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  • Thumbnail for Streetside stall selling religious decorations
    Streetside stall selling religious decorations

    Many such stalls in Koyasan sell evergreen fronds to people for embellishing their family altars at home where ancestors are revered. This one is in a spot very characteristic of Koyasan: the old stone wall behind and the line of toriis heading up a path to the left bespeak the charm of this old mountain town (founded in the early 9th century) with its limitless reminders of traditional religion.

  • Thumbnail for Ikuta Jinja - Banner on main gate of Ikuta Jinja
    Ikuta Jinja - Banner on main gate of Ikuta Jinja

    This banner advertises an upcoming festival, on July 15th, that will feature the lighting of a thousand lanterns, the rope circle through which one may walk (chinuwa kuguri), and a purification rite aimed at "countering obstacles, eliminating illness and vanquishing troubles."

  • Thumbnail for Hasedera - Sub-temple
    Hasedera - Sub-temple

    Yet another of the many sub-temples in the complex.

  • Thumbnail for Hasedera - Main gate
    Hasedera - Main gate

    An alternative view of the main gate from a garden within the temple complex.

  • Thumbnail for Hasedera - Monks walking  up  stairs
    Hasedera - Monks walking up stairs

    Hasedera is an active training ground for Shingon Buddhist priests, who can be seen moving about the complex. Their prayers can often be heard resounding within many of the temple buildings, in which groups will chant in a hauntingly beautiful traditional manner.

  • Thumbnail for Hasedera - Bell tower at top of stairs
    Hasedera - Bell tower at top of stairs

    This bell tower adorns the top of the stairway. One enters this central plaza from the stairway just beneath the bell. The main hall stands just to the right (behind the palm tree). The white spherical lanterns are visible there. From this plaza, the views of surrounding hills are superb.

  • Thumbnail for Kashima Miya - Main hall
    Kashima Miya - Main hall

    The path leads to steps upon which the worshipper will stand, drop a coin or two into the offerings box (from the ground up to about waist height), pull the string to jingle the little bell up tip, clap the hands to gain the attention of the kami, and then bow.

  • Thumbnail for Hasedera - from a bridge
    Hasedera - from a bridge

    This is a view of the Hasedera temple, on the hill, from a bridge leading to a shrine dedicated to the protecting deity of the temple.

  • Thumbnail for Hasedera - Shrine
    Hasedera - Shrine

    Just behind the main plaza is this Shinto shrine dedicated to the local deity.

  • Thumbnail for Ikuta Jinja - Old tree stump enshrined
    Ikuta Jinja - Old tree stump enshrined

    An old tree stump within the Ikuta Jinja is herein celebrated by having its own enclosed space. Wrapped around it is a "himorogi," which is a rope with stylized paper strips hanging from it that traditionally demarcates any sort of sacred space. Large old trees are frequently honored in this regard; the presence of the himorogi will prompt some Japanese visitors to place their hands together and bow briefly before such a tree. This particular tree, however, is unique because it survived the ravages of war. See the explanation accompanying the photo of the wooden plaque pictured in cocrejpn0087.

  • Thumbnail for Ichi no hashi bridge entrance to Oku-no-in
    Ichi no hashi bridge entrance to Oku-no-in

    This is the bridge marking the entrance to what is often called Japan's grandest -- both largest and most magnificent -- cemetery. A two kilometer (1.3 mile) stone path through an ancient cryptomeria forest leads to the tomb of Kukai (posthumously Kobo Daishi), founder of the Shingon school and the first to found a temple at Koyasan, in 817. Throughout the forest along both sides of the path, and often up and over small hills behind the trees, are thousands upon thousands of gravestones that have been built up around Kukai's tomb over the millenia.

  • Thumbnail for Private shrine
    Private shrine

    Another family shrine in the forest of Koyasan.

  • Thumbnail for Stairs in the forest
    Stairs in the forest

    The path to Okunoin is not always level. The shifting topography makes for a more pleasurable walk.

  • Thumbnail for Toyotomi family grave site
    Toyotomi family grave site

    The marker to the right announces that this is the grave of the Toyotomi family (and that it is an historical landmark). The family refers to the descendants of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the great general who unified Japan after a long civil war just prior to the lengthy peace of the stable Tokugawa (or Edo) Period around 1600.

  • Thumbnail for Ikuta Jinja - Main gate of Ikuta Jinja from within
    Ikuta Jinja - Main gate of Ikuta Jinja from within

    This photo was taken from the right of the main hall.

  • Thumbnail for Shrine along the path
    Shrine along the path

    This is the same structure as in cocrejpn0163.

  • Thumbnail for Jizo with children
    Jizo with children

    The same Jizo as in cocrejpn0159.

  • Thumbnail for Famous three-in-one tree on path to Okunoin
  • Thumbnail for Forest bridge in Koyasan
  • Thumbnail for Minatogawa Jinja - Chart detailing "years of misfortune" (yakudoshi)
    Minatogawa Jinja - Chart detailing "years of misfortune" (yakudoshi)

    Near a counter that sells protective amulets (o-mamori), this chart details the various ages at which men and women are thought most susceptible to misfortune in their lives. Some explanations of the reasoning behind the system rely on the pronunciation of the digits of the age: 4 (shi) and 2 (ni) sounds "shini" or death for a forty-two year old male and so deserves special care; 3 (san) 3 (san) can be read as "multiple disasters," so that a woman of thirty-three had better watch out. Other explanations suggest a more natural understanding in Japanese culture of specific periods in life when many men or women might traditionally be under a lot of biological or social stress. For one not well-versed in the traditional system, the chart is a reminder of when it might be a good time to stock up on protective charms from the shrine or, for extra caution, even to commission a shrine priest to perform a purification ritual.

  • Thumbnail for Seated Jizo with children
    Seated Jizo with children

    Jizo comes in many forms. This newer statue has him seated in a traditional meditation posture. He holds the children, who are the timeless objects of his vast mercy. The visual contrast here between the clean stone of the new Jizo image and the moss-covered worn stone lantern is one of the charms of this Okunoin trail. Centuries of devotion merge into one another. Our great grandchildren will see this Jizo with its own moss.

  • Thumbnail for Ikuta Jinja - Plaque before enshrined tree
    Ikuta Jinja - Plaque before enshrined tree

    This plaque in front of the tree with the himorogi says that the tree was over 500 years old when it was severely injured by burns received in the bombing of Kobe during WWII. However, even though shattered, it managed to stay alive, and so became revered as a symbol of rebirth and resuscitation. The plaque refers to it as a "divine (kami) tree."

  • Thumbnail for View from portico of Garan building
    View from portico of Garan building

    This is the view from the portico of one of the old temple structures along the path toward the center of the Garan. In the distance is the large Lecture Hall, and to the left is the oldest standing structure, the Fudo Hall, which dates from the 12th century.

  • Thumbnail for Ikuta Jinja - Amulets
    Ikuta Jinja - Amulets

    Most of the amulets (o-mamori) shown here are for success in academics, either for good grades or for passing an entrance exam into the school of your choice. The prices here, which are more or less standard, range from 500 to 1000 yen (from $4-$8).

  • Thumbnail for Minatogawa Jinja - Portal marking grove where Kusunoki Masanari died
    Minatogawa Jinja - Portal marking grove where Kusunoki Masanari died

    This structure marks a large grove within the Minatogawa shrine compound in which Kusunoki Masanari died in 1336.