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