Within its walls, Myoshinji is both a refuge and a 24-hour parade of dog-walkers, bike-riders, students, lovers, priests, commuters, and others who are either enjoying the temple grounds or on their way to school or work. Unlike the more well-known temples of Kyoto, Myoshinji is both free and open: all day, all night, all the time. In the middle of a summer night, young people sit on the veranda of the main hall, quietly drinking beer and talking; in the morning, students and salarymen rush to and from nearby JR Hanazono Station.
Myoshinji is the home of Japanese Zen Buddhism, and was founded in 1337. It houses some of the best-known byobu, or painted screens, in Japan. The temple grounds, moreover, are vast and repel the outside world. The traffic that flies past the south gate, the garish 7-11 sign in front of the north gate, they all fade within seconds of entering the temple. For local children, it carries another connotation: fear. Unlike the elegant priests at nearby Ninaji Temple, which was designated a World Heritage Site, the priests at Myoshinji are said to be kowai (scary). Parents admonish their badly behaved children that they will be left in Myoshinji in the middle of the night, or else! The priests’ scowling faces and dark robes are a bit intimidating, particularly when they come around the neighborhood bellowing for alms. Recently, they even ring the bell.
For the casual visitor, though, Myoshinji has hundreds of temples, stone walks, ponds, and is a magnificent stroll. The fall foliage this year has been lovely thanks to a recent cold snap. Today young couples were arm-in-arm gazing at the leaves; older women snapped pictures of each other with their digital cameras.
Near both the south and north gates, there is great shopping for traditional Japanese goods. The north gate has old Japanese cracker and sweet shops; the south gate area features stores that cater to the temple’s needs: clothing, incense, stones, etc.
For complete tourist information on Kyoto.
Myoshinji Bell Sound
Thursday, December 01, 2005