Quiet tea, talky tea

Butsuma--a space for the Buddha. Chanoma--a space where people drink tea, eat, chat.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fukagawa Fudo--memorable temples

The old main hall of the temple is still the main entrance

Fukagawa Fudodo is not an independent temple; it belongs to Naritasan Shinshoji, which is maybe 60 kilometers away, near Narita airport.  (By the way, if you have a long layover at Narita airport, a visit to Naritasan Shinshoji might be just the thing.)  The main deity of Shinshoji is Fudo Myo O, the unmoving brilliant king.  One time, the temple sent a statue of Fudo to Edo (now known as Tokyo), and it attracted lots of followers there as well.  Finally, in 1881, the Fudodo or Hall of Fudo was constructed in Fukagawa, Tokyo.  The hall burned twice--in the great earthquake of 1923 and again in WWII.  However, the statue was moved to safety.  The old main hall, rebuilt sometime after the war, is a very traditional hand-built temple with a tatami floor.  The goma fire ceremonies at the Fudodo attracted many worshippers.  The first time I visited this temple, there was a goma ceremony under way, with everyone sitting on the tatami floor.  I just peeked inside, I was too shy to go in.  However, just the sounds of the chanting and the large taiko drum were impressive, even from outside.  At that time, a new main hall was under construction.  It was finished a few years ago, adding much room and something like 'stadium seating' to the space where the goma ceremony is held.

The new main hall is the rectangular building to the left
  The original Fudo statue is enshrined in the new space, while the old main hall was preserved, with the addition of a new, large-scale statue of Fudo.  You can still admire the traditional carpentry of the old main hall--decades worth of smoke and soot have been removed, although the texture of the wood has been highlighted where the soot has penetrated.  The new giant statue is also impressive.  The new main hall is to the left of the old one.  From an architectural standpoint, the new main hall is merely a rectangular building, nothing temple-ish about the structure on the outside.  What is remarkable is that the exterior is covered with a kind of screen made of Sanskrit letters, or bonji.  The letters spell out the mantra of Fudo, although they look like some complicated design to the unenlightened viewer.
These Sanskrit letters spell the mantra of Fudo Myo O, which is chanted during the fire ceremony
Traditional carpentry was used on this mid-20th century rebuild of the old main hall
You are asked to remove footwear before entering, and to carry them with you in a plastic bag.  The interior is now carpeted (although the old main hall still has tatami).  The goma ceremonial space is rather lofty, with the famous statue of Fudo (which is not really very big) high up on the wall.  There are elaborate canopies of gold hanging decorations--these are among the traditional features of the otherwise very modernistic hall.  The new hall is kept rather dark and dramatic--this may be to recreate the atmosphere of old ceremonial halls, which tend to be black with smoke.  As you approach the new ceremonial space, you discover four or five spacious tiers of benches.  There is also a tatami area just in front of the altar area, which could be used by those who want to sit on the floor Japanese style.  Actually, those tatamis are black, contributing to the brooding darkness.  There are four or five ceremonies every day, so you don't have to worry too much about the timing.  You can inscribe special prayer sticks to be burned in the ceremony, although I never have.  The ceremony starts with a clangorous large bell, calling the congregants.  Then, a small handbell is rung as the chief priest and assistants enter in procession.  Some of the assistants are blowing shell trumpets as they walk.  Once the chief priest is seated in front of the altar, there are some preliminary prayers and dedications (these can also be requested by anyone).  Then, the four huge taiko drums are sounded for the start of the fire ceremony.  These drums actually cause the floor to vibrate.  The priest does all his esoteric moves as the fire is built up.  A lay assistant brings sacred tablets to be purified by passing them above the flames.  (These tablets are also available on request--they are not burned, so I suppose you take them home.)  The drums sound along with the rhythm of the sutra chanting.  At a certain point, the lay assistant invites the congregants to bring personal objects like handbags to be passed above the flames.  Remarkably, even with all the chanting and ritual, the ceremony ends after about 30 minutes, as the last embers die away on the altar.  If you stick around, you might see the monks come in with vacuum cleaners and brooms to prepare for the next ceremony.  
A Shinto shrine to Inari-sama is on the temple grounds

The fox is the tutelary animal of Inari-sama

There is still much to see here after the ceremony.  There is a 'corridor of prayer' that runs under the main altar, so you can feel the power of the Fudo image above you.  The passage is lined with prayer beads and maybe some 1000s of Fudo statues.  In the next building, also a new construction, there are many more altars and statues of Fudo and other deities.  If you go up to the fourth floor, you can admire a huge ceiling painting of Dai Nichi Nyorai, the Cosmic Buddha.  Some of these areas are nearly empty much of the time, and it should be possible to find a quiet spot for a few minutes of meditation seated on the tatami.  Outside, there is a 'Shinto' shrine dedicated to Inari.  There is also a shrine to the dragon gods, spouting water, where you can float a written prayer in the water.  There is also a spot where you can have your car blessed for protection against accidents--this seems to be a specialty of certain Shingon temples.  There are pavilions where you can buy amulets and sutra books and other kinds of souvenirs.  There is a desk for temple stamp inscriptions, and a special altar to return amulets and such that are worn out.  The temple has one or two kinds of incense on sale, but there is also a Buddhist goods shop in front of the temple that has a reasonable selection of incense.  
Shrine of the Dragon God

Ringing the bell symbolizes realization of your wish
Fukagawa Fudo is located in the part of Tokyo called Shitamachi, or downtown, a flat area, partly land reclaimed from Tokyo Bay.  It was the center of middle-class culture in the old days--there is still a geisha district here.  So there are many traditional shops selling sweets, crackers and other snacks.  There is a large modern art museum, a museum of traditional culture, a famous samurai garden (Kiyosumi Koen) and other temples, so a visitor could easily spend half a day or more in this area. As special as these cultural attractions are, I am sure the locals are very appreciative of having the Fudoson in their neighborhood.