Beginner Buddhism Part 10: Temples in Japan

Hi all,

This is the 10th video in our series on Beginner Buddhism, and was the funnest to film. This was filmed while I was in Japan, thanks to the help of “John” from the blog Buddha and Tea. John is kind enough to always show me parts of Tokyo and Buddhist temples I don’t know about since he’s lived in Tokyo for 30 years and is an avid follower of Buddhism.

The video was taken at a small temple in the suburbs of Tokyo called Setagaya Kannon-ji (homepage here). This is a temple affiliated with the more famous Asakusa Temple in downtown Tokyo, also known as Sensoji.

Anyhow, the video was fun to film. We came to the temple around noontime when there was no one really around. Someone was using a leaf blower at this time, which you can hear, but this soon stopped and we could continue. The temple is slow, but lovely, and they kindly invited us for a Goma ceremony later in the afternoon. During lunchtime, we wandered to other nearby temples, and ate from a local restaurant that had really good bento.

As for the video itself, the temple was nice because it was small, but had lots of interesting elements that made the film go well. John has a lot of experience with esoteric Buddhism, or mikkyō (密教), which I don’t have, so he was able to fill in details and such that I didn’t have.

The purpose of this film was to help people who visit Japan to see what typical Buddhist temples are like, and how to do basic things like lighting incense, washing hands, and other customs. Hopefully people will find it useful.


About Doug 陀愚

A Buddhist, Father and Japanophile / Koreaphile.
This entry was posted in Buddhism, Japan, Religion, Tendai, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Beginner Buddhism Part 10: Temples in Japan

  1. Tatsuo says:

    Great video, thank you Doug! :) I guess for those who don’t know the mantras of the deities and who don’t practice esoteric Buddhism, it would also be ok to recite “namu kanzeon bosatsu” (or the name of the particular deity). And thank you for including the statue of Monju Bosatsu – I’ve never seen this iconographic form with a Sutra scroll in the right hand and a (medicine?) jar in the other. Do you know more about that form? One thing that struck me was the statue of the deity at the end of the video. I’d have identified it as Ebisu and not Daikokuten. Is there a local tradition to depict Daikokuten together with a fish instead of rice sacks and a hammer? To which school of Buddhism does the temple belong to?

  2. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Hi Tatsuo,

    I think you’re right, that was probably Ebisu not Daikokuten. I will need to add a note somewhere.

    Yeah for non-esoteric situations I would have preferred using the deities name or “Namu something” but this temple listed only mantras and I was just following along. I wish I had thought of that. Fortunately the other videos do explain this more clearly I hope (doing a home service, etc).

    This temple is a branch temple of the Asakusa temple which was formerly Tendai but now independent. So it’s Tendai-based but independent I guess.

    Great comments!

  3. Doug 陀愚 says:

    P.S. I don’t know much about the Monju statue. It didn’t seem to have a placard or anything but was clearly stated as Monju.

  4. johnl says:

    I certainly had a part in the misidentification of Ebisu–I was wondering about the fish and lack of hammer, but I was thinking about lots of other stuff at the same time. As for the sect of the temple, it is 聖観音宗. I have heard it pronounced both ‘sei kannon shuu’ and ‘sho kannon shuu.’ Some time shortly after WWII, Asakusa Sensoji became independent of Tendai, establishing the Sei Kannon Shu. Most of the affiliated temples are in the Asakusa and Ueno area. I think Setagaya Kannon Ji was founded around this time. There seem to be connections to Sensoji, but neither temple has any visible notice about this affiliation. Kannon Ji’s collection of statues is very interesting. The Sho Kannon gohonzon looks very venerable to me. The eight arahat statues are also intriguing, and the Fudo with a complete set of eight young attendants is certainly a point of pride–the only thing at the temple that they don’t allow to be photographed. I also find the Monju statue very impressive, although I don’t know about the medicine jar or other iconography. Perhaps the medicine jar is a hoju? Anyway, it is an impressive collection in a recently founded temple–maybe there is an interesting story there.

  5. Doug 陀愚 says:

    Ha ha ha, you and me both. I was wondering about the lack of hammer too. I see so many temples with Daikokuten, that I just got into the habit of thinking it was him, not Ebisu.

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