Read Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan Online

Authors: Lafcadio Hearn

Tags: #General Fiction

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (10 page)

Through an orifice in the right side of the enormous lotus-blossom on
which the Buddha is seated, you can enter into the statue. The interior
contains a little shrine of Kwannon, and a statue of the priest Yuten,
and a stone tablet bearing in Chinese characters the sacred formula,
Namu Amida Butsu.

A ladder enables the pilgrim to ascend into the interior of the colossus
as high as the shoulders, in which are two little windows commanding a
wide prospect of the grounds; while a priest, who acts as guide, states
the age of the statue to be six hundred and thirty years, and asks for
some small contribution to aid in the erection of a new temple to
shelter it from the weather.

For this Buddha once had a temple. A tidal wave following an earthquake
swept walls and roof away, but left the mighty Amida unmoved, still
meditating upon his lotus.

Sec. 12

And we arrive before the far-famed Kamakura temple of Kwannon—Kwannon,
who yielded up her right to the Eternal Peace that she might save the
souls of men, and renounced Nirvana to suffer with humanity for other
myriad million ages—Kwannon, the Goddess of Pity and of Mercy.

I climb three flights of steps leading to the temple, and a young girl,
seated at the threshold, rises to greet us. Then she disappears within
the temple to summon the guardian priest, a venerable man, white-robed,
who makes me a sign to enter.

The temple is large as any that I have yet seen, and, like the others,
grey with the wearing of six hundred years. From the roof there hang
down votive offerings, inscriptions, and lanterns in multitude, painted
with various pleasing colours. Almost opposite to the entrance is a
singular statue, a seated figure, of human dimensions and most human
aspect, looking upon us with small weird eyes set in a wondrously
wrinkled face. This face was originally painted flesh-tint, and the
robes of the image pale blue; but now the whole is uniformly grey with
age and dust, and its colourlessness harmonises so well with the
senility of the figure that one is almost ready to believe one's self
gazing at a living mendicant pilgrim. It is Benzuru, the same personage
whose famous image at Asakusa has been made featureless by the wearing
touch of countless pilgrim-fingers. To left and right of the entrance
are the Ni-O, enormously muscled, furious of aspect; their crimson
bodies are speckled with a white scum of paper pellets spat at them by
worshippers. Above the altar is a small but very pleasing image of
Kwannon, with her entire figure relieved against an oblong halo of gold,
imitating the flickering of flame.

But this is not the image for which the temple is famed; there is
another to be seen upon certain conditions. The old priest presents me
with a petition, written in excellent and eloquent English, praying
visitors to contribute something to the maintenance of the temple and
its pontiff, and appealing to those of another faith to remember that
'any belief which can make men kindly and good is worthy of respect.' I
contribute my mite, and I ask to see the great Kwannon.

Then the old priest lights a lantern, and leads the way, through a low
doorway on the left of the altar, into the interior of the temple, into
some very lofty darkness. I follow him cautiously awhile, discerning
nothing whatever but the flicker of the lantern; then we halt before
something which gleams. A moment, and my eyes, becoming more accustomed
to the darkness, begin to distinguish outlines; the gleaming object
defines itself gradually as a Foot, an immense golden Foot, and I
perceive the hem of a golden robe undulating over the instep. Now the
other foot appears; the figure is certainly standing. I can perceive
that we are in a narrow but also very lofty chamber, and that out of
some mysterious blackness overhead ropes are dangling down into the
circle of lantern-light illuminating the golden feet. The priest lights
two more lanterns, and suspends them upon hooks attached to a pair of
pendent ropes about a yard apart; then he pulls up both together slowly.
More of the golden robe is revealed as the lanterns ascend, swinging on
their way; then the outlines of two mighty knees; then the curving of
columnar thighs under chiselled drapery, and, as with the still waving
ascent of the lanterns the golden Vision towers ever higher through the
gloom, expectation intensifies. There is no sound but the sound of the
invisible pulleys overhead, which squeak like bats. Now above the golden
girdle, the suggestion of a bosom. Then the glowing of a golden hand
uplifted in benediction. Then another golden hand holding a lotus. And
at last a Face, golden, smiling with eternal youth and infinite
tenderness, the face of Kwannon.

