All entries in the category Pilgrimage

Golden diamonds

In the south of Kansai lies the Wakayama region. The mountainous area is one of the three main producing sites of mandarins in Japan. Wakayama benefits from the Kuroshio ocean current which brings warm water from the Philippines to Japan's east coast. Mild weather, stony soil and slopes are perfect conditions for growing mandarins. Vineyards easily come to mind. Mandarin growers speak of "three suns" that are needed for delicious mandarins: the sun in the sky, the sun reflected by the sea, and the sun that warms the stone walls in the mandarin orchards. The variety of citrus fruits in Japan is amazing. From about 900 species worldwide, Japan alone has about one hundred. Satsuma, Tankan, Juzu and Shikuwasa are all very aromatic and indispensable in Japanese cuisine.

Mandarins play a major role in the Saigoku temples, too. For one, they are a typical offerings to the Buddhist deities at the altar. The temple legend of Kimii-dera in the city of Wakayama tells a Mandarin story. Temple no. 2 of Saigoku Pilgrimage is the site where Mr. Bunzaemon Kinokuniya started his fame. His risky speculation in a stormy winter night turned the "golden diamonds" into jingling coins. In fact, the businessman made a fortune out of mandarins and became one of the richest merchants of Japan.

Oranges in a temple. Source: own photo

Bringing light into dark times

At the turn of the millennium, in the 950 years, Japan was raged by plague and earthquakes. It was no longer possible to bury the dead. They were simply brought to the other side of Kyoto's Kamo river where they decayed. During these dark times, a monk called Kuya bought many corpses to bury them worthy. Singing, drumming and dancing, he traveled villages and markets. He sang "Namu Amida Butsu" - "I trust in Buddha". He was dancing with children in a circle and talked to the common people. He spoke of a religion that should not be limited to a wealthy elite.

His tradition of the Nembutsu chanting has survived to this day. It surpassed times when those dances and songs were banned. People danced in secret, using formulas like "Moda nan maito". The monks of Kyoto's Rokuharamitsu-ji still sing them today. On December, 13-31, from 4 p.m. it is possible to watch the performance of Nembutsu chants and dances. Or you join in. By the way, the statue of monk Kuya, which belongs to the Rokuharamitsu-ji, is an unusual masterpiece and worth visiting: six small Buddha are dancing from the mouth of the "weirdo of streets and markets" as Kuya used to be called, too.

Saint Kuya is bringing light into dark times. Source: Wiki commons, own processing

Kannon, Cannons and Berlin's Golden Twenties

All 33 temples of the Saigoku Pilgrimage worship Kannon, a Buddhist goddess (more precisely, a Bodhisattva). What Kannon is, was common knowledge in Berlin in its Golden Twenties. Every Berliner knew that thanks to a – now forgotten – bestseller and best-selling author. The book „The Kwannon of Okadera“ written by Ludwig Wolff in 1920 was a big sensation and was also covered by a famous movie. A Viennese journal committed the faux pas to mix up „Kwannon of Okadera“ with „Cannons of Okadera“. With anger his colleage from Vienna made clear:

„A Berliner knows what 'Kwannon' is. Surely, he knows. Either he has read the sequels of this novel by Ludwig Wolff in the 'Berliner Illustrierte' or he saw the ten thousand mystical posters on every street corner, in all subway station, and at each kiosk. Even in the most hidden corners of the darkest streets of Berlin the posters would have hammered into him, until he finally would have had checked the encyclopedia ...“

From: Bernard Schüler, Der Ullstein-Verlag und der Stummfilm

Read more about the „Kwannon of Okadera“ in the chapter to Temple No. 7 of our ebook „Saigoku – On the road in Japan's Western Lands“.

Modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis as Kannon. Source: Revue des Monats, Bd. 4, 1929/30, Heft Nr. 10. Photo by Soichi Sunami.

Curiosity and Sincerity are Sunshine Friends

Japan's historical heart beats in the Western lands, where the old imperial capitals of Asuka, Nara, Kyoto, and a dozen more are located. At the time we lived near Kyoto, we discovered the "Pilgrimage of the Western Lands". It combines 33 Buddhist temples, some of which are over a thousand years old. We laced hiking boots and set off to travel around the Western Lands. On our travels between 2001-2011 we witnessed everyday occurrences but we also heard of miracles. We visited the vegetable gardens of Kyoto and we avoided sharp knives in Osaka. We took a boat and rowed to the Island of Fine Arts. We entered the stairway to heaven. Furthermore, we sniffed at a scent prince and we were listening to the sound of falling feathers. We discovered happiness in the street and we enjoyed a delighting cup of green tea. But in order to cure the headache of the emperor, we came too late. However, we collected story to story about Japan's Western Lands. These we would like to share with you in the coming posts.