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A perfect morning at Matsuchiyama Shōten

There are days in Japan so perfect that I barely know what to do with myself, and that day at Matsuchiyama Shōten* was such a day.

Matsuchiyama Shōten in autumn

It's always been one of my favourite temples, and I returned to enjoy the autumn splendor of the ginkgo trees in its precinct. As I stood on the stairs leading to the main building, a priest and two maintenance workers walked out. I lowered my camera to give them a chance to pass. The priest stopped next to me. "You can go in if you want to," he said in perfect English.

I dropped my camera, fell down the stairs, scampered back up and pretended I was in perfect control of myself, the situation and life in general.

"I can?" I stuttered.

"Yes, you can," he echoed Obama. "Just take off your shoes and …" He pointed at my camera and crossed his arms.

"Oh, no photos, no no no, I mean, yes yes yes, of course!"

I can be remarkably erudite under pressure.

The temple precinct as seen from the main building

So I scrabbled backwards, bowing and thanking, took off my shoes, put on my camera's lens cap, cautiously pushed open the sliding door and tiptoed onto the tatami. I was enchanted. It's so beautiful inside!

As I stood admiring the wooden carvings on the walls, I heard a voice behind me. The priest had returned. "Did you see the ceiling?" he asked.

"Huh, wha', no, where?"

Where is the ceiling? Yes, Ru, that was a staggeringly intelligent question.

The ceiling, it turns out, is a copy of the famous "roaring dragon" (鳴き龍 nakiryū) in Honji-dō at Nikko's famous Tōshō-gū. The original was painted by Kanō Masanobu (狩野 正信).

I didn't take a photo, but I found this on the internet:


Perhaps the priest sensed that I was really interested; perhaps he is kind to all visitors; but he patiently explained several rituals to me. He speaks a basic but perfect English; I know roughly eleven Japanese words; between the two of us I learned how to take a pinch of incense, offer it to Buddha, rub it into my hands and then pray.

"I've been here before," I told him, "but I've never been inside. I thought it would not be allowed."

"Oh no, it's OK, anybody can come inside, everybody is welcome!" he assured me, and I remembered yet again a recent visit to St. Mary's Cathedral in Sekiguchi, when a staff member chased me out because I was carrying a camera (with its lens cap clearly on).

"Wait," the priest said, "chotto matte, kudasai, I have a present for you." He brought me sweets that had been offered to Buddha. The sweets are replaced every day, even though they're still perfectly fine, so I got some special Buddha cookies. They're made from anko, red bean paste, which I adore.

Goodies: cookies blessed by Buddha, powdered incense for praying,
Bishamonten (who is also enshrined here) and a bookmark.

We chatted a bit more, I bought some incense, he invited me back, I left. As I stood outside under the magnificent golden ginkgo trees, I thought of religion, and tolerance, and acceptance … and quietly thanked Buddha that my road had led me to Japan, and that I could spend that particular morning at that particular temple.

Perhaps it was nothing special; perhaps it would've bored 99,9% of people to death; but it was, to me, utterly perfect.

It was a damn sexy priest, too, just by the way. Grin.

I wrote about the temple here and here, but this time I'm simply going to repeat the English pamphlet that I received. I don't know who wrote/translated it, but its English is near perfect. I repeat it word for word:
This Buddhist temple is said to have been founded about 1400 years ago. There is a legend that the hill on which the temple now stands suddenly raised itself almost in a day, and a huge golden dragon appeared from the heaven and landed on the hill; then six years later a Buddhist god, Dai-Shō-Kangi-Ten, made his appearance to relieve the troubled hearts of the people who suffered from famine, which accidentally covered all over the district. 
There is a record that in 859, Jikkaku Daishi, one of the greatest teachers of Buddhism in Japan, who was born in 794 and died in 864, visited here and carved the wooden image of Dai- Shō-Kangi-Ten, and he installed the statue in a small shrine he built on the hill. Shōten is supposed to be a contracted form of Daishō-Kangiten. Dai means great, shō means saint, kangi bliss and ten god. 
It was probably in the latter half of the Edo period (1603–1869) that this temple became known to the people of Edo and its neighboring towns. Matsuchiyama Shōten had many believers and visitors, almost all of whom were the common people. They visited this temple to pray for the well-being of themselves and their families. Matsuchiyama Shōten, surrounded with thick forest, standing high near the Sumida River, was introduced through poems, folk songs, dramas and pictures as one of the most famous places of scenic beauty and historic interest in Edo. 
Now Matsuchiyama Shōten has more than 2000 ardent believers. They are working together for the peace and prosperity of their minds through various activities, following the teachings of Buddha.
Notice board about the temple's history

The pamphlet that I repeated in this post.
Its English is near perfect.
  
To my guide and everybody at Matsuchiyama Shōten: thank you, and all the best to you and your followers. I'll be back.

* It's also known as Matsuchiyama Shōden, with a d, but the temple's pamphlet writes it with a t.

This road used to be a canal that connected the Sumida River and
the red-light district Yoshiwara.

A perfect Asakusa moment: a jinrikisha in front of the temple.

Money bags on the temple's roof

Golden money bag, golden leaves

Carvings at the temple, above and below


Even the kitsune at the small Inari shrine has a yellow bib (not red!)
with a daikon. I love it!

Beautiful old house in Asakusa


I have a thing about roofs, I have a thing about ginkgo leaves,
I have a very big thing about both combined.

It was a perfect morning. Thank you, Matsuchiyama!

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