Buddhist Temple and Shinto Goddess

A paved way in the front, pond with a red bridge in the middle, high trees in the background

Rain kind of put a damper on our visit to 朝熊山 (Asamayama) this afternoon (Thursday, February 27), but I nonetheless have many interesting things to write about, mainly related to the connection between Shinto and Buddhism in Japan. The rain had one advantage, though: It made everything look rather mysterious. 😉

A small temple, painted red, in the rain

The building above is a part of 金剛証寺 (Kongoushouji temple), which sits on top of the mountain. The people from Kogakkan University had somehow arranged the opportunity for us to enter the main temple hall, which visitors usually can only see through lattice windows, and see the artifacts in there up close. Surprisingly (well, the topic already came up in the lecture this morning), there are statues of Amaterasu-omikami on the main altar and a shrine dedicated to her directly behind it. Isn’t Amaterasu-omikami the Shinto sun goddess worshiped at Naiku? Why would she be in the center of worship at a Buddhist temple?

Wooden statue of a woman in some kind of kimono, holding a golden staff and some sort of fruit
Statue of 天照大神 (Amaterasu-omikami) in the 金剛証寺 (Kongoushouji) temple museum

As it turns out, Shinto and Buddhism quickly started to mix as Buddhism became established in Japan in the 6th century A.D. You can find torii (the traditional Shinto shrine gates) at temples, even Shinto shrines on Buddhist temple grounds, and until the Meiji era there was a widespread belief that kami (Shinto deities) were manifestations of Buddhist deities specifically for Japan (本地垂迹/”Honji Suijaku“, thanks to @BrowncoatPony for the hint!). Buddhist influences on Shinto existed as well, but much of that was forcefully removed in the Meiji era, when Shinto became the state religion of Japan. This especially affected Ise as the home of the highest Shinto sanctuary, leading to closing of many temples in the area.

Although Shinto traditionally avoided dealing with death and burials were usually Buddhist ceremonies, the Meiji government even introduced Shinto burial rites to avoid depending on Buddhism. Ironically, today burials in this style are often conducted at Buddhist temples…

Road leading up to an area filled with square wooden poles with names written on them

The wooden poles are 卒塔婆 (sotouba), which are put up for the deceased to pray for a favorable reincarnation, as the professor put it in this morning’s lecture. Relatives or friends commonly place small offerings (we saw quite a few hats and drinks) at the 卒塔婆. They also vary in size depending on what one is willing to pay when having one placed, with some more than seven meters high.

To close this post, see this photo of the temple pond in the rain.

A paved way in the front, pond with a red bridge in the middle, high trees in the background

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