Day 39 – Kumamoto Temples, The Story Of Chūjō-Hime, The Japanese Cinderella, And Yamaga Onsen, The Kyushu 108 Temple Pilgrimage, Japan

Day 39 – Kumamoto Temples, The Story Of Chūjō-Hime, The Japanese Cinderella, And Yamaga Onsen, The Kyushu 108 Temple Pilgrimage, Japan

Breakfast in our Kumamoto hotel was in an intimate room with amazing views of the castle.
For a city hotel, I think we did well, to stay by the castle and not by the Kumamoto train station.
Even though we are almost four kilometers away from the station, it is easy to use the electric trams or buses if we want to use them at the end of each day.

For breakfast, I ate an array of vegetables prepared in different ways.
The Kumamoto speciality of mustard filled lotus root (Karashi Renkon) was noteworthy, as it is a popular regional dish.
A mixture of miso and Japanese karashi (hot yellow mustard) is stuffed into the seed holes of the lotus root.
Then it is coated in turmeric and a batter of flour, then deep-fried until a crispy crust forms.
They also served really big pickled plums (Umebushi), which are homemade and not sold in stores.

We walked to temple #56, which was only a few kilometers from our hotel.

Temple #56, Kongoji Temple, was founded by Saito Mataemon in 1596.
At first, it was located at the back of the Demon gate of Kumamoto Castle.
In 1892, it was moved to its current location.
However, it was burned down in the war of the Showa era (the Second World War), and the new modern main hall was built in 1983.

The temple was nicknamed the “Princess Temple” in the old days (Chujo-hime).
It is said that the original founder, Mataemon, had a spiritual revelation of Chujo-hime, the princess who became a nun and priestess at the Taima-Dera Temple in Nara.

Chūjō Hime, who lived in the 700’s, was the daughter of an imperial minister of the Fujiwara clan, and thus she was a royal princess.

She has since become a folk heroine and the subject of numerous folktales calling her the Japanese Cinderella.

It is said that her childless parents had appealed to the goddess Kannon and were granted a daughter, in exchange for the life of one of the parents.
When Chūjō-hime was three years old, her mother died.
Her father remarried and her stepmother was wicked towards her.

Some stories say that the stepmother ordered her taken into the mountains and abandoned there to die.

In other stories she remained at home, sitting all day copying the Buddhist Heart Sutras for her mother’s salvation, and that this devotion earned her the enmity of her stepmother.

In either case, she was rescued by the Buddhist nuns of Taima-Dera and became a nun herself.
As a nun, she lived an austere and meditative life, and was known as a “living Buddha.”

She is credited with inventing the art of embroidery. She was the one who weaved the Lotus Thread Taima Mandala.

The Taima Mandala depicts the cosmography of Pure Land Paradise with the Buddha Amitabha (Japanese: Amida) in the center.
The original copy, which was made around 763 AD, is currently kept at Taima-Dera temple in Nara.
It has deteriorated through the years, but many copies of it have been created since.

It is said that Chūjō-hime managed this weaving miracle in a single night, with the help of an apparition of Amida Buddha, who appeared in the night.

The temple was under construction when we arrived, but at least it hadn’t moved to another location, like the temple we visited yesterday.
We walked under the staging and a young friendly woman stamped our book and scroll while we chanted.

She gave us fresh clementines and candy and by my request, telephoned temple #55 to make sure that someone would be there to stamp our book, before we made our way there.

The temporary main hall of Temple #55 is located now at the foot of a mountain near Gakurinji Temple, in a scenic neighborhood.
But the way there was just an urban sprawl of commerce and car dealerships.

The temporary temple is very modern with face-recognition doors leading to the main hall.
The nice young priest let us in and stamped our book and scroll.

The description of temple #55 below, is that of the old temple in the city, not of the temporary hall we visited today.

Temple #55 Saieizan Honzoin was originally located on Mt. Aso.
Mt. Aso was originally a mountain of the Tendai sect of Buddhism.

During the anti-Buddhist movement in the Meiji era, the Aso temples were devastated.
The Temples at the foot of the mountain and on the top of the mountain, and all the 37 temples along the slopes of Mount Aso, were abolished.

Later, one of those 37 temples moved to Kumamoto City and converted to the Shingon sect, and became Honzoin temple.
It moved to its current location in 1927.
The principal image is a rare north-facing Fudo Myoo.
The statue of Kobo Daishi, which we couldn’t see, was made by the famous puppeteer Kamehachi Yasumoto.

Because we finished early, we thought to go to temple #100 in the onsen town of Yamaga.
Initially, I thought to dedicate a whole day to going there, because there are other interesting things to do and see in Yamaga.

Since we have already walked up to just north of Yamaga Onsen when we stayed in Kurume, we now took the bus to Yamaga.

The day was very hot and sunny and when we got there, we strolled around the town.
The current hot springs Onsen was built 400 years ago, and I hoped that we would have the time by the end of the day to take a soak there.

Along the way to our temple, we stopped at the Yamaga lantern museum.
The making of paper lanterns is a special craft that is the pride of Yamaga.
The intricate work is simply awe inspiring.
The paper is made from mulberry bark by hand, and then rolled and cut and painted to create beautiful three-dimensional lanterns, some of which are even worn as headgear.
They also had exact recreations of famous temples and shrines from around Japan, all made of paper that took thousands of hours to complete.

