June 21, 2011

Glory and Tragedy

Who knows this temple's glorious history? Who knows its tragic events?  Even people in  Nara know little about them.

It is Gango-ji Temple in Naramachi, Nara City. This lovely  temple always welcomes us with seasonal flowers. Now, Harushagiku or coreopsis are in full bloom.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan through Korea in 538 or 552. Over whether Buddhism would be accepted or not, the leading noble clans were divided into two parties; pro-Buddhist and anti-Buddhist. They fought against each other for decades. At last, pro-Buddhist party led by the Soga clan won the war. In 588,  the Soga family built the first Buddhist temple in Asuka (then Capital of Japan) and named it Hoko-ji Temple which is the forerunner of Gango-ji Temple. When Nara became the capital of Japan, the temple was moved to Nara in 718, renamed as Gango-ji Temple and flourished as one of the Seven Great Temples in Nara.
Stone carvings of Jizo Bodhisattva( guardian deity of children and travelers)
and stone memorial  tablets 

When I read "Japan" published by "lonely planet" which  is  the largest travel guide book and digital media publisher in the world , I was startled at the explanation about Gango-ji Temple.
"A small temple that is listed as one of Nara's UNESCO World Heritage sites. Despite its World Heritage listing, it's not particularly interesting and probably only merits a quick glace from outside." Oh, No!! (This book is the 10th edition in 2007. So if the latest edition amended its evaluation of this temple, I am awfully sorry.)
Stone carvings of Jizo Bodhisattva and  small  stone pagodas

Once upon a time, Gango-ji Temple  held  huge precincts and was as magnificent as Kofuku-ji Temple or Todai-ji Temple.

The temple had experienced the rise and fall.  The temple had suffered unfavorable issues and repeated fires. Especially, in 1451, the conflagration caused by an  uprising burned many temple buildings including the main hall. The temple did not have enough strength to rebuild the lost structures. People started to occupy  the land of ruins of the temple. They built  their houses, planted vegetables and made paths in the precincts of the temple. This is how Naramachi was formed. The size of the temple was badly diminished. But the temple holds the oldest history among the all Buddhist temples in Japan.

Among gray roof tiles, there are reddish brown roof tiles which are the oldest roof tiles in Japan, dating back to the 6th century. They have been still protecting the temple structures from the elements.

I found the stone called  "Stop Stone" which means the owner of the land refuses us to go forward over the stone. The stone is placed in front of the path to the private section of the temple. I like the stone better than a notice board  saying "Off-limit". If you see this kind of  stone in a Japanese garden with a tea house,  it is to guide visitors along a prescribed route.

Strange enough, the guardian of this temple has been Thunder Deity,  but over the years people started to mix the images of  Thunder Deity and a demon. The guardian really looks like the demon.

Now the temple is loved  and supported by people. This great little temple with the tranquil and cozy atmosphere is my favorite. How soothing !
Can you see it raining?

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  1. Oh goodness - what an incredibly beautiful post. Your photos and words fall as gently as the rain.

  2. Lovely post and what a shame that "Lonely Planet" did not recognize the temple's beauty and significance when it published in 2007.

  3. Your photos and stories leave me breathless and so thankful I found your blog. Beautiful!

  4. Breathtaking captures, wonderful stories and such a magnificent visit to another part of your country! Always a pleasure to view and read your posts! Hope you have a great week!


  5. What an interesting explanation. I would guess that if you look in the areas around this interesting and peaceful temple, you may find old stones and tiles which were re-used by the people who came to live among the ruins. It would make sense to them to re-use some of the materials for their own houses. Did you ever look for these?

    I think there are often mistakes in "Lonely Planet".

  6. Beautiful post! I love the photo with the stone statues and the yellow flowers!

  7. Wonderful post!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  8. your posts are the most enjoyable of my week. you have a wonderful eye for taking beautiful photos, and the addition of the history lesson is enlightening and I love it. have a great week.

  9. just a beautiful place. thanks for sharing your beautiful images with us!

  10. Oh this is really a beautiful post, snowwhite! I visited this temple twice in early autumn when Hagi flowers were in full bloom. They were so lovely. I've known the chief priest of the temple since I was 20's. I enjoyed very much reading your descriptions about the history of the temple.
    What a bloody age it was! I think Nara-machi is a nice place to visit. I had a good time there.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

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  12. Terrific shots. A place I have never seen, may never see too... thanks so much for sharing.

  13. I’ve never been to Gango-ji at this season but at the time when kikyo (Chinese bellflower) were in bloom. The blue-purple flowers were creating lovely scenes together with carved stones and stone pagodas. Reflections in the water drops are exquisitely beautiful in the first photo.

  14. Hi,Snowwhite.
    元興寺は、私も大好きな所です。奈良公園に行った時は必ずと言って良いほど、奈良町にある日本のアンティークのお店に寄ります。以前奈良町にある喫茶店でお茶を飲んだ時、赤い糸で結ばれた石を出されました。レシートの上に置かれていました。あまりにも可愛いらしく、いい考えだなあと感心したので、お店の方にその糸の意味をお尋ねしました。私もその石を写真に撮りました。一番目の葉っぱの上の水滴はdreamy に撮られてて素敵です。Have a good day.

