The following interviews were held in August and September 2017
With a gentle countenance and lips touched in a shade of red, Shakudo-ji Temple’s eleven-faced Kannon possesses a feminine charm. For a long while it was a hibutsu, an invaluable Buddhist statue not usually shown to the public, but after it was described in the Yasushi Inoue novel Stars and Festivals, which was first published in 1975, the image became known all over Japan. Subsequently, visitors started increasing and it is said that in order to protect the temple which lacked a priest, the people in the community took turns stationing themselves there. On this particular day, we spoke with Mr.Nakamura and Mr.Otani, whose turn it was to look after the temple.
Mr.Otani(left) and Mr.Nakamura(right)
How do you determine whose turn it is for each day?
Mr.Nakamura: In this community there are 40 homes, but excluding those that are too elderly, there are 30 homes remaining which all take turns looking after the temple. Two homes look after it every day so each home will have their turn twice each month. We have time off on Mondays and in January and February during the snow season.
It seem that the novel Stars and Festivals
was what started this system of taking turns, right?
Mr.Nakamura: Well, we hardly had any visitors before then, and it was a hibutsu where the zushi (miniature shrine) would only be opened three times a year. Those times were the Nehan-e (memorial service for the anniversary of Buddha’s Nirvana) in March, the flower festival in May, and Ohigan (equinoctial week when Buddhist services are held) in September. I remember how when I was a child, my grandmother would take me to get Nehan-dango (sweet dumplings), or drink amacha (hydrangea tea) during the flower estival.The grandmothers held a deep belief in Kannon.
Mr.Otani: Not only was the zushi closed, the doors to the temple were not open as well.
Mr.Nakamura: The door was always closed, but you could peer in through a small opening. You’d see the Nio-san, (a Deva King who is a guardian god of Buddhism) appearing in the midst of the darkness.
I remember thinking as a kid that it was kind of a scary place.
The standing images of Jikokuten and Tamonten guard each side of Kannon
(Nationally designated Important Cultural Assets)
Mr.Nakamura: This system of taking turns began right around our parent’s generation, and at the time Mr.Otani’s father and my mother always had their turn together, so Mr.Otani and I took over after them. When it was my turn in the winter before I retired from my job, I would go to work after clearing away the snow at 5 in the morning.
It must be hard for all of you to volunteer twice a month.
Mr.Nakamura: It’s not like we just started this recently; we’ve continued to do this generation after generation for a while now so it comes naturally. I guess it really comes down to being religious. There is another temple that serves as our family temple, but when we have some wish or request we come here.
Mr.Otani: Originally this area was an area of the Jodo Shinshu Sect of Buddhism, but Shakudo-ji Temple belongs to the Shingon Sect. We really love this area regardless of denomination. I think we’re able to do this sort of thing since all of the people in the village are very religious.
Do visitors come from all over the country?
Mr.Nakamura: They come from Hokkaido up north and all the way from Okinawa down south. It is also famous as the“Kosazuke Kannon (a Kannon which enables conception after temple visit, prayer, etc.),” so grandfathers and grandmothers from far away come and visit to give thanks, saying that young people were able to conceive a child after visiting the temple.
For those that come to visit, they come into the temple, and after they sit down on the chairs we have them open the zushi (miniature shrine).
The creaking sound must be nice as well.
Mr.Nakamura: Indeed,I think that the statue being enclosed inside a zushi gives a different impression than a storage room. There’s no other place where you can worship this close.
Standing image of the Eleven-faced Kannon (Mid-Heian period/
Nationally designated Important Cultural Asset/made of Japanese zelkova wood)
Mr.Otani: It really makes us happy to see people leave pleased and hear them say that they want to come again.
The temple’s ambience amidst the beautiful
nature is also wonderful.
Mr.Nakamura: During the late spring the temple takes on a light green hue from the new leaves outside, while summer is green, and then the leaves become red when autumn comes around. Although the doors are closed in the winter, the snow reflects the light and it is really bright. Come on over as many times as you like and see the beauty of all four seasons.
Mr.Otani: This area is famous for autumn leaves, and many people come to see them in November. We have a 3-person rotation during that season only, but even then we’ll be so busy that we don’t have time for lunch. Many people visit this as a set together with Keisoku-ji Temple, and it’s a little easier to walk the mountain from here.
Mr.Nakamura: The air is really clean so we really encourage people to come on over for a visit. We hope that you’ll be touched by the smile of gentle Kannon and the lovely nature.