversed on foot which takes about 1 hour. Near the entrance to Amanohashidate area, we stopped our car and got out to enjoy the sceneries and the sandbar from afar. The sandbar in the bay connecting opposing sides of the bay looked so striking and wonderful. We also saw a huge stone monument called ‘Chie-no-wa Toro’ or a ‘ring stone lantern of wisdom’ at this entrance area. On one side of this monument ‘Yokoso Amanohashidate e’ or ‘welcome to Amanohashidate’ is engraved while on the other side of the monument ‘Nihon Sankei Amanohashidate’ is engraved. We liked the stone monument very much.
Stone monument with ‘Yokoso Amanohashidate e’ engraved on it

The other side of stone monument with ‘Nihon Sankei Amanohashidate’ engraved on it

Amanohashidate Sandbar in Miyazu Bay connecting opposing sides of the bay as viewed from afar

The sandbar as viewed for afar

The sandbar, bay, and I

After viewing Amanohashidate Sandbar from afar, we continued our car ride towards a temple named Chionji. We got a pleasant view of Miyazu Bay all along the way. After 15 minutes, we reached the car parking area of the temple. We parked our car and went inside the temple premises.

Chionji is a Buddhist temple located near the southern entrance of Amanohashidate Sandbar. The temple belongs to the Rinzai School of Japanese Zen Buddhism. The temple is dedicated to Monju Bosatsu which is a Buddha associated with wisdom and intellect. The temple is also known as ‘Chie no Monju’ or ‘Buddha of Wisdom’. The temple is popularly known as ‘Sannin Yoreba Monjunochie’ which means ‘out of the counsel of three comes wisdom’. Other names of the temple are ‘Kireto no Monju’ and ‘Kuseto no Monju’. According to the temple records, Chionji Temple was founded and built as an imperial family temple at the behest of Emperor Heizei in 808. The temple was given the imperial scroll by Emperor Daigo in the Engi era (beginning of the 10th century), but other than that, its history until the medieval period is not clear. Since the olden times, this temple has been considered to house one of the Three Monju Bosatsu of Japan. The other two Monju are housed at Abe-in Temple in Sakurai City of Nara prefecture and at Konkai Komyoji Temple in Sakyo-ku Ward of Kyoto City (or at Daishoji Temple in Takahata-machi of Yamagata prefecture).

Amanohashidate is a nationally designated special place of scenic beauty. Amanohashidate area not only includes the 3.6 kilometers long sandbar across Miyazu Bay, but also a place named Kasamatsu located at the base of Mount Nariai, as well as the precincts of Chionji Temple. In fact, Kasamatsu is the principal lookout point for the sandbar. The old historical record of the temple says that ‘originally at Kuseto (ancient place name) in Amanohashidate, there have been both a principal statue of Ichiji Monju and a Shinto shrine of its guardian named Hashidate Myojin. The origin of both these are from the same Monju’. Therefore, the sandbar and Chionji Temple have been regarded as belonging to the same set for religious faith. Presently, Chionji Temple has Monjudo Main Hall, Tahoto Pagoda, Sanmon Gate, and various other important historical structures within the temple premises. A principal statue named Kishi Monju, mounted on a mythical Shishi lion and accompanied by two attendants named Zenzai Douji and Utennou, is enshrined at the temple.

At the entrance area of Chionji Temple, we saw a huge gate named Sanmon. It is the main gate of the temple and was built in 1767. Empress Gosakuramachi gave the temple authorities gold to build this gate, and so the gate is also known as ‘Ogonkaku’ or ‘Golden Tower’. It is a spectacular wooden gate with beautiful architecture. It is a two storied gate with three bays and three entrances. The lower story has no walls and is open. The upper story has the deities of Shaka Nyorai and Juroku Rakan enshrined inside. The gate is an elaborate wooden structure decorated with accents and carvings. A gorgeous framed plaque with ‘Ogonkaku’ written on it, hangs from the second floor of this gate. Another framed plaque with ‘Kaijo Zengyo’ (Zen practice on sea) written on it, hangs from the first floor of the gate. We saw a massive paper lantern painted in red and black tones hanging from the ceiling of the first floor. We also saw two small paper lanterns hanging on the two central front wooden pillars. After appreciating the paper lanterns, we walked through the gate and found that the backside of the gate is equally magnificent. Sanmon Gate has been designated as a cultural property of Miyazu City.
Hubby standing in front of Sanmon Gate

