Posts Tagged ‘ Kobo Daishi ’

Recommending Three Recently-Published Books.

This is a first for LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com  I have books, new books on Japan, to recommend (plus a “Bonus Book”).  They’re friends’ books, in fact, so besides the treat you’d be giving yourself, you’d be doing me a great favor by checking out what my friends have done.  Also, I have a personal connection with each book, even if that connection’s a little tangential.  I bet you will, too.  .  .

1.  Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment.


Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment, by Amy Chavez.

“I had always wanted to do the Shikoku Pilgrimage ever since I heard about it when I first came to Japan in 1994. There are, of course, many ways to do the journey. If you do it on foot, it takes 5-6 weeks to complete. By bicycle, you’ll need about 10 days. You can also visit the temples by bus or car. To cover all 88 temples, it will take at least a week, even by car. Most foreigners are interested in walking it. It’s a great physical challenge as well as an opportunity to feel the countryside and Japan’s ancient culture. You’ll miss a lot of that if you do the pilgrimage by car. . . .”  Amy Chavez, in this interview on  Femina Intrepida.

Personal:  I’ve not yet done the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku.  However, I’ve been to Mount Koya, where Kobo Daishi — founder of Shikoku’s temples (not all of them, but he started the whole shebang) — set up a vast, and mysterious, temple complex.  More than that, I’ve been many times, more than a dozen I estimate, to Kobo Daishi’s home temple, To-ji, in Kyoto.  At one of To-ji’s main building’s 88 scrolls — one for each of the Shikoku 88 — are unfurled around it, stones set in the ground below each scroll.  Any one can do a “Mini Pilgrimage” by going round the building, stepping from stone to stone, and making a reverent, sincere, bow before each scroll and offering-up a prayer.  Here’s a photo I took on May 21, 2008, of people doing just that:

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008.

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008. Link, reviews.


2.  The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.


The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn

By (his wife), Setsuko Koizumi.  Edited & Illustrated by my friend, Hayato Tokugawa.

“There was no one who did more in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than Lafcadio Hearn to bring the inner thoughts and ideals of Japan, its religions, its superstitions, its art, its way of thought, all that animates its people, to the West. He lived in Meiji Era Japan and became one of its citizens, linking East and West, but received no public recognition, no decorations; yet, the world places a crown of laurel upon his head.Todai moto kurashi.”The foot of the beacon is dark.”In Reminiscences of Lafcadio Hearn, Setsuko Koizumi, Mrs. Hearn, has written wonderful, affectionate recollections of her life with Lafcadio Hearn in a book that is simply written, almost naive at times, sometimes funny yet at other times almost tragic, providing insights into herself, her family, and her husband and his wonderful writings on Old Japan.”  From The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.

Personal:  LafCadio Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 to begin a new life as a school teacher in Matsue, a town in Southern Japan situated on its western coast, on the Sea of Japan.  The first Hearn I read was a slim book of diaries.  I read it in 1990, 100 years after Hearn landed, not many months after I landed in Japan and began teaching in a Middle School, not too far from Matsue and Japan’s western coast.  I was amazed to find that much of what Hearn had written — impressions and insights about his students, the school system, his life as a teacher, etc. — were things that I could have written 100 years later. Link, reviews.


3.  Crossing on the Paris.

This one, Crossing on the Paris, is different.  It’s a historical novel.  It is not set in Japan, but rather, on the great (and very real) Trans-Atlantic Ship, The Paris, in 1921.  It was written by my friend Dana Gynther.  It’s her debut novel.  Dana and I have known each other since we were both undergrads at the University of Alabama in the early-to-mid 1980s.  Dana lives with her husband and two daughters (one whom I understand is simply nuts about Japan) in Valencia, Spain.  This book is a wonderful read and is No. 2 on’s “Downton Abbey Reading List.”


Crossing on the Paris, by Dana Gynther.

Being confined to a relatively small space—an ocean liner is an enormous boat, but a boat nonetheless—for almost a week does open a door to many possibilities. While doing research, I found that most people who made crossings back then claimed that time passed differently on board, that days felt like weeks. In this short time span, it was not uncommon for life-long friendships to form, for deep, dark secrets to be revealed to other travelers, for near-strangers to get engaged. In this book, all three women are travelling alone; reaching out to others is part of our very human willingness—or desire—to make friends, to share, to feel connected.  Dana Gynther, in this interview.

