It's a bit too late to write about red leaves, but I promised Kaori I would do an autumn-in-Kamakura post.
What's a blogger to do with such a dilemma? She shifts the focus ever so slightly from the leaves to the temple itself, and crosses her fingers that she'll have enough time to write a decent story.
May I interrupt myself? You do know that December is called Shiwasu (師走) in the traditional Japanese calendar? It means "teachers running", and it refers to the fact that December is such a busy time for teachers that we can't sit down.
That old calendar knew a thing or two.
I went to Kita-Kamakura in late November to visit three temples – Engaku-ji, Meigetsu-in and Kenchō-ji – but I'll focus on Meigetsu-in in this post.
|Meigetsu-in's famous round window|
I arrived very early on a Friday morning to avoid the crowds. When I got off at Kita-Kamakura, I hesitated. I would be able to enjoy a people-free environment at only one of the three temples before the buses and flag-following tour groups arrived; which one would it be?
I briefly popped into Engaku-ji, which opens earlier than the others, and then galloped off to Meigetsu-in. I was ten minutes too early, but was already sixth in line. We stood shivering in the dark shadows in the narrow gorge leading to the temple, stomping feet and impatiently peering over walls. Just when I was cursing my own crowd phobia and earlybirdyness, the sun broke over a hilltop and the trees behind the gate caught fire. I forgot about the cold seeping from the marrow of the earth into my bones, and stood in silent worship of the gods of fall.
Fugenzan Meigetsu-in (福源山明月院) is a Rinzai Zen temple that dates back to 1159, when a local warrior was killed in a battle between the Minamoto and Taira clans. His son built a small temple at this location in his father's memory.
A bigger temple was established in 1268 by Hōjō Tokimune. He's an interesting fellow: he was the 8th shikken (officially regent, but de facto ruler of Japan) of the Kamakura shōgunate, and he was responsible for leading the Japanese forces against the Mongols. He refused to respond to Kublai Khan's emissaries; as a matter of fact, he had them all beheaded. His butt was eventually saved by a typhoon that arrived in a timely fashion.
Hōjō also banned Nichiren to Sado Island, thus helping Zen Buddhism to spread through Japan.
The final structures that we know today were built by Uesugi Norikata of the powerful Uesugi clan, then vice-governor of Kamakura, and the temple's name itself derives from Norikata's posthumous name (Meigetsu).
Nowadays Meigetsu-in is mostly kinown as an ajisai-dera, hydrangea temple, thanks to the 3500 bushes that are planted in its precinct. The flowers are so famous that their specific colour is called "Meigetsu-in blue" by local residents.
It's also known for having the largest yagura (やぐら) or tomb in Kamakura. I've tried to photograph this tomb a million times, and I've never been able to get a good picture. Just pop over to Wikipedia, willya?
I've been to the temple in hydrangea season, but it's so crowded that it's a torture. It gets busy in fall, too, but if you go early, you'll be able to enjoy half an hour of peace.
|Autumn = pumpkins!|
|Buddha wears a red scarf against the cold.|
|Even dead ordinary grass looks beautiful in autumn.|
|Meigetsu-in has what is possibly the cutest rabbit in the world.|