|Temple #52: Taisanji (The Temple of
the Big Mountain)
Honzon: Juichimen Kannon (Avalokitesvara with eleven faces)
This is a remarkably beautiful
mountainside temple. Contrary to the fertility emphases of most
temples, this is a temple people come to to pray for the prevention
of childbirth. They leave needles as tokens of their prayers
(disgusting association). Conversely, other women can come
retrieve these needles as fertility talismans to get pregnant.
A sort of holy swap.
While I was here, I heard two amazing
things. One was the sound of a conch shell being blown repeatedly.
When I heard it inside the building next to me, I grabbed my camera,
hoping for a shot of a yamabushi. These mountain priests
are associated with blowing the conch. (Why mountain priests use a
sea shell is a mystery to me; but I have seen them at festivals attired
partially in animal skins, so I guess they use whatever
"natural" items come to hand.)
Anyway, I was disappointed. If
this guy was a yamabushi, he was out of uniform--jeans, a cotton
shirt, and moccasins. But he sounded great!
A while later, a group of about fifteen
young trainee monks (deshi) and their master showed up.
He took them inside the hondo, where he led them in a style of
chant known as shomyo. I have paid for tickets to hear this
in a concert setting in Tokyo; I have heard it done by one or two lone
priests in temples where I've stayed; but this was spine-tingling,
hearing so many voices in unison float out from an ancient wooden
One fly in the ointment: there is a
caretaker on the grounds who seems to have little regard for the
atmosphere of the place. Earlier, I had been sitting quietly in a
shelter, and he came over, sat down near me, and turned on a portable
radio--loudly. I moved away. Now, as I stood in front of the
main hall listening to the chant, he came by with a broom and a dust
pan--and his radio--and busied himself between me and the door of the
hall for a few minutes.
It was a test. Could I recognize
that what he was listening to on the radio was as pleasing to him as the
chant was to me? It was tough, but I managed to get through it
without throttling him.
This temple was founded in the 6th
century by a wealthy merchant who had been saved from drowning at sea;
he attributed this to Kannon. I couldn't quite figure this out
until I looked at a map: just over the top of the mountain behind this
temple is the sea!
One more thing of note: this temple has
two Nio gates (Shio?). The first is near the bottom of the
mountain. Beyond this about 500 meters one enters the actual
compound of the temple through another gate. I have shown this
second, upper gate in the Gallery.
Back down the hill about 2 K to...