From the lantern museum, it is just a short walk up the street to temple #100.
It is an old temple with a beautiful circular stone gate.
Temple #100, Gokokusan Kongojoji, was founded at the request of Kobo Daishi in 825.

The family that runs Gochokugan-ji Temple today is the 34th generation of the original family that restored the temple.
It has been used as a prayer temple for many believers asking for healing from diseases.

The temple grounds have many old trees, a few buildings and lots of shoes indicating that a few monks live here.
We got stamps but didn’t enter the main hall because a private puja was going on inside.
We chanted to the stone Buddhas in the garden instead.

We had a very tasty lunch in a popular restaurant serving pizza for over twenty years.
We saw that there were quite a few other tourists walking around Yamaga.

Beside the lantern museum, Yamaga is well known for its old and beautifully restored theatre hall, called Yachiyoza.

From the early 20th century, Yachiyoza has served as a center of cultural activity.
Its heyday was around the 1920s to the 1930s and many actors and performers have graced its stage.
From around the mid 1960s, Yachiyoza and theaters in general, ceased to aftract big audiences.
This was due to the changes in peoples’ lifestyles and the popularity of TV in each home.
The theater was closed in the late 1970s.

We loved the old theater and walked under the revolving wooden stage that used to rotate by being pushed by hand by a few men.
There were still some of the backdrops painted on panels of wood stored backstage.

You had to admire the ceiling, full of hand painted advertisements for old plays.
The seating was on Tatami (woven rice grass) seating areas, divided by wood to small cubicles, each seating about 8 people.

We couldn’t believe that eight people could fit in each cubicle, but the wonderfully friendly guides told us:
“In the past, we Japanese people were very small and short and could fit comfortably.”
As if to demonstrate their point, they both got into the cubicle and crouched down, to show us that there was plenty of room for six more people.

As we put on our shoes and got ready to leave, they admired my pilgrimage pants.
I had only brought two pairs of yoga pants with me on this pilgrimage, so I wear an alternate pair of pants every day.
I got so tired of my boring outfit, that when we were in a small town, I found in a small fabric store a piece of fabric with faces of samurai and their horses printed on it.

I bought the piece of fabric and cut it in half, then I spent an evening relaxing by sewing it to the bottom of my boring pants to add some color to my look.
I also made a matching hair bandana to wear in the evenings when my hair is wet.

The alterations made me feel a bit better about my look, and now they were admiring my alterations as if I were wearing cool designer pants.

Yamaga Onsen hot springs bathhouse was discovered in the early Heian period (around 934).
Yamaga has been mentioned in writings as a famous hot spring area for more than a thousand years.

In the Edo period, Lord Uno Chikaharu, said that when he was hunting deer in Yamaga in 1157, he saw an injured deer taking a bath in the hot springs.

Yamaga Onsen always had an abundant amount of hot water, but in the year 1473, the hot spring suddenly dried up.
At this time, the 8th head priest of Kongojoji, (our temple #100), held a big prayer for the restoration of the hot springs.

In the middle of the night on December 20th of the same year, the water returned and was even hotter than ever before.
Since then, the temple has been revered as a great benefactor of the hot spring revival, and a hot spring festival is celebrated every year on December 20th, the day the hot springs were revived.

The rich amount of hot spring water and the smooth quality of the hot spring waters have been compared to the soft skin of a young maiden.
The water is so loved by the local people that they say that the sensation after bathing is like bathing in a soft light.

The bathhouse was a place where the feudal lord took his bath in privacy, while there was a mixed gender bathing area for ordinary people.

In 1870, two local poets and pioneers living in Yamaga were distressed by the small and dilapidated bathhouses in the town that were first built 400 years ago.
They invested their personal funds to rebuild Yamaga onsen bathhouse.

The governor of the domain, Lord Morihisa Hosokawa, allowed them to cut wood and stone from their property, and also gave them the land for a teahouse and other facilities free of charge.

The opening ceremony was held on November 1898.
At that time, bathing was free of charge.

In 1897, major renovations were carried out by inviting Mr. Matahachiro Sakamoto, the master builder who built Dogo Onsen in Shikoku, to make the renovations, thus Yamaga Onsen got a great reputation.

The bathtub was renovated in 1957.
Because of a large fire that occurred in August 1971, 49 buildings were completely burnt down and 26 buildings were partially burnt down on the Onsen street.

It was getting late in the evening and we still needed to return to our hotel in Kumamoto, so sadly we didn’t take a soak in the hot springs.
I also heard that they don’t provide shampoo, soap or hair conditioner nor towels, and we didn’t bring anything with us.

We returned to Kumamoto and went to look for something to eat for dinner.
The city is full of eateries, although Kumamoto is known for its horse meat, so if you are not interested in eating horse meat, please check the menus carefully as it is served raw in sushi restaurants and in many other places.

We ended up eating in the Taiwanese restaurant Din Tai Fung inside the Tsuruya department store, which had a spicy cucumber salad and very fluffy fried rice dishes.

With love and blessings,

Stats: 15,463 steps
Today’s walk: 11 km
Kilometers walked to date: 648
Temples visited:
Temple #56 Mt. Bairen Kongoji Temple in Kumamoto
Temple #55 Saieizan Honzoin in Kumamoto
Temple #100 Gokokusan Kongojoji in Yamaga

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: