Friday, April 25, 2014

Starting on my Shuin-cho ... memories of Japan through a temple seal book

On this last visit to Kyoto, I discovered the perfect travel souvenir ... the shuin-cho.

The shuin-cho is a temple seal book.  Sold in most temples and shrines, it is where you can have the temple seal stamped and calligraphy written on -- a wonderful way to document and remember your visit.

It was certainly significant that I discovered the shuin-cho at Ninna-ji Temple where I saw an extravagant display of late blooming omuro sakura.  This was my favourite shot of the day -- 
Ninna-ji's five storied pagoda framed amidst the sakura.

Among the many types of shuin-cho sold at Ninna-ji, I chose the one with the same lovely image of the pagoda amidst the sakura. 

 Each temple has a specific set of seals which the monk or the temple employee stamps on the shuin-cho.  This is usually in red.  Then, calligraphy is handwritten over the stamps.  What is written?  Normally the name of the temple and the date of your visit.  The seal and calligraphy costs three hundred yen -- a very reasonable sum in exchange for such a noteworthy souvenir.  

And here is the very first stamp in my shuin-cho, from Ninna-ji Temple.  A thin piece of paper with more calligraphy is enclosed which gives additional information on the temple -- and perhaps also serves as a blotter for the fresh ink.

Aside from the sakura garden, the  pagoda and Main Hall of Ninna-ji, another main attraction within the grounds is the Goten, the former residence of the Head Priest of the temple.  Because of the temple's prominence, the Head Priest was usually a member of the royal family and so the residence and gardens are very expansive and impressive.

Here is a view of the pagoda from the gardens of the Goten.  There is nothing quite so beautiful as these traditional Japanese gardens.

 Because the Goten used to be the Head Priest's residence, there was a small alcove where a monk sat putting the seal and writing the calligraphy on various shuin-cho books.  I was able to get my second seal and stamp from the Goten at Ninna-ji.

The day after visiting Ninna-ji, we went up Mount Hieizan to visit Enryakuji, one of the most important temples in Japan and the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Buddhism.  Like Koyasan, the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism (see earlier post), Enryakuji is much revered and thus a must-go pilgrimage stop for many devotees.

The main hall called Konponchudo was one of the first places we visited in Enryakuji.  The entire temple complex is a World Heritage Site and Konponchudo is a designated national treasure of Japan.

Before entering Konponchudo (where sadly, no photos were permitted), I left my shuin-cho with the friendly and smiling monk at the entrance.

Here is Konponchudo's seal and calligraphy.  The usual procedure is that before you enter the temple to pay your respects, leave your shuin-cho with the monks and pick it up after your visit.

From Konponchudo, I paid a visit and burned incense at Shusse Daikokutendo, a small temple just a few hundred meters away.

As the sign says, the god enshrined in this temple is also tasked with protecting and blessing the people of Mount Hieizan with peace and prosperity.

A very gracious monk stamped my shuin cho and did the calligraphy after my visit to Shusse Daikokutendo.  

The Daiko-do or Great Lecture Hall, where monks received their academic training,  is one of Enryakuji's notable buildings.  With its pennants and banners and bright vermillion paint, it was such a colourful and vivid sight.

The Daiko-do is also the last place in Enryakuji where I got my shuin-cho stamped and written on.  My fifth page done in just two days!  

I thought my temple seal days were over and done for this trip as we spend most of our last day in Kyoto at the Teramachi shopping arcade.  I completely forgot that there are eight temples and shrines, albeit small ones, tucked between stores, within this shopping street.  While many of them had signs that said no temple seals were given out, Takoyakushido Temple had a Buddhist nun who was sitting there filling out several shuin cho books.  I quickly added mine to the pile.

 A temple of Pureland Buddhism, Takoyakushido even has a nice little back story about a miracle healing connected to the Buddha enshrined inside.

And this is the sixth seal in my shuin-cho, from the Takoyakushido Temple in Teramachi.  It was also the first one done by a nun and not a monk.  Note that the small slip of paper that came with the seal has a web address -- temples have come into the digital age! 

I am really really happy that I discovered the shuin-cho -- as you can see, I have quite a number of pages to fill up.  Perhaps I can go back to some of my favourite temples just to acquire their stamps.
I wish I had started this sooner as it is such a delightful way to remember my travels.
So here's to a few more shuin-cho books to fill with more memories of Japan.

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