Yamadera Japan- A magnificent ancient Buddhist Temple Complex and a bit about the poet Basho
We woke up this morning in Tendo City Japan.
We are staying in a lovely Onsen Guesthouse Ryokan named Azumaso.
Our room has a beautiful open air Japanese design, and a large glass wall that opens to a small zen garden.
We only reserved a smaller room, but without asking they upgraded us to their best room.
Breakfast and dinner are served in our room, and they are lavish feasts both to the eyes and to the taste buds.
The attendant brings in dozens of small and wonderfully arrayed dishes, using local and fresh ingredients.
After we are done feasting, we dial 9 to let them know that we are done with our dinner.
Then the dishes are cleared and the large low table is pushed to the side, and another attendant comes in to make our very comfortable futon beds.
This morning breakfast looked like a variety of small colorful jewels, each bursting with flavors.
It was a sunny and bright day, and we decided to climb the holy mountain temple complex of Yamadera.
The Yamadera Buddhist Temple complex was built on top of a steep cliff.
Yama-dera actually means “Mountain Temple.”
The temple is also known by the name of “Risshaku-ji” and it was built in the year 860 AD by the priest Ennin, who is better known in Japan as Jikaku Daishi.
With the backdrop of Mount Hōshū-Yama, the Yamadera mountain is dotted with forty temple buildings and gates, scattered in the midst of an ancient forest full of huge trees and beautiful rock formations.
The steep mountain faces the village of Yamadera with its wide rocky river bed that runs through it.
The train tracks snake alongside the river and run at the foothills of many mountains.
The area is so green and beautiful…
We disembarked the small local train from Tendo City, and walked across a wide bridge to the entrance of the temple
Many stone steps climbed among the tall Cedars and Cryptomeria trees.
Along the way you will notice many stone lanterns and sculptures of Amida Buddha, the blessed protector of all humankind.
People come to climb the many steps of Yamadera Risshaku-ji temple, to offer blessings and to pray for their sick or departed children.
They pray for a safe reincarnation of their children’s souls and hope to find inner peace, after they have lost their young children to disease and death.
The path all the way to the top of the temple complex, is peppered with large wooden sticks brought over by a grieving pilgrim parent, and each cedar stick represent a child that died.
Each stick has a wheel at its top, symbolizing the circular nature of birth, life in a body, death and reincarnation.
On each Cedar stick, is written the name of the departed child.
I must have seen thousands of them… And many more were stored at the temple on the very top, since they clear the sticks placed by the families, every week or month, to make room for more…
The climb seemed strenuous to many people who huffed and puffed climbing the many stone steps, especially since it was a hot day…
But I did not feel any exertion…l was awed by the beauty and majesty of this place…
We did not try the Konyaku balls dipped in soy sauce and grilled on a stick, that were offered for sale as a snack to the climbers.
We had tried them back in our guesthouse, and it was OK but definitely not great or addictive…
Instead we stopped for a Macha ice cream, which is a green tea powder ice cream, which helped to cool us off, but otherwise I felt no fatigue, only wonder and awe at this beautiful forest and ornate temples.
This temple complex is so much more than a place to offer blessings, to ask for miraculous healing and fulfillment of prayers…..
It is also more than a holy place to which people make a pilgrimage to find respite from pain and grieving….. it is truly a stunning place in which Nature in all of its glory, meets with human history, with Spirituality, with great human creativity and craftsmanship.
Every stone… Every piece of wood and every roof tile, had to be carried up this steep mountain to be placed so artfully there….
There were majestic gates carved with lions and elephants…. Nio Guardians stood fiercely at the Nio-mon gate, guarding the entrance and the exit of this sacred site.
In one of the main halls, we got our Spiritual pilgrimage passport hand stamped by a monk who drew with a wide ink brush, beautiful characters, stamping the name of the Temple in our cherished pilgrimage passport.
Behind the monk, inside a small hall safely guarded by glass, was a flame that had burnt continually since the temple was first built in the 800’s.
This flame is meant to represent the Eternal Flame of Life, which is NOT subject to the human illusion of birth and death…. But is EVERLASTING…. As is our TRUE NATURE…
We cannot really die…. Except in our dreams…
We also cannot really be sick…. Except in human dreams born of misperception of the Truth…and a belief that bodies, are like a machine that ages, become frail and is subject to being broken, instead of being a spiritual energy joy body, that is ever capable of renewal.
But despite my lack of belief in the reality of sickness and death, I said a few prayers and paid a few dollars to receive some blessings for a young girl.
That very morning, I got a plea for help in an email from her Aunt.
And since this is a mountain to which people come to ask for miracles and blessings for sick or departed children, I said a few prayers for Sara, the little girl whom I have never met.
As we neared the top of the mountain, the views got more dramatic, and some of the Japanese maple trees, had already changed colors to autumn reds and oranges.
At their foot, grew beautiful blue Hydrangea flowers, clumped together in large Pompons of colors and grace…
The temple buildings glowed in the sun, with their slightly curved roofs….. and moss grew on the stone guardians representing protection of the spirit world….
Early on our climb, we came upon a shrine with many toys that were brought there by grieving parents of lost children.
A man and his wife stopped by us, and he asked me if I spoke English.
I said that I do…
He told me that this shrine represents a Japanese myth about Deitsu Eba (also called Detsu Ebba, or Uba-Do)
The man cleaned the sweat from his face, and wiped the steam of the day from his eye glasses and said:
“Between Heaven and Hell, there is a river flowing.
Detsu Aba is an old woman who sits at the edge of the river, and grabs the clothes off the people who walk down the river…”
I asked him WHY does she do it?….
He said he does not know…
I wondered out loud if the clothes represented the worldly cloaks… The body…. The personal identification… The ego…..And the man along with his wife nodded their heads in agreement…
At the top of the climb, there is an observation spot, with magnificent views of the valley below.
Yamadera is where the well-known haiku poet Matsuo Bashō wrote some of his haiku poetry in 1689.
A memorial museum,dedicated to Basho, was erected on a green hill across the river from the Temple complex.
Bashō was born in 1644 and was called Matsuo Kinsaku.
His father was a low-ranking samurai.
At an early age, Bashō became a servant of Tōdō Yoshitada, and the master and servant shared a love for “Haikai No Renga,” which was a form of cooperative poetry composition.
The sequences were opened with a verse in a 5-7-5 syllable format. (totaling 17)
This verse was named a “Hokku,” which would later be renamed Haiku.
Basho wrote many of his Haiku Poems about nature.
I am sitting now back in our lovely room in our guesthouse, having soaked in the hot springs and scrubbed all the sweat of the day off my skin and hair.
We finished a lovely meal and it is getting late in the evening…. I will end with a few of Basho’s Haikus:
“The temple bell stops
But the sound keeps coming
Out of the flowers.”
“All the more I wish to see
In those blossoms at dawn
The face of a god.”
“Don’t imitate me
We are not two halves
Of a muskmelon.”
“Wake up butterfly,
It’s late, we have miles
To go together.”
“The village is so old
There’s not a single house
Without a persimmon tree.”