Monday, June 3, 2024

A meizanologist's diary (76)

4 April (cont): The problem with meizanology is that you’re never quite done. On the way home from Iwagomori-yama, we decide to take in the cherry blossom on a famous rocky foreland at Tsuruga. The car is parked beside a nearby temple.

There a signboard catches my eye: it seems that Konzenji was founded by Monk Taichō in the eighth year of Tempyō (736). Now Taichō is a person of interest to meizanologists, as a couple of decades before founding Konzenji he “opened” Hakusan (2,702m), not to mention a slew of other mountains in the 'hood. 

And as in all the many temples inaugurated by this pioneering monk, Konzenji’s principal image depicted the eleven-headed Kannon, Taichō's patron saint. Over the next twelve centuries, a web of legends and stories wove themselves around this venerable statue. 

Long ago in Tsuruga, an only daughter fell deeper and deeper into destitution after her parents died. In desperation, she prayed to the Kannon-sama, whereupon a monk appeared in her dreams and said that the man who would become her husband would appear on the morrow. There was just one difficulty: the daughter had no food in the house to offer any guests. An old woman then passed by, who claimed to have known her parents, and brought her a veritable feast – for which the girl rewarded her with the gift of a scarlet silk robe, as she had no money to hand. And on that evening, it all came to pass. A wealthy young widower from Mino asked if he and his retinue could find lodgings there, and found that he was marvellously reminded by his hostess of his late wife. But before the girl left to live happily ever after in Mino, she went to visit the temple one last time. And there she saw that that the Kannon-sama was now wearing a scarlet hakama draped over her shoulders….

In 1570, the shrine and temple burned to the ground when Oda Nobunaga, never one to worry about collateral damage, laid siege to the castle on this same rocky foreland. Yet by some miracle the ancient statue survived, to be re-installed in a new hall in 1662. And so the Kannon-sama continued to watch over Tsuruga until 12 July 1945, when an air raid destroyed the town, the temple and everything in it. The statue in the rebuilt hall was borrowed from a subsidiary temple.

As on Iwagomori this morning, I have to hurry to after the ladies, who are now climbing the steep stone stairs up to the shrine. On the way, we pass a terrace where stalls are selling "soft cream", and roast squid on sticks, while a woman hoarsely exhorts a bored monkey to jump over hurdles. We catch up with each other under the shrine's inner torii. Now in full bloom, the flowers catch the occasional gleam of sunlight. Only in the distance do the clouds still sit firmly on the mountains.

Basho was here too: let's not get started on this now ....

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