16 January 2015

四天王寺 ♡ my view on Japanese religion

This is long overdue, but since I miss Japan so damn much right now, 
I try to keep this series from ending as long as humanly possible...

On our last day in Osaka, we visited the Buddhist temple Shitennō-Ji - 四天王寺,
that is located in the Tennōji area - 天王寺区.

Since Tennoji Station - 天王寺 was just two stations from our stop, we took the 15min walk to get to our destination.
But there are two other ways to get there: 

  • the Shitennoji-mae Yuhigaoka Station - 四天王寺前夕陽ヶ丘駅 on the Tanimachi Line, 5min walk from the Temple and 
  • the Ōsaka Abenobashi Station - 大阪阿部野橋駅 - a stop on the Minami-Osaka Line, another 15min to walk from there, too. 
Since the Temple of the Four Heavenly Gods - that's what Shitennoji means - is a really famous tourist feature, I'm pretty sure it's included in every city guide book of Osaka there is.

Another reason for Shitennoji's fame is the fact, that it was the first Buddhist temple to be built in Japan and is the oldest officially administered temple in the country.
Prince Shōtoku a regent in the Asuka period, who was known for his Buddhist faith, 
invited three carpenters from Baekje 
- one of the Kingdoms in Korea around this time -
 to construct the temple in 593.
There was quite some hustle and bustle when we arrived, since they prepared a festival. Unfortunately I forgot what it was about.
The temple complex is quite large... and without wikipedia I would be in loss of words, how to describe it and what all the pagodas and halls are for.
"The temple Prince Shōtoku built to honor them had four institutions, each to help the Japanese attain a higher level of civilization. This Shika-in (四箇院 Four Institutions) was centered on the seven-building garan (伽藍) (the complex inside the walls), and included a Kyōden-in (Institution of Religion and Education), a Hiden-in (Welfare Institution), a Ryōbyō-in (Hospital), and a Seiyaku-in (Pharmacy) to provide essential care to the people of Japan." [source: wikipedia]
Wandering through all sorts of temples and shrines during my stay in Japan, 
made me experience their religion in a very own, special way.
I was christened as a child, but basically didn't set a foot into a Church with any intention of being Christian after this. When traveling through European countries with a strong Christian presence, I always felt crushed by it.
Religion in Japan seemed so much lighter to me, it was as if I could finally breath again.

The two largest religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shintō
These two has long been living in a kind of symbiosis, sharing temples and Shrines. 
As I told in my last update about Nara - there are actually Shintō gods said to guard certain Buddhist places and their Buddhas.
A concept of religion like we have in the West didn't excist for a long time in Japan and was primarly introduced with a law in the Meji era, ordering that every mixed Shintō-Buddhist institution had to be sorted in to either Shintō or Buddhism. The law disappeared after World War II and since then the seperation is regressing again.
Maybe that is, what fascinates me the most and made me feel so welcomed and good, 
calm and no longer threatened - unlike big, dark gothic cathedrales make me feel - 
whenever I visited a shrine or temple in Japan.
From my impressions I feel like Japanese people are a lot more open and less strict with their believes... it's mainly because their approach is different.
It's hard to find the right words but when I stand in a Christian church, thinking about wether I can imagine myself praying to God there - I get so many visitors staring hatefully at me. as if I was tainting their saint places with my clumsy tries to approach the religion, that a couple of my friends grew up with.
In Japan, I actually prayed at a shrine once. We went to a calmer shrine where no tourists were 
walking around and I dared to do a small offering, I dared to clap my hands - to call the Kami's attention -
close my eyes and pray 
because in Japan, I wasn't threatened but welcomed.
I hope you enjoyed my input...
I felt the need to not only share some worth-knowing facts and how to do and get there about the places I visited but my own, actualy emotions, impressions and feelings. 
After all, this is something that personally shaped me more than I expected during this journey.

The next update will be a bit less serious and more fun and happy - I promise.


Are you religous? 
What are your impressions and thoughts about religion?
Tell me in a comment below.

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