Framed plaques with ‘Ogonkaku’ and ‘Kaijo Zengyo’ written on them hang from the second and the first floor of the gate, respectively

I am standing at the first floor of the gate along with the massive paper lantern hanging from the ceiling

The backside of Sanmon Gate as viewed from inside the temple premises

The backside of the gate and I

Inside the temple premises, to our left side just next to Sanmon Gate, we saw a two storied pagoda. The pagoda was built in 1501 and is the oldest structure on the temple grounds. In fact, it is a Muromachi period building and such a medieval period architecture is very rare in Miyazu City. This pagoda is exquisite and has Tahoto style architecture. The lower section of the pagoda is square shaped and the upper section is cylindrical in shape. The lower roof of the pagoda is a Mokoshi ‘skirt roof’ and the upper one is a pyramidal roof. In addition, the pagoda also has a finial. This pagoda has been designated as a nationally important cultural property.
Tahoto pagoda

I am standing in front of the pagoda

There is a paved pathway from Sanmon Gate that leads straight to the main building of the temple. While walking along this pathway, we saw special Omikuji fortunes shaped like folding fans hanging from a pine tree to our right side just next to the pathway. Since the temple is dedicated to Monju Bosatsu or ‘Buddha of Wisdom’, students and other worshipers visit the temple to pray for wisdom, academic and personal success. The worshipers purchase such Omikuji fortunes, and leave them hanging from pine trees all around the temple grounds.
Omikuji fortunes shaped like fans hanging from a pine tree

We continued walking along the paved pathway, and reached the main building of the temple straight ahead of us inside the premises. This main building is known as Monjudo Hall, and is located, more or less, at the center of the temple premises. Monjudo Hall has been rebuilt many times. But it is said that the four innermost columns are left from the mythological age. Major repairs were carried out to the building by Miyazu Lord Kyogoku Takakuni in 1655, and the present architectural structure of the building is believed to be from that time. The roof of the hall is constructed in Hogyo-zukuri style, which is a pyramid shaped tiled or plated roof constructed over a square building. Earlier the roof was made of thatched cypress bark, but in 1657 the roof was reconstructed with copper tiles and plates. A wooden principal statue named Kishi Monju, a form of Monju Bosatsu, is enshrined inside Monjudo Hall. Kishi Monju is depicted as mounted on a mythical Shishi lion and is accompanied by two attendants named Zenzai Douji and Utennou. This principal statue is Hibutsu or hidden Buddha, and is accessible to the general public only five days in a year, that is, on January 1, 2, 3, 10 and July 24. This wooden Monju statue is designated as a nationally important cultural property. We loved the elegant architectural design of Monjudo Hall building.
Monjudo Main Hall

Monjudo Hall as viewed from its right side

In front of Monjudo Hall, we saw a pair of stone guardian statues located on either side of the pathway. These guardian statues are lion-like creatures that are supposed to protect the temples premises from evil spirits. The statue on the right side of the hall (orientation with respect to the hall) is close-mouthed and is called Ungyo Komainu. This particular Ungyo Komainu has a single horn on its head. The statue on the left side of the hall is open-mouthed and is called Agyo Shishi. We walked past these guardian statues and reached right in front of the entrance of the hall, where we saw a cauldron for burning incense sticks. We climbed up a few steps and rang the bell located just outside the hall. It should be noted that this bell has been designated as a nationally important cultural property. Although we could not enter inside the hall, we could pray from outside standing on the veranda of the hall. Afterwards we walked along the veranda (aisle-like area called Hisashi) surrounding this hall, and saw many wooden Ema votive plaques hanging from the pillars of the hall. Since the temple is dedicated to Monju Bosatsu or ‘Buddha of Wisdom’, worshipers purchase and write their wishes and prayers on wooden Ema plaques, and leave them hanging inside the temple premises hoping for wisdom, academic and personal success. In fact, the temple grounds are lined with many such Ema plaques.
Closed-mouthed Ungyo Komainu and open-mouthed Agyo Shishi

A cauldron for burning incense sticks

I am ringing the bell located outside Monjudo Hall

The front of the hall along with an offertory box in the foreground

I am praying from outside standing on the veranda of the hall

Many Ema plaques hanging from the pillars on the right side of the hall (photo clicked from the temple grounds and not from the veranda)

While walking along Hisashi veranda surrounding Monjudo Hall, we saw many old wonderful artwork paintings on wooden panels hanging from the upper part of the inner wall or the ceiling of the veranda. Most of these paintings depict scenes related to Zen Buddhism or the local history of the bygone era. It is really unfortunate that some of these paintings are damaged or deteriorated due to prolonged exposure to natural causes.
A painting on the front side veranda of Monjudo Hall

Backside veranda of the hall

A beautiful painting at the backside veranda depicting hell and heaven scenes from Zen Buddhism

An enlarged portion of the upper painting

Another painting at the backside veranda

A severely damaged painting at the backside veranda

Another damaged painting at the backside veranda

Left side veranda of Monjudo Hall

A painting hanging from the left side veranda

Behind Monjudo Hall but to its left side, we saw a building named Kuri or the Priests’ Quarters. This building is located at the northernmost part of the temple premises. The building has distinctive Zen architecture and was reconstructed in 1799. Next, we saw Shoro belfry located on the east (left) side of Monjudo Hall inside the temple premises. The belfry was constructed in 1881, and the present Bonsho bell was recast in 1973. In addition, we also saw another hall building named Musodo located behind but to the right side of Monjudo Hall. Musodo Hall seems to be recently reconstructed.
Kuri (marked with red arrow) located behind but to the left side of Monjudo Hall

Shoro belfry

Musodo Hall

Next, we walked towards the east side along the paved pathway and left the temple premises. We walked for a minute or so, and reached Amanohashidate pier where sightseeing boat-stand is located. We can take such motorized boats and enjoy viewing the sandbar from the bay. A boat had just left the pier, and we saw the middle section of a red colored bridge over the bay rotate 90 degrees to allow the boat to pass through. This bridge connects Amanohashidate Sandbar to Monju area. The original hand-operated bridge was built in 1923, and the present electric one was rebuilt in 1960. We were lucky to see the bridge in the rotated mode. Afterwards, we walked back to the car parking area which is located just next to the bay. From the parking area, we clicked a few photos of the bay for the sake of memory.
Photo clicked from Amanohashidate pier where sightseeing boats are docked

Red colored bridge in 90 degrees rotated mode (the rotated part of the bridge is encircled)

The bay as viewed from near the car parking area

I am standing near the car parking area along with the bay to my right side

Hubby and the bay

We wanted to climb up Mount Monju, at the base of which Chionji Temple is located. At the top of the mountain there is a place named Amanohashidate View Land which is an amusement park and an observatory. This place is a lookout point from where we can get a fabulous view of Amanohashidate Sandbar. But we skipped going to the place as we did not have much time that day. At about 10.30 am, we left Amanohashidate area. Later we drove up to Tottori Sand Dunes in Tottori City of Tottori prefecture. On the way we had very simple and delicious lunch of Soba noodles and fried rice at a restaurant.
Soba noodles

Fried rice

In the next post, I will write about our visit to Tottori Sand Dunes.


My Unfinished Life said...

lovely post with nice pics!! btw ur hubby is japanese??

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your comment 'My Unifinished Life'.....Good to know that you liked the post and the pics....Yeah, my hubby is Japanese :)