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Published: March 21st 2014
The main building of Engyo-ji.
March 19, 2014
Himeji is famous for its castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, however the castle is currently undergoing renovation and is surrounded in a massive steel scaffold, which is itself impressive in a way. It reminded me of the last time I was in DC and the Washington Monument had scaffolding around it, making it look like somewhat futuristic. The outline of Himeji Castle could just be seen through the scaffold rising above the castle grounds, but it doesn’t quite have the same effect. It’s not quite nodokana.
However, having already been warned about the castle by the Polish man I met in Miyajima, my goal was to visit Shoshayama and the temple there. The bus ride takes just over a half an hour from the train station, and from there you can catch a cable car to the top of the mountain. Once there, you can visit the temple, Engyo-ji, which is recently well known for being a filming site in The Last Samurai.
Once inside, it’s a pleasant stroll along a forested mountain path to get to the various buildings in the temple,
The stilt-pillars of Maniden, similar in construction to Kiyomizu in Kyoto.
which are somewhat spread out compared to other temples. It was a warm day and good weather for a hike.
The first major structure you pass on the way in is a large, bronze bell. As I arrived, it looked like an elementary field trip was just finishing up. The students lined up single file and got to ring the gong two at a time, laughing and throwing their weight into rope that held the log used to ring it. It was quite cute.
The next building I visited was the hondo, which rises high above the mountain forest with a stilted structure like that at Kiyomizu in Kyoto. As I arrived, a monk was in the middle of a chant, and I listened to him from the balcony overlooking the forest, standing in the warm sunshine. I got a shuin here, too, as there was a small shop set up.
Further along, I stopped at a cluster of three huge buildings cornering an open square. I’m willing to bet that parts of the movie were shot here. Only one of the buildings was open, and I went in to see the little museum they had set
This was a great place to stand in the morning sun and listen to the chanting of the monks.
up upstairs. On the way in, there was another table for go-shuin, but the calligrapher was asleep, snoring loudly over the radio. I figured he hadn’t got a lot of visitors. So after I looked around upstairs and came back down to find him awake and staring off into the distance, I decided to give him some business.
He was an older man, but not too old, with a very defined face with a large nose and eyes that angled out a little. He would make a great subject for a classic woodblock print or painting. He talked loud and to-the-point, sort of like he snored. After receiving my book, he stamped it with a force! He moved quick and hit hard, but his calligraphy was beautiful, too, in his own eccentric style. Afterwards, the sheet he put between the folds to prevent bleeding was some newspaper advertisement (they are usually thin paper sheets) too large for the book. He gave me some quick information on the calligraphy afterwards, too. I’m glad that my book has his calligraphy along with the others. I like his style.
Later on, there was a hall that housed a statue of the
A Road in Engyo-ji
Lined with stone markers.
founder of the temple that had his bones inside. An x-ray image of the statue was displayed to show that there was something dense in a cavity in the head of the statue. I ran in with a nice older family there, too.
There were some other small buildings, each with some significance to the history of the temple complex, including a building that was structure there since the founding in c.a. 900 CE. I’m not sure if it’s the same wood, but it looked pretty old.
I ran into some deer along a mountain path, but they acted much more like wild deer than the deer at Miyajima and Nara. It was a male, female, and calf. I stayed still for some time and they continued down the path, grazing, slowly towards me, eyeing me every so often. When I crouched down, though, hoping to get a picture and hoping that they would be less intimidated and come closer, they bolted away.
As I was leaving the temple, there was a wall of small Jizo statutes. Jizo is known to be a protector of children among other things, but I was surprised to find little toys,
Stone engraving seems to be a prolific and ancient art.
like a Thomas the Tank Engine, left by some of the statues, which seemed to have number tags. It suddenly occurred to me that it might be a memorial for children, but I’m not sure.
On the way out, I rang the bronze bell, which was very satisfying. It’s pretty fun swinging the log back dropping it onto the bell. I spent a little more time on the mountain and then headed back down and back to Himeji.
I got back to Hiroshima before the sunset and was able to spend some time with Ellen since she gets done earlier on Wednesday. Tomorrow I’m making the trek to Gobo-shi, Wakayama-ken to visit Obachan there.
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