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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Buddhist Memorial Service


Outside Joganji Temple, Nakano ward, Tokyo. I said goodbye to friends who had been staying with me for a week and a half, seeing them off at Shinjuku station then making a long amble back home to Nakano.

Towards the end of the walk I walked past a massively high – probably over six meter - bamboo fence, facing the main road, and hung with a billboard-size traditional ink-drawing. On closer inspection I saw that it was a temple with the name of Joganji. The gate was unusually picturesque, and through it you could see a number of statues of Buddhist priests and of the Buddha himself imaginatively depicted in a variety of poses and expressions.

Statue inside Joganji Temple, Nakano ward, Tokyo. I walked in and around the temple grounds taking pictures of the statues that particularly caught my eye. I heard sounds coming from the main hall of the temple, approached it, and discovered that a Buddhist memorial service for the dead, known as a hohji, was in process.

I recorded a portion of it: a very solemn service with rhythmic chanting that borders on the eerie, the occasional lone deep toll of a great profound bell, and a constant bass thumping of a drum – in perfect heartbeat rhythm, but so subdued that it goes straight into the senses almost without being consciously heard. Listen to part of the Buddhist memorial service for the dead.

According to the pamphlet I picked up, Joganji temple’s history goes back 600 years when present day Nakano ward was nothing but endless plains of tall grass. A man named Suzuki Kuro began breeding horses there. He became rich by what he believed was the mercy of the Buddha. However, the sudden death of his only daughter made him actively seek out consolation in Buddhism and he founded Joganji in 1438 at the urging of the Zen master of a temple in Odawara.
Main hall of Joganji Temple, Nakano ward, Tokyo.

Joganji Temple is less than five minutes walk from exit number 1 of Nakano-sakaue station on the Marunouchi and Oedo lines. Walk out the exit and down the road away from the main intersection and you’ll soon see the huge bamboo fence on your right.

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