So revealed out of the consecrated darkness, this ideal of divine
feminity—creation of a forgotten art and time—is more than
impressive. I can scarcely call the emotion which it produces
admiration; it is rather reverence. But the lanterns, which paused
awhile at the level of the beautiful face, now ascend still higher, with
a fresh squeaking of pulleys. And lo! the tiara of the divinity appears
with strangest symbolism. It is a pyramid of heads, of faces-charming
faces of maidens, miniature faces of Kwannon herself.

For this is the Kwannon of the Eleven Faces—Jiu-ichimen-Kwannon.

Sec. 13

Most sacred this statue is held; and this is its legend.

In the reign of Emperor Gensei, there lived in the province of Yamato a
Buddhist priest, Tokudo Shonin, who had been in a previous birth Hold
Bosatsu, but had been reborn among common men to save their souls. Now
at that time, in a valley in Yamato, Tokudo Shonin, walking by night,
saw a wonderful radiance; and going toward it found that it came from
the trunk of a great fallen tree, a kusunoki, or camphor-tree. A
delicious perfume came from the tree, and the shining of it was like the
shining of the moon. And by these signs Tokudo Shonin knew that the wood
was holy; and he bethought him that he should have the statue of Kwannon
carved from it. And he recited a sutra, and repeated the Nenbutsu,
praying for inspiration; and even while he prayed there came and stood
before him an aged man and an aged woman; and these said to him, 'We
know that your desire is to have the image of Kwannon-Sama carved from
this tree with the help of Heaven; continue therefore, to pray, and we
shall carve the statue.'

And Tokudo Shonin did as they bade him; and he saw them easily split the
vast trunk into two equal parts, and begin to carve each of the parts
into an image. And he saw them so labour for three days; and on the
third day the work was done—and he saw the two marvellous statues of
Kwannon made perfect before him. And he said to the strangers: 'Tell me,
I pray you, by what names you are known.' Then the old man answered: 'I
am Kasuga Myojin.' And the woman answered: 'I am called Ten-sho-ko-dai-
jin; I am the Goddess of the Sun.' And as they spoke both became
transfigured and ascended to heaven and vanished from the sight of
Tokudo Shonin.

And the Emperor, hearing of these happenings, sent his representative to
Yamato to make offerings, and to have a temple built. Also the great
priest, Gyogi-Bosatsu, came and consecrated the images, and dedicated
the temple which by order of the Emperor was built. And one of the
statues he placed in the temple, enshrining it, and commanding it: 'Stay
thou here always to save all living creatures!' But the other statue he
cast into the sea, saying to it: 'Go thou whithersoever it is best, to
save all the living.'

Now the statue floated to Kamakura. And there arriving by night it shed
a great radiance all about it as if there were sunshine upon the sea;
and the fishermen of Kamakura were awakened by the great light; and they
went out in boats, and found the statue floating and brought it to
shore. And the Emperor ordered that a temple should be built for it, the
temple called Shin-haseidera, on the mountain called Kaiko-San, at

Sec. 14

As we leave the temple of Kwannon behind us, there are no more dwellings
visible along the road; the green slopes to left and right become
steeper, and the shadows of the great trees deepen over us. But still,
at intervals, some flight of venerable mossy steps, a carven Buddhist
gateway, or a lofty torii, signals the presence of sanctuaries we have
no time to visit: countless crumbling shrines are all around us, dumb
witnesses to the antique splendour and vastness of the dead capital; and
everywhere, mingled with perfume of blossoms, hovers the sweet, resinous
smell of Japanese incense. Be-times we pass a scattered multitude of
sculptured stones, like segments of four-sided pillars—old haka, the
forgotten tombs of a long-abandoned cemetery; or the solitary image of
some Buddhist deity—a dreaming Amida or faintly smiling Kwannon. All
are ancient, time-discoloured, mutilated; a few have been weather-worn
into unrecognisability. I halt a moment to contemplate something
pathetic, a group of six images of the charming divinity who cares for
the ghosts of little children—the Roku-Jizo. Oh, how chipped and
scurfed and mossed they are! Five stand buried almost up to their
shoulders in a heaping of little stones, testifying to the prayers of
generations; and votive yodarekake, infant bibs of divers colours, have
been put about the necks of these for the love of children lost. But one
of the gentle god's images lies shattered and overthrown in its own
scattered pebble-pile-broken perhaps by some passing wagon.

