Sunday, June 20, 2010

Buddhist Ceremonies at Chuzenji Temple on June 18th

Or, more precisely:

Chuzenji Kannon-ko (中禅寺観音講) and Jizo (地蔵) Nagashi (地蔵流し)

Chuzenji temple (中禅寺), which is the Lake Chuzenji (中禅寺湖) branch of Rinnoji temple, sits on the east shore of the lake. The temple was established by Monk Sho-do in 784. Link in Japanese is here.

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Location of Chuzenji temple

It is said that the 18th day of every month is in some way related to Senju Kannon (千手観音 = Bodhisattva), one of three deities worshipped at Rinnoji temple (輪王寺) in Nikko city.

Yes, the temple at Chuzenji belongs to Rinnoji temple (that big, red thing, currently wrapped in plastic netting for renovations, at the Shrine and Temple Complex of Nikko, about 20 km away, is what most people think of when they hear the name “Rinnoji”) and Senju Kannon is a Buddhist deity assigned to Mt. Nantai. Mt. Nantai is that big pile of rocks and soil that sits just on the north side of the Chuzenji lake.

If you want to be a Nikko otaku, visit our old post (look somewhere in the middle of that article) in which the relationship between Buddhist and Shinto deities and the three holy mountains (Nantai, Nyoho, and Taro) in Nikko is described.


View of Mt. Nantai from the Godaido hall (五大堂) of Chuzenji temple… Yes, the rainy season - tsuyu (梅雨) is upon us. Yuck.

The gold statue of a “sitting” Senju Kannon is in the Sanbutsudo hall (三仏堂) of Rinnoji temple in Nikko’s Sannai district, whereas the wooden statue of a “standing” figure of Senju Kannon, which is believed to be made by Monk Sho-do himself, is in the Main hall of Chuzenji temple… Is Senju Kannon standing, because he's afraid of flooding, or something?? So that he can immediately get the hell out of there, or even if he is flooded, he can, at the very least, float because he is not made of metal (gold)? Who knows…

Ooops! We were right. In 1902, on September 28 - 29 there was a huge storm in the Chuzenji lake area, which caused a debris flow (mudslide) from the mountains. The standing statue, along with everything else, was washed away into the lake. Then three days later – a miracle happened!!! Senju Kannon was found floating on the surface. I guess since he has so many hands, it wasn’t difficult for him to swim around for a little bit. Since then, this statue has obtained even more religious relevance.

Rest in peace with the solace of Jizo Kannon

Now, why do we have a special reason to have a Buddhist ceremony in the name of Senju Kannon on June 18th?

As we mentioned earlier, the 18th is ennichi (縁日) of the 1000-armed Kannon (Senju Kannon). Don’t ask us why, it says so.

Nikko is not only a place for admiring temples and historical artifacts, but also for enjoying the nature. Or a combination of both. As mentioned in another one of our older entries, we are supposed to climb Mt. Nantai this summer. And this rugged, outdoorsy activity includes shinto ceremonies, as well. It IS a lot of fun when the weather is fine, however, the Nikko nature occasionally goes really wild. And when it gets wild, we get casualties. Even Senju Kannon himself was a casualty – of that mudslide in 1902.


Ritual Buddhist ceremony held at the Godaido hall in Chuzenji temple. Technically, only the press people were allowed to shoot there…

Chuzenji temple is responsible for the spiritual well-being of the casualties in Nikko. On June 18th, monks from Rinnoji temple and elsewhere get together at the Godaido hall of Chuzenji temple and perform a ritual Buddhist ceremony at 10 AM. Family members, relatives, and friends of casualties come for this event from all over Japan.


Grand master monk (left) exhausted after chanting and performing rituals for the deceased.

Schedule of what happens on June 18th:

A. You arrive at Chuzenji temple and pay 500 yen entrance fee.

B. Then, you contribute 2000 yen to attend a Buddhist ceremony called Chuzenji Kannon-ko and to go on a cruise on the Chuzenji lake (called Jizo nagashi: 地蔵流し).

C. At 10:00 in the Godaido hall, monks arrive and chant for casualties, that takes approximately an hour.

D. Move to the Hashiri-daikokutendo hall (波之利大黒天堂) to pray for your good luck, safe delivery (if you’re pregnant), and so on.


Participants praying at the Hashiri-daikokutendo hall

E. Go elsewhere to have lunch. Enjoy whatever local yummy yummy you can find. Or eat bento you brought with you.

F. Thin, white slivers of Japanese paper printed with the image of Jizo are distributed to the cruise participants before setting off.


Name of the deceased is put on this paper, like this:


G. At 13:00 ferry leaves the port in front of Chuzenji temple and takes you on a trip around the lake. You can hear the monks chanting from the speakers. Your ferry ticket is included in the 2000 yen you paid earlier.

H. You throw thin white Jizo papers into the lake and pray for the deceased.


Old gentleman praying for the deceased, others throwing Jizo-printed papers.

I. The ferry sails nearby a small island named Kozukejima island (上野島) where parts of Monk Sho-do’s bones are enshrined. Parts of his neck, actually.


Kozukejima island. It is also known as one of the best fishing points among the local fishing otaku.

J. You come back to the port and are free to go home.

See you there next year.

You can see more photos from Chuzenji Kannon-ko and Jizo Nagashi on our other blog - Tochigi Daily Photo - here.

1 comment:

  1. I admire your work a lot and always enjoy the information you give. Thank you!


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