A day in Tokyo: Tsukiji Honganji, Shibuya

Today was quite a day. I spent the day still stinging from the nasty sunburn I got in Ueno Park yesterday, but today we had a very different reason for being out in Tokyo again: we brought the little one to a wonderful children’s Buddhist service at our favorite temple of Tsukiji Honganji in Tokyo. We visited this important temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism back in 2007, and had a great time, but I couldn’t take good pictures. I was resolved to take better pictures this time, and came out with mixed results.

The Buddha’s Birthday is normally called Hanamatsuri in Japanese, but in more formal Buddhist terms, the day is frequently called Kanbutsu-e (灌仏会). It is also a time frequently when Jodo Shinshu temples at least observe another ceremony called ochigo where children are formally presented to the temple in an adorable precession.

Tsukiji Honganji held the celebration of the Buddha’s birth today rather than on the 8th, as it was the weekend, and when we came, the temple was quite festive. Booths for food, Buddhist items, toys for kids, flowers and charities were held in the massive lot. This picture was taken before most of the booths were setup, by noon it was packed:

Tsukiji Honganji, Hanamatsuri 2010

Later, the local Ginza-district police and firemen had booths to let kids try out police cars and fire engines, and get photos taken. I enjoyed a really good vegetarian curry dish, provided by a local Indian restaurant from Roppongi.

By noon, the actual children’s service was held. It began with a small parade on the sidewalk outside the temple with the children and their parents being led up the big stairs in a procession with marching bands and such. It was both very modern and very traditional.

Here’s some photos inside the temple, which I think has some of the best temple architecture in Japan. The first is a picture of the whole inner sanctum, or naijin (内陣):

The Main Altar of Tsukiji Honganji

This is another view further to the left where the windows let the light in. The temple is actually pretty well lit when the windows are open, so the first picture is a bit misleading.

Ceiling at Tsukiji Honganji

And a closeup of the main altar itself, with Amida Buddha:

Tsukiji Honganji Main Altar 2

And a bit to the right is a (crooked) picture of the auxillary altar to Shinran, which is usually to the right in Shinshu temples. Our temple back in Seattle is the same:

Shinran Altar at Tsukiji Honganji

And even further to the right is a photo of the altar of Prince Shotoku, whom Shinran had been very devoted to, and is generally seen in Japan as the founding father of Buddhism there for his efforts to promote Buddhism, and a Buddhist constitution at the time:

Prince Shotoku altar at Tsukiji Honganji

The service was very moving. The main hymn in Jodo Shinshu, the Shoshinge, was chanted in an abridged style I’ve frequently heard in Japanese services, but isn’t used in the US temples much. The tune is the same as the used for the ancient Buddhist hymn, the Junirai. The Wasan hymns were recited, and I found myself getting choked up as it was done very well.

The presiding minister that day gave a short sermon to the children about the birth and life of the Buddha in Japanese (I could only understand some of it), and the significance of the day. Finally, the service was dismissed, and everyone poured back out to enjoy the festivities further. :)

This was arguably the most family-friendly and well organized Buddhist I’ve seen in a real long time, and “Baby” had a great time. She was dancing to the Taiko drums outside and being adored by old ladies nearby. ;)

Later we met my wife’s friends in the busy district of Shibuya in Tokyo at the famous crossing there outside the train station:

Shibuya on a sunny afternoon

Shibuya is never a quiet place. This is probably the heart of Tokyo, and you can see it’s crowded, bright and loud. We were surrounded by tourists and impeccably stylish young men and women. As a guy who loves his wife a lot, it’s still hard not to get a little giddy when you see so many good looking Japanese women in hot-pants and high-heels all in one place. Shibuya has a lot of eye-candy, in terms of people, store-fronts, food and so on. :)

Make no mistake it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed by the intensity and crowded space though. When I went there on a Friday night in 2005, I really felt claustrophobic, but this time we had a good time, and Baby had a great time at the Disney Store. Friends and relatives spoiled her real good there. :)

Here’s another shot of the Shibuya district as we made our way home:

Shibuya on a Sunday Afternoon

Both pictures were taken near Shibuya station, where we caught the train back home. Our little girl happily played with her new Disney princess fashions, and my wife and I were satisfied after a great Buddhist service, and a nice day in Tokyo. If you’re looking for a good thriving Buddhist community in Japan, visit Tsukiji Honganji, and if you’re looking for a hip place to hang out, go to Shibuya. :)

Namu Amida Butsu

P.S. The name of the restaraunt serving the delicious Indian at the Honganji was インド料理レストラン 「ブラカ」at 東京都港区麻布台 3-4-14, phone: 03-3583-0577. Definitely check them out. :-)

P.P.S. The second photo of Shibuya shows an advertisement for a huge “girl group” in Japan called AKB48, which is quite a hit these days even overseas. As one Asahi Shinbum article states, they’re an acquired taste like natto, but rather than catering to foreign tastes, they play to their strengths and are catching on in the West. Good for them. I’d write more, but I think I am getting too old for this kind of stuff. ;)

P.P.P.S. More Buddhist thoughts here.

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3 Comments on “A day in Tokyo: Tsukiji Honganji, Shibuya”

  1. FredInChina says:

    Thank you Phinneas T. Huffledink-Longbottom III aka Doug to take us inside this Buddhist temple in japan and make us share your day, feelings and emotions.
    I’ve just discovered your blog and don’t know much about Buddhist religion, but from your Bio, I am empowered to think I came at the right place to learn.
    I have subscribed & will be looking forward to your updates.

  2. johnl says:

    Wow, what a great day! It sounds like your trip is turning out to be a memorable one!

    I didn’t know about the Honganji event. The food alone would be enough to draw me there! Did they play the organ at the service? I am pretty sure this must be the only Buddhist temple in the world with a pipe organ.

    By the way, Shibuya is *one* of the centers of Tokyo! (I think Shinjuku and Ikebukuro serve more rail passengers every day.) The intersection in your photo was made famous in the movie Lost in Translation. Opinions of that movie cover a wide range, but I liked it a lot. How long ago was that? Hmmm…

  3. Doug says:

    Hi guys, apologies for the late reply:

    FredinChina: sorry for the late welcome but Welcome to the JLR!

    Johnl: yeah I didn’t know about it either despite the flyer hanging in the livin room of my wife’s house. Shows how clueless I was. :-p I guess there’s no tire center to Tokyo, just really big hubs.

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