Sec. 15

The road slopes before us as we go, sinks down between cliffs steep as
the walls of a ca±on, and curves. Suddenly we emerge from the cliffs,
and reach the sea. It is blue like the unclouded sky—a soft dreamy

And our path turns sharply to the right, and winds along cliff-summits
overlooking a broad beach of dun-coloured sand; and the sea wind blows
deliciously with a sweet saline scent, urging the lungs to fill
themselves to the very utmost; and far away before me, I perceive a
beautiful high green mass, an island foliage-covered, rising out of the
water about a quarter of a mile from the mainland—Enoshima, the holy
island, sacred to the goddess of the sea, the goddess of beauty. I can
already distinguish a tiny town, grey-sprinkling its steep slope.
Evidently it can be reached to-day on foot, for the tide is out, and has
left bare a long broad reach of sand, extending to it, from the opposite
village which we are approaching, like a causeway.

At Katase, the little settlement facing the island, we must leave our
jinricksha and walk; the dunes between the village and the beach are too
deep to pull the vehicle over. Scores of other jinricksha are waiting
here in the little narrow street for pilgrims who have preceded me. But
to-day, I am told, I am the only European who visits the shrine of

Our two men lead the way over the dunes, and we soon descend upon damp
firm sand.

As we near the island the architectural details of the little town
define delightfully through the faint sea-haze—curved bluish sweeps of
fantastic roofs, angles of airy balconies, high-peaked curious gables,
all above a fluttering of queerly shaped banners covered with mysterious
lettering. We pass the sand-flats; and the ever-open Portal of the Sea-
city, the City of the Dragon-goddess, is before us, a beautiful torii.
All of bronze it is, with shimenawa of bronze above it, and a brazen
tablet inscribed with characters declaring: 'This is the Palace of the
Goddess of Enoshima.' About the bases of the ponderous pillars are
strange designs in relievo, eddyings of waves with tortoises struggling
in the flow. This is really the gate of the city, facing the shrine of
Benten by the land approach; but it is only the third torii of the
imposing series through Katase: we did not see the others, having come
by way of the coast.

And lo! we are in Enoshima. High before us slopes the single street, a
street of broad steps, a street shadowy, full of multi-coloured flags
and dank blue drapery dashed with white fantasticalities, which are
words, fluttered by the sea wind. It is lined with taverns and miniature
shops. At every one I must pause to look; and to dare to look at
anything in Japan is to want to buy it. So I buy, and buy, and buy!

For verily 'tis the City of Mother-of-Pearl, this Enoshima. In every
shop, behind the' lettered draperies there are miracles of shell-work
for sale at absurdly small prices. The glazed cases laid flat upon the
matted platforms, the shelved cabinets set against the walls, are all
opalescent with nacreous things—extraordinary surprises, incredible
ingenuities; strings of mother-of-pearl fish, strings of mother-of-pearl
birds, all shimmering with rainbow colours. There are little kittens of
mother-of-pearl, and little foxes of mother-of-pearl, and little puppies
of mother-of-pearl, and girls' hair-combs, and cigarette-holders, and
pipes too beautiful to use. There are little tortoises, not larger than
a shilling, made of shells, that, when you touch them, however lightly,
begin to move head, legs, and tail, all at the same time, alternately
withdrawing or protruding their limbs so much like real tortoises as to
give one a shock of surprise. There are storks and birds, and beetles
and butterflies, and crabs and lobsters, made so cunningly of shells,
that only touch convinces you they are not alive. There are bees of
shell, poised on flowers of the same material—poised on wire in such a
way that they seem to buzz if moved only with the tip of a feather.
There is shell-work jewellery indescribable, things that Japanese girls
love, enchantments in mother-of-pearl, hair-pins carven in a hundred
forms, brooches, necklaces. And there are photographs of Enoshima.

Sec. 16

This curious street ends at another torii, a wooden torii, with a
steeper flight of stone steps ascending to it. At the foot of the steps
are votive stone lamps and a little well, and a stone tank at which all
pilgrims wash their hands and rinse their mouths before approaching the
temples of the gods. And hanging beside the tank are bright blue towels,
with large white Chinese characters upon them. I ask Akira what these
characters signify:

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