Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nagoya in 24 Hours Part 4 - I visited Atsuta Jingu, a Shinto shrine and found Kobo Daishi

On the plane on my way to my first visit to Nagoya, I opened a guidebook and started to read about the city (cramming was more like it). 
One thing that stood out was that one of the top recommended local attractions was a major Shinto shrine,  Atsuta Jingu.  
Sugoi desu yo!  Shrines and temples are some of my favourite places to walk through.  
I enjoy their serene and spiritual spaces. 
I did not realise when I set out to see Atsuta Jingu, that not only would I see an important shrine, 
I would also be "tracing" the footsteps of my favourite Buddhist saint, Kobo Daishi.

Atsuta Jingu  in the southern part of Nagoya is easily reached via subway or train.  I took
the Meitetsu Limited Express train from Nagoya Station, the same line that goes all the way 
to Nagoya Centrair Airport.  Just two stops later, I was at the Meitetsu Jingumae station, just a few minutes walk from the shrine.

At the crosswalk, I came upon this monk with his begging bowl.  It isn't very common to see monks begging in the streets in Japan.  To give alms  is considered an act of virtue so I dropped some coins in his bowl.  He bowed and started to chant some sutras.  I could hear his soft voice even as I walked away. 

This being July, the weather was hot and quite humid.   I was happy to see many trees in the shrine grounds, I would at least have some respite from the sun's rays.

The shrine occupies a sizeable acreage with the buildings spread out over spacious grounds.

I walked through the gate under the shade of countless trees.  The traffic noise from the road quickly evaporated and  even the temperature seemed to drop by a few degrees.  

One of the first buildings I saw was the Amulet Office where visitors can arrange for Shinto services, buy tokens, charms, souvenirs and amulets.  This is also where I got my goshuincho or temple and shrine seal book inscribed by a shrine priest.  

This is an ema -- a wooden plaque commonly sold in shrines and temples.  You can write your prayers or wishes on the ema and hang it on specially made racks in the shrine grounds.  
Each temple or shrine has a specific design for its ema, usually the symbol of the place itself.

This is the front or the exterior gate of the main shrine of Atsuta Jingu.  Ordinary visitors cannot 
go beyond this point.  The deity enshrined within is Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. 
Atsuta Jingu dates way back to the first century.   The shrine buildings look new because  Shinto tradition dictates that major shrines are dismantled and rebuilt every 25 years.  
After the  Ise shrine in Mie (which I had also visited a few years ago)  Atsuta Jingu is the second largest Shinto shrine in Japan.

This is the door to the main shrine or the Hongu,  about 100 meters from where visitors stand.  
No one is allowed through those doors except for very select Shinto priests and sometimes some members of the royal family.   
However, ceremonies are conducted in the grounds in front of the Hongu.   You can see the Shinto priests in white on the right side performing prayers and rituals. 
The Hongu houses one of Japan's three major imperial regalia, a sword called the Kusanagi no Tsuragi.  The presence of this treasure makes Atsuta Jingu one of the three most important shrines 
in Japan. 

I took a walk through the shrine grounds, bowing in front before passing through a massive wooden torii. When walking through the torii, remember not to walk in the middle but walk only along the sides.  The middle path is reserved for the kami or gods.

It was a quiet weekday morning and not too many people were walking around.  In the distance you can see the faint outline of another torii, there are three in the shrine grounds.

A long panel of posters shows the shrine's history and significant events.  Sadly everything is in Japanese, I would have wanted to know more about the place.

You will most likely see these large sake barrels stacked on top of each other at Shinto shrines.  Mostly decorative, these barrels are donated by brewers and serve as some sort of advertising for their brands.  But mainly, sake barrels are present in shrines because sake is the drink of the gods.

This giant camphor tree is protected by a wooden fence and encircled by shimenawa from which shide are hung.  Shimenawa is a straw rope used in purification rituals.  They also denote a sacred 
and holy place.  This ancient camphor tree is said to have been planted by the great Buddhist saint, Kobo Daishi 1,300 years ago!  
I was happily surprised and moved to find Kobo Daishi's presence here in Nagoya. 

Past the sacred camphor tree is this modern building.  This is the  Bunka-den.  
It is the Treasure Hall, a museum for all the valuable artefacts of the shrine. Many of these items 
are designated Important Cultural Assets  and are on display for the people to view and appreciate.

This giant stone lantern seems to have been swallowed up by the surrounding shrubbery.  This is 
the Sakuma-doro stone lantern, another important landmark in Atsuta Jingu's grounds.

If you turn off the main path and walk a bit deeper into the woods, you will find a small stone bridge spanning one of the many streams that meander through Atsuta Jingu.   
Called the Nijugocho Bashi, it is built with 25 stones and is the oldest stone bridge in Nagoya.  
To preserve this centuries old bridge, it is no longer used except perhaps for important ceremonies and festivals.

Crossing the stream, I came upon this blissful scene ...  lush greenery around a sun dappled pond 
complete with a lovely wooden pavilion that seemed to float above the water.    
Ducks floated lazily and several turtles were sunbathing on a large rock.  
I saw a stone bench and sat down on the cool surface.  I stayed for as long as I could, enjoying 
this grace filled moment -- saying a quiet prayer of thanks to the kami sama of Atsuta Jingu and 
of course, to Kobo Daishi.  

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