Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple


Unari ("U"nagi + "Nari"ta) is the tourist ambassador of Narita.

Narita is a city located in north Chiba prefecture, and is home to Narita International Airport, the main international airport serving the Greater Tokyo Area. The location of Narita, roughly at equal distance from the Pacific Ocean and Tokyo Bay around a number of small rivers, made it a natural political and commercial center for the region, and gained importance as a pilgrimage destination with the foundation of the noted Buddhist temple of Shinshoji (新勝寺) in 940 AD.

Before paying the temple a visit, we walked along the picturesque street near the temple, which has many small shops selling local products and snacks, as well as good-luck charms and other souvenirs, such as Daruma dolls. We also had our lunch at one of the restaurants here; Kikuya (菊屋), or Chrysanthemum House is located in one of the narrow alleys off the main street.


On the temple road, there are approximately sixty shops that serve grilled eel over rice, more commonly called unadon (うな丼) and other eel dishes. 
There are many highly popular sweet shops as well.


One of the shops along the Omotesando, that sell Daruma dolls.

Most restaurants now serve the pre-processed kind, from eel grown in farms outside Japan. Kikuya however, only serves fresh eel caught in nearby waters. The restaurant even puts up a notice on its door specifying where the day's catch came from.

Kikuya's version was gently cooked over coal, with just a pleasant hint of charring to its crisp skin. The soy-based sauce poured on top of the generous portions of fish, and the rice underneath, was subtly sweet with a hint of herbs. It complimented the eel without overwhelming it.


Kikuya, a Japanese restaurant which is specialised in grilled eel was where we had our lunch.


Our place has been reserved on the second floor, in a grand-looking hall that fits more than twenty people.


I went for unagi set meal, as Narita is well-known for its grilled eel dishes.


By the way, this is the badge given to every Chiba Kun Ambassadors, and we wear this badge throughout the trip.


The staff from one of the restaurants along the street, who was preparing the live unagi to be grilled.

After our satisfying lunch, we moved to our next destination - Naritasan Shinshouji Temple (成田山新勝寺), a few stones' throw from Kikuya. This Shingon Buddhist temple includes a large complex of buildings and grounds, and is one of the best-known temples in the Kanto region. It is dedicated to the Buddhist deity Fudō myōō ('Unmovable Wisdom King', known as Ācala in Sanskrit), who is usually depicted holding a sword and rope and surrounded by flames.

The history of Naritasan Shinshoji Temple starts with the image of Fudomyoo which has been enshrined in the Temple as a main deity and is said to have been carved and consecrated by Kobodaishi (Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhist sect, 774-835) at the request of Emperor Saga.


A signboard to welcome tourists to Naritasan, erected along the Omotesando street.


The main gate to the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is approximately 15 meters high, made entirely of zelkova wood and erected in 2007.


Enshrined are the images of Hattaibutsu, the deities for protecting people depending on their year of birth.


This is the forth animal in the Japanese zodiac calendar - rabbit.

The image had originally been enshrined at Takaosan Jingoji Temple in Kyoto, capital of the day. When Tairanomasakado led a revolt against Emperor Suzaku in 939, Priest Kanjo received a secret order from Emperor Suzaku to suppress the revolt. He went to the district bearing the image of Fudomyoo and performed a three week Goma rite for peace. Miraculously, on the final day of the Goma rite, on the 14th of February in 940, the revolt was suppressed completely.

Priest Kanjo, thus fulfilling his duty, prepared to return with the image of Fudomyoo to Kyoto, but he found that it had mysteriously grown as heavy as a huge stone and could not be moved. Soon he heard the oracle of Fudomyoo saying, “My wish has not been fulfilled. I wish to stay here forever and relieve innumerable people from suffering.” Deeply impressed by the mercy of Fudomyoo, Emperor Suzaku ordered a temple be erected to enshrine the image on that spot. Then Naritasan Shinshoji Temple was established by Priest Kanjo (taken from this site).


Temizuya (手水舎) a fountain near the entrance of a shrine and a temple where worshipers can cleanse their hands and mouths before worship.


The Niomon Gate (仁王門), built in 1830 and is one of the several structures in the temple designated as National Important Cultural Properties. 


A water fountain in the pond called Nioike Pond (仁王池) adjoining the gate.


There are also hundreds of tortoise in this pond, that symbolises longevity.

The big group of Chiba Kun Ambassadors were divided into two smaller groups and each group had a volunteer guide to take us around the temple. A short climb over 33 staircases brought us to the Great Main Hall (大本堂) that enshrines the image of Fudomyoo, the main deity. Erected in 1968, the Great Main Hall is the main dojo (土壌) for the Goma (sacred fire) rite that is the most important service in the temple.

The enormous size of this Great Main Hall was really astonishing, and the magnificent view of the interior of the hall is something that will remain in my memory for some time. Unfortunately, photography inside the hall is prohibited. I gotta say this is one of the best temple I have come across in Japan.


The group of us posing in front of the Great Main Hall.


The three-storied Pagoda, erected in 1712 and measures 25-meters tall. The rafters on each story, carved with cloud and water design, 
are made of single solid beams and so-called "single-beam rafters", which are extremely rare.

Fudomyoo, one of the popular Buddhist deities, is fierce-looking and wreathed in flames with a sword and a rope in his hands. The sword cuts away hindrances of passion and false knowledge, and the rope is used to draw in beings to Enlightenment. To demons he is terror, but to the faithful he is the remover of anxieties, banisher of evil and savior from oppression. 

Fudomyoo of Naritasan Temple has been worshiped by numerous people from all over the country for a long time.


Another group photo, this time in front of the Shakado Hall (釈迦堂) or the Buddha Hall.


Shakado Hall was erected in 1858 and was the old Main Hall. The hall is made completely from zelkova wood and displays characteristic of the late Edo period.


Enshrined here are the images of Shakanyorai Buddha in the centre, and four images of Bosatsu; Fukenbosatsu (Samantabhadra), Monjubosatsu, Mirokubosatsu and Senjukannon (Thousand-armed Avalokiteshwara) on the right and left hand sides.


Gohyakurakan (Five-hundred Buddha's Saints) are reliefs carved into the walls around the hall in the early 19th century. 
It took Master Matsumoto Ryozan ten years to complete them.


The expression of every disciple is different. It is said that a pilgrim may recognise a disciple's expression as similar to one of his/her ancestors.

The Goma rite is a secret service of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism to pray to Fudomyoo, the main deity. During the service, many votive offerings are dedicated on the platform in front of the image of Fudomyoo, and special pieces of wood called Goma sticks are burnt for prayer. The fire of the Goma rite symbolises the wisdom of Fudomyoo, and the wood sticks express earthly passions.

Through the Goma rite ceremony, the head monk burns the earthy passions represented by the wood sticks in the fire of Fudomyoo's wisdom, and prays with the devotees for their wish to be ennobled and purified fur fulfillment.


Smaller statues around the temple.


Several more structures found around the compound of the temple.


Various kinds of local nuts and snacks sold at the stall in the temple.


This temple was not spared from the March 11 earthquake, as there were some parts of the staircases which suffered damages and currently undergoing repair-works.


As usual, a final shot in front of the Niomon Gate before we leave the temple.

Naritasan Shinshoji Temple
Address: 1, Narita, Narita-shi, Chiba Prefecture, 286-0023, Japan.
Tel: 0476-22-2111 Fax: 0476-24-2210   

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