Deep Temple Bell, Celestial Female Musicians

Jack and I were wandering in central Kyoto city, somewhere not far from Nishiki Market and the Kamogawa river.  During our trip in Kyoto, for several days we would wander into neighbourhood Shinto shrines or come upon a Buddhist huge bronze temple bell either a small one or at large Zen Buddhist temple complexes. Needless to

Toyokuni-Jinja Shinto Shrine near Kamogawa River. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong. Shrine first erected in 1599 in honour of a warrior leader Hideyashi (or Hokoku-so) who unified Japan and ruled 1553-1598.. Reconstructed in 1800’s with the gold plating.
400-yr. old cypress bark roof gate in Chinese style, to prayer hall at Toyokuni-Jinja shrine. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong. This shrine is a designated National Treasure site in Japan.

say, at times as someone illiterate in Eastern Asian religions, I felt slightly muddled when passing through a Shinto shrine, under tori Shinto shrine gates and to ..a Buddhist temple bell site near by.

These well-worn tori shrine gates at Toyokuni-Jinja shrine. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Bronze Buddhist temple bell at Hokoji Temple near the Shinto shrine. in quiet neighbourhood. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong. Part of a Buddhist complex since 1590’s. 82,000 kilogram bell was cast at that time. Hideyashi intended to be installed along with Buddha. But Buddha sculpture was never made.

These Buddhist temple bells are common heritage and religious sites all over Japan  –especially in Kyoto which was where Zen Buddhism originated in Japan and was widespread throughout Kyoto prefecture for centuries.

On New Year’s Day, it’s still popular for locals and tourists to visit a temple bell where a priest (or priests if bell was very big) would ring it 108 times.  The biggest temple bell at Chio-ni Temple requires 17 priests with one of them to hang from a rope to make each ring.

Peeling wooden ceiling paintings underneath Shoro temple bell. Hokoji Temple. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong.

We walked around the temple bell and marvelled its solid, heavy presence and huge log-stick clapper to ring it.  Someone did try to ring it but didn’t have the strength.  More interestingly, we looked inside and upward to its peeling wood ceiling paintings of celestial female musicians swirling amongst their heavenly misty clouds.

Tennyo, or Buddhist Japanese term for celestial handmaiden musicians playing in praise of Buddha. Hokoji Temple. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong.
Tennyo often depicted with bird-like body and female head with superpowers for flying and strength. Not deities but perhaps mini-goddesses. Hokoji Temple. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

The Buddhist painted celestial figures floating with nimbus swirling  clouds, are Buddhist devotees.  In Japan they are flying tennyo — flying handmaidens with Sanskirt origins in India, known as apsarus, then such depictions migrated to China and Japan, with cultural transformations.

Even in dim light, the peeling paintings glow abit. Hokoji Temple. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Celestial musician. Hokoji Temple. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Tennyo  were believed to fly with superhuman power and speed as they travel over Buddha’s pure land, singing praises of Buddha by scattering flowers, playing instruments or burning incense.

Playing in praise of Buddha. Hokoji Temple. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Flute celestial musician. Hokoji Temple. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong. Haven’t figure out the mysterious foot peeping through upside down shoe near bottom right.

Months later after we returned to Canada., Jack looked up the geospatial coordinates on his photo and determined the name of the shrine. I dug up more information after some Internet sleuthing.

Celestial handmaiden with bowl of food offerings. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

We honestly had no clue about the historic significance of these 2 sites while we were in Kyoto. The shrine and its bark roof gate is listed as one of Japan’s National Treasure sites. Keep in mind the Buddhist temple bell is located by the Shinto shrine grounds.  The shrine was moved on the grounds where the Buddhist temple was planned with Great Buddha which the latter was never created.

So visit this area with Shinto and Buddhist sites side by side, tucked in a quiet corner of Higashiyama neighbourhood in Kyoto.

Beautiful carp fish carvings in heavy wood entry doors for Toyokuni-Jinja Shinto shrine. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong

Interesting Reading
More historic details for this shrine and temple, are provided by this blogger.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Mabel Kwong says:

    That bell does look and sound massive, and that one needs a lot of strength to ring it loud and clear. I guess if it was light enough, people would be ringing it all day. Wonderful images.


    1. Jean says:

      It was a lovely chance surprise for us to stumble across this area. We seriously weren’t looking for it in advance. We merely decided to walk through the neighbourhood, enroute to something else.

      Happy New Year in 2019, Mabel! May 108 temple bell rings echo softly for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lani says:

    It’s nice to wander around a new city (or even one that you live in!) and discover something new. Something you’re very good at though is doing research on the sights you see. I can barely get though a museum, and I can do only so much guide book reading. Hahaha.

    I like the paintings of the women with wings best. Cheers!


    1. Jean says:

      I do enjoy certain museums when travelling overseas. Though I tried to read some stuff online about certain aspects of Japan it was quite superficial. I don’t know much about its history. Certainly all the information about Buddhism and Shintoism was from the Internet –after returning home from Japan. So while there, is simply appreciating art for how it was executed.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely fascinating, Jean, and beautifully documented. If I were in Kyoto right now, I’d honor this post with 108 rings– maybe even 109!! 🔔🔨😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It would be a workout to pull the bell and get that clapper-log going. Meaningful ring and work-out in 1 for a new year. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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