  15. Thank you for the post, snowwhite!
    It is so nice and unusual place for me.

  16. Hi, Snowwhite.
    I didn't know about history of Gangoji. I went there on the day before the beginning of spring for the first time. I felt this temple is small relatively. The temple were taken its land from neighborhood. So sad.
    By the way I was surprised finding you sitting next to me at the beauty salon.

  17. really great shots, very interesting information and I really hope, the lonely planet people should reconsider. This temple is really beautiful and interesting. My world entry is here.

  18. The first photo just take my breath away, the drop on the leaf ... it's painful to take my eyes away from it.

    The stone carvings out there among the flowers ... very enigmatic, these ancient stones containing half-forgotten potent images, surrounded by the blossoming flowers of spring ... wow.

    Beautiful pictures all around! Thank you!

  19. Jenny Woolf,
    Thank you for your question. Taking over the temple precincts started around the 15th century. I guess there must have been some re-use of the materials, but in Naramach, there scarcely exist concrete, official written documents on its history or historical events. People have written a lot about Naramachi, however mostly they are based on some legends which contradict each other sometimes. Some of the 8th century original foundation stones of the main hall of Gango-ji Temple are under the floors of private houses or inside the private grounds. People seem to be very proud to have them. According to the old story, some famous religious statues are said to have belonged to the temple and now they are preserved by the town people. But when I asked the chief priest whether they had been placed in the temple, he answered "Absolutely not!" I found the subtle differences between the sentiments of the temple and the people.

  20. Yes I can see the rain and thanks for sharing this. Very interesting and the little yellow flowers is a great flower.

  21. sturdust,




  22. I am back and always hungry for more! Your photos are haunting me. They are beautiful and always comes with a good story! I did see the rain and it's lovely. I love the contrast of the stones against the whimsical flowers! Thank you for sharing! *hugs*

  23. I didn't know about the meaning of 関守石. That's interesting.
    Each photo is poetic and can be understood as an implicit message of its history. The first photo reminds me of ”つらぬきとめぬ玉ぞ”散りける

  24. What a lovely post--your photos are so nice and the information on the temple was most interesting. Thanks for sharing. Mickie :)

  25. I absolutely love the “Stop Stone” idea … how creative, how clever. And how wonderful that the temple you speak of with its fluctuating history and awesome stones is loved again. And yes I can imagine lovely rain pattering on the flowers there. :)

  26. what a fascinating entry. your photos are wonderful and i enjoy the history lesson. thanks for sharing your world.

  27. Wonderful post and photos. I'd never heard about the stop stone before.

  28. Beautiful photos along with an interesting and well told history of this temple. Too bad the Lonely Planet guide didn't have you to help them write their entry about the temple. Hopefully they have corrected or will correct their information for travellers to Nara. The rain in the bottom photo looks nice.

  29. All works are lovely.
    The small happiness.

    This moment is stared at carefully. . .

    Thank you.

  30. Hello Snowwhite!
    An interesting post,when we delve into the past of old buildings so often evidence of bloody conflict comes up.I find it strange to think of Buddhists fighting but many wars have been fought in the name of religion,and it continues.
    Your photos are beautiful,showing different aspects of this place.
    I like the first for it's abstract quality also the fourth with the contrast of spidery flowers growing beside the solid stone carvings....the new with the old!
    The handle on the stop stone is a great idea. And these amazing roof tiles are so beautiful,I've spent quite a few minutes admiring them.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Enjoy your day,

  31. ここに咲く波斯菊はとても幸せですね。お地蔵さんを優しく取り囲み、雨で濡れた建物の側、これほど自分にふさわしい場所で咲き誇れるのですから。

  32. Beautiful series of photos. Great colors.

  33. and only you can post something as interesting as this snowwhite. ^0^
    an inspiring story with wonderful shots about the temple.
    if i had the chance to visit Osaka sometime soon, i'd definitely go and visit the place.
    i love the dewdrop on the 1st foto as well as the last one.

    ps: i'd also buy that cute key chain souvenir. ^-^

  34. cosmos,

    Forest Ddream Weaver,
    Fortunately, in Japan there are scarcely religious wars, except the wars between pro-Buddhist and anti-Buddhist in the 6th century. The anti-Buddhist group means pro-Shinto group (Shinto is indigenous religion based on nature worship in Japan)
    Around the 8th century, mixture of Buddhism and Shinto started. I think it is hard to believe that both religions have co-existed side by side peacefully for 1400 years.

  35. Snowwhite, I have just discovered your site - how lovely your photos are, and how intriguing the history stories that accompany the pictures. I will be looking forward to additional postings with pleasant anticipation!

  36. Anzu,

  37. amazing insight into the Gango-ji temple. Thank you for the pictures!

  38. You are certainly correct that The Lonely Planet got it wrong. These photos are ample proof of that. I love the picture of the little stone pagodas with a layer of yellow flowers floating above them.

  39. この春、まだ寒い時期に元興寺へ須田剋太さんの展覧会を観にゆきました。力強いタッチの画と床の冷たさを同時に思い出します。


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