Personal:  I mention my personal connection with Dana at the beginning of this section.  Beyond that, Dana and I correspond occasionally, reminiscing about days gone by in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dana giving me sage writer’s advice as I complete a first-draft manuscript on my Japan adventures over the years, and so on.  Moreover, I’m just honored and humbled to know such an incredible writer, one who can put the reader into the scene, into the moment. Link, Reviews.

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A Quick Break from Bad Blood Between China & Japan.

I preface this by saying that before anyone gives me a hard time for  “not understanding the complexities and historical dimensions” of the China-Japan feud (attempted invasions, actual invasions, shocking atrocities, arrogance, real or feigned rage over historical events), please, I do get that.  I just want to do my infinitesimal part in creating more positive vibes . . .

Kobo Daishi, a/k/a Kukai

First, let’s go back 1200 years . . .

Since Esoteric Buddhism was relatively unknown in Japan, Kobo Daishi knew he must go to China in order to gain a better understanding of the Esoteric teachings.  Fortunately, Kobo Daishi was able to join a Japanese envoy in 804 that was traveling by boat to Xi’an (the capital of China at the time) to visit the Tang Dynasty. After spending some time in China, Kobo Daishi was given the opportunity to learn the essence of the esoteric teachings under a priest Huiguo, an authority on Esoteric Buddhism. Master Huiguo then initiated him into the Esoteric Buddhism tradition. It was truly remarkable that Kobo Daishi was able to master the complex esoteric teachings and be selected to be the eighth patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism in such a short period of time.

In spite of Kobo Daishi’s initial 20 year directive to study Buddhism in China, he returned to Japan after only two years with the mission from Master Huiguo to spread the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism throughout Japan.

Kobo Daishi returned to Japan in the province of Tsukushi (Fukuoka Prefecture), with a great number of religious textbooks and artworks. However, having disobeyed the 20 year directive from the government, he was not allowed to enter the capital city. After several years had passed, Kobo Daishi was finally permitted to enter the capital city. Immediately after being welcomed back into the capital city he proclaimed his devotion to propagating of the supreme doctrine of Esoteric Buddhism.

Kobo Daishi is also known as the father of Japanese culture. He is renown for his talents as a teacher, engineer, inventor, poet, calligrapher and creating the first public school in Japan. . . .

Read more here on the history and influence of China in Japan through Kobo Daishi

Bad relations between China and Japan suck.  I mean, they really rot (the bad relations, not the countries).  Makes me, and American, cringe.  I like both countries.  A lot.  But they’re both freaking out over each other now.  Here’s a recent piece on the latest Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands kerfuffle.  And today I just read where China’s refused to grant visas to three Japanese members of the Taiwanese National Symphony Orchestra on the eve of the Orchestra touring Mainland China.  Gad.

So, while it will do absolutely no good, I still feel compelled to offer-up this, an American tribute to both China and Japan, to Japan and China.  It may be silly, it may be naive, it may be superficial, but it’s still a really hep song, and it demonstrates that in other parts of the world lots of people think both countries are really cool and celebrate them both.

Bodhisattva – Steely Dan (1973)

Would you take me by the hand
Would you take me by the hand
Can you show me
The shine of your Japan
The sparkle of your china
Can you show me
Bodhisattva . . .



Prayers at the Temple of the Jade Buddha. Anshan, China. July 2008.


Over 1200 years ago Kobo Daishi — yes, the same guy who would go to China — founded To-ji Temple in Kyoto . . .

Prayers at Toji Temple. Kyoto, Japan. May 2008.

