We arrived early at the historic Higashiyama district in Eastern Kyōto by bus and walked on a narrow uphill paved road toward Kiyomizu-dera, a Kita-Hosso- Shu sect temple. All the usual tourist trappings were lined up on this street, Chawan Zaka. It included souvenirs and pottery shops, quaint restaurants, snack food outlets, prayer incenses and ice cream shops. This morning, there were no children, with colourful backpacks and uniform hats, on school trips. However, the streets had a more ascetic and traditional feel – women in bright coloured kimono and men in the dark plain dresses. The cool cloudy weather added an appeal especially around the mountains. On the horizon, a towering pagoda leaped into the sky. The slow walk is a great introduction to this temple.
Kiyomizu-dera, “the temple of clear water”, half way up Ottowa Mountain, is a historic Kita-Hoso sect temple established by Enchin in 778. It was named after Otowa Waterfall, where spring water from the mountain has been falling since its foundation. A series of concrete steps led uphill towards the entrance, a vermillion Niōmon, “deva gate”. Two deva (god) guard the entrance. Beyond that, a three- storied pagoda, Sanjunoto, rose above the ground. Numerous buildings occupied this large temple complex. The beautiful and elegant kimono clad girls and women and the men with kimono top and flared skirt-like “hakama” added a wonderful array of colours and atmosphere in a rather cloudy day. School girls in navy blue skirts and knee high socks with light daypacks paused at the entrance. Another flight of steps through the Niōmon gate brought us deeper into the complex. Beside a sub- temple, “Ema”, wooden prayer plaques, hung on a wooden frames. Colourful pictures and letters gave some comforting words. Three girls read some “Ema” with delight.
From here we entered the “Hondo”, Main Hall, a national treasure. It was amazing to see the imposing veranda or stage made of cypress, “hinoki” boards literally suspended above the dense green vegetation. 12m high “keyaki”, Japanese Zelkova pillars supported the structure without the use of a single nail! Wooden braces run through these gigantic support pillars. It is a very impressive construction indeed with distant views of Kyōto City and the surrounding mountains. In the south, the orange three storied Koyasu Pagoda emerged out of the forest floor. The smell of burning incense perforated through the thick still air. A few worshippers gathered round a large bowl and placed incense in prayer. Inside the hall is an Eleven- faced and one- thousand- armed Bodhisattva of Compassion.
A lantern hung above the “Hondo” entrance provided a little illumination to the low lit hall. A steady procession of people flowed through the inner sanctuary with every step measured. Murmurs of prayers could sometimes be heard intermixed with shuffling of footwear on the wooden floor boards. Behind the hall is the Jinshu Shrine, dedicated to the deity of love and match-making, Okuninushi. Through a flight of steps under a grey stone torii, surrounded by greenery, we reached the shrine. It was crowded mainly with young girls. A souvenir shop was doing a brisk trade. Items included “ema”, wooden plaques written with inspirational words, “omikiji”, fortunes written on strips of paper, totems in colourful pouches – “for conception:1000 yen; for easy delivery, for against disaster, safety travel : 500yen”. Opposite, the shrine, individuals with eyes shut, paced themselves, some with encouragements and some with whispers, between two stones 18 meters apart. This is said to bring luck in finding love. It wasn’t a ritual but carried out with fun and good spirits. A thick straw rope, “shimenawa”, hung on the stones. A statue of the god and his messenger was sited at the entrance
In another corner was a Nade-Daikoku-San, written on a board with the words – “Fulfilment of various wishes. If you pat the bronze statue, your prayers will be answered”. The big bellied statue with a sack on his back is a bearer of good fortune. I rubbed his shinny belly too. There is never too much luck!