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To-ji (東寺) Temple Flea Market ・ Updated

=  First posted June 2010.   To-ji’s Flea Market is held on the 21st of every month.  =

To-ji temple covers many leafy, beautiful acres, busting with ancient halls and other buildings in South Central Kyoto.  It figures importantly into my life and Japan experience.  I first immersed myself in the To-ji Flea Market scene in the autumn of 1984 when I was 21 years old.  I went again and again over the years.  On September 21, 2001, I took my then-wife to the Flea Market and both of our lives changed dramatically as a result of that visit. . .  More, much more, on that in Part III of my book, Dancing Over Kyoto. In 2008 I took a group of U.S. college history students, Japanese History Students, to To-ji’s Flea Market.  It blew their minds.  Please read on.

Note:  Photos below from May 2008, going back to 2003 and 2002.

Approaching To-jis Southern Entrance from the west.

I first experienced To-ji as an undergrad, an exchange student, back in the 1980s, when I went a couple of different times to its 21st-of-every-month flea market.  Bursting with people, food (yakitoriokonomiyakitakoyakioden, yakisoba, taiyaki — with either custard or azuki bean filling — etc., etc.), treasures, junk, memorabilia, used kimono, knives, scrolls, incense, brass, wood, stoneware, sights and smells the like of which is unparalleled anywhere in Japan.  That’s no exaggeration: the monthly To-ji flea market is the largest in Japan.  Since those first couple of occasions I’ve been back again and again, in ’90, ’91, ’01 and many times since.  Two years ago, in May (May 21st, in fact) 2008, I took a group of UAB (University of Alabama-Birmingham) students to To-ji and, by all accounts, they had a good time.

A small fraction of the crowd on Flea Mkt day. May 21, 2008. (also called “Kobo-san”).

To-ji goes back to the year 786, when it was founded two years after Emperor Shomu moved his court from the even more ancient capital of Nara to Kyoto — then called “Heian-kyo.  Some of its images and relics date back almost as far.  Its iconic, 5-story pagoda is the tallest in Japan, some 180 feet high.  Its founder was the celebrated Tantric (Shingon) Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi.  To-ji’s flea market is thus affectionately known to and referred by locals simply as “Kobo-san.”

A former acquaintance checking the porcelain. To-ji. 2003.

And this under the food tents, To-ji in May 2002.

And this under the food tents, To-ji in May 2002.


1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008.


Local Ladies at “Choir Practice.” To-ji.

To-ji Market Hours: generally, dawn to dusk.  As with any flea market or variant thereof, better deals can be done in the late afternoon when the dealers are looking for cash-flow and desirous of diminishing their pack-up and loading time.  This is a general rule of thumb, but, of course, not a “hard and fast” rule. Oh, and Caveat emptor.


The Knife Man. To-ji. 2008.


     1.  From Kyoto Station exit out of the Shinkansen (“Bullet Train”) Central Entrance. This is on the South Side of Kyoto Station. If you’re on the side that exits out to Kyoto Tower, then you’re on the North Side and need to go back up the stairs (or escalator) to the 2nd Floor Pedestrian Walkway and walk back over to the opposite side, go down the steps and keep walking straight towards the (South) exit. You’ll pass the Kintetsu Railway (inside) Central Entrance on your right just before you walk out of Kyoto Station.  

     2.  After you get all the way out of Kyoto Station take a right and follow the sidewalk which runs along Hachijo-dori ・八条道り(Hachijo Street), keep going straight, leaving Kyoto Station receding behind you on your right. About two or so city blocks after Kyoto Station’s behind you, you’ll cross a major intersection, where Hachijo-dori crosses Aburanokoji-dori. Keep going straight.

     3.  About 3 blocks after crossing the big intersection (remember, you haven’t turned and you’re still on Hachijo-dori), you’ll come to another largish intersection, where Hachijo-dori meets Omiya-dori・大宮道り. Turn left onto Omiya-dori (you’re almost there).

     4.  Walk just a few blocks down Omiya-dori and you’ll see To-ji Temple on your right. You can either go into the first entrance you come to, on your right, or — as I recommend — walk to the end of the street and take a right on Kujo-dori, keeping To-ji on your right hand side as you walk down the sidewalk. Now you’re walking along To-ji’s southern (main entrance) side and you’ll be among throngs of people. After a couple hundred yards you’ll arrive at the Southern Large/Main Gate (Nandaimon) and you can enter there.

Total Time from Exiting Kyoto Station to the Main Gate: 15 minutes+/-.