Kawasaki Daishi a.k.a. Heikenji

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In the early 12th century, there was a feudal lord named Kanenori Hirama (his date of birth and death unknown) holding a fief in Aichi Prefecture. As a vassal family of the Minamoto Clan, he participated the Nine-Year and Three-Year Battles broke out in northern Japan (see Taihoji for details) together with his father, and rendered distinguished services. After the winning battles, however, Yoshimitsu Minamoto (1045-1127), his boss and chief of the Minamoto clan, deprived him of the fief because of a false charge filed against him. In distress, he started on a roaming journey and settled finally at the marshland near estuary of the Tama River (a border between Kanagawa Prefecture and Tokyo) circa 1130, where he began earning a livelihood by fishing at Tokyo Bay. Back at the time, the area including today's Tokyo was covered with grasses or forests, and few people lived.

kdaishigateLegend narrates that in the sea near the house Hirama lived in, there was something that emitted light every night. While he was asleep one night, a great-looking priest appeared in his dream and identified himself as Priest Kukai (774-835), the founder of the Shingon Sect. The Priest told him, "When I was in China to study Buddhism, I carved my own statue and threw it into water offering a prayer to save suffering people. The radiating object off the beach is the statue of my own. Cast a net and pick it up. If you continue to embrace the statue, you will be protected from evils." Hirama was exactly 42 years old at the time, believed to be an evil year (yakudoshi) for men. He deferred to the Priest's revelation in the dream and went into the sea with a net. As had been predicted, he found the statue and caught it in the net. He brought it back home and worshiped it faithfully night and day.

Shortly afterward, an itinerant priest of Kongobuji in Wakayama Prefecture, the mother temple of the entire Shingon Sect, was travelling around here and head a rumor of Hirama's encounter with the statue. The priest, Sonken by name, visited Hirama's house and watched the statue, which looked precisely like Priest Kukai. Moved by Hirama's faith in Priest Kukai and the statue, he built a small temple for Hirama so that Hirama might enshrine the statue. This small temple is the origin of today's Heikenji. (Hirama can also be pronounced Heiken in Chinese characters and the namesake of Heikenji). Hirama's faith seem to have brought him a miraculous virtue. The charges filed against him earlier proved to be false. Hirama was acquitted and permitted to assume the original position as the lord of a fief in Aichi. Upon returning to Aichi, he donated half of his fortune to the Temple to express his deep sense of gratitude. The tale spread fast and people began to believe that the Temple has a magical power to prevent ill fortune. Gaining a reputation for being able to ward off evils, it turned into a magnet for the faithful.

However, the district back then was a dry river-bed not suitable for people to live and remained so for a long time. It was only in 1603 that Ieyasu Tokugawa (1542-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, unified Japan and placed the military headquarters in Tokyo (then called Edo {eh-doh}), making it the de facto nation's capital. Thereafter, population of Tokyo began to increase gradually. Nevertheless, the Temple was not yet well known in the early Edo Period (1603-1868).

It was a member of the Tokugawa Shogunate family named Munetake Tayasu (1715-1771), to whom today's popularity of the Temple owes much. He was the second son of the Eighth Shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa (1684-1751) and established the Tayasu family. Hearing rumors that Heikenji, a.k.a. Kawasaki Daishi (Daishi is an honorific title for Priest Kukai) had miraculous virtues and was responsive to prayers, he visited the Temple in 1753, and offered prayer for her wife, who was about to reach the age 33, which was thought to be the unlucky year for women, or Yakudoshi (to be mentioned later in this page). Exorcism and prayers for her appeared to have been answered and her wife spent the year in comfort. Again in 1756, when Tayasu himself was 42 years old, Yakudoshi for men, he visited the Temple to exorcise evil spirits from him. By virtue of the the marvelous efficacy, his Yakudoshi year which might have otherwise been unlucky proved to be nice and happy. In deference to the efficacy, he donated a stone monument, or Hokyo-into (see Kamakura Terminology), to the Temple. It still exists in the Temple's grounds. The story spread fast among the Tokugawa family, and the Shogun thereafter began to visit the Temple the year they attained the age of Yakudoshi.

Since the Temple was situated only 15 kilometers south of midtown Tokyo (22 kilometers to be exact as the road was winding), it was possible for enthusiasts to make a day's trip to the Temple. With growth of population (over 1 million in the early 18th century), visitors who want to win favor of the deity and want to prevent ill fortune increased so sharply that the 35th chief priest was able to collect enough alms from 100,000 devotees to build a magnificent main hall in 1835, the year of Priest Kukai's 1,000th anniversary of death. Townsend Harris (1804-1878), the first American consul who resided in Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture (refer to Gyokusenji for details of Harris), visited the Temple on November 11, 1857 on his way up to Tokyo to meet with the Shogun for the negotiation of the US-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce. According to his Journals, it was Sunday, the Sabbath, and the Temple was just one mile down the hotel he was staying at. After Sunday service (which was prohibited in Japan), he strolled down to the Temple. Although his impressions on Japan were by and large contemptuous and full of strange feeling, he was amazed at and praised the structures, the 23 by 27 meters copper-roofed main hall in particular.

Those days, the Temple as well as those in Kamakura were favorite places for foreigners to visit. In August 1862, four Britons tried to visit the Temple. On their way from Yokohama, they met with Daimyo (feudal lord) procession and were killed or seriously injured by samurai. Total strangers, they knew nothing about how to deal with the procession. It was referred to as Namamugi Incident and developed into the war between British navy and Daimyo in Kagoshima Prefecture. (See Sojiji). For them, the Temple must have seemed to be of great attraction.

Given the fact that there was no transportation mode like today's, most visitors in Tokyo had to walk the long way to visit the Temple. They usually left home at 4:00 a.m. and needed six and a half hours one way, getting back home late at night.

Entrepreneurs seem to exist at any time. Seeing the congestion around the Temple, an electric railroad was constructed in 1899 connecting present day's Kawasaki Station to Kawasaki Daishi Station, now called the Daishi Line of Keihin Kyuko Railways Co. It was the first electric trains ever operated in eastern Japan and the origin of today's Keihin Kyuko Railways. It runs today from Tokyo down to the tip of the Miura peninsula. Meanwhile, the first locomotive trains began to run in 1872 between Shinbashi, Tokyo and Sakuragi-cho, Yokohama. In between was Kawasaki.

Before World War II, Tokyo, Kawasaki and Yokohama areas (called Keihin district for short taking the kanji characters of kyo and hama) was the most heavily industrialized zone in Japan, and became the main arsenal of Japanese army. Naturally, the areas turned target of air raids by the Allied Forces. On April 15, 1945, in particular, B29 air bombers almost flattened Kawasaki, and the Temple was almost totally destroyed including the library, wherein precious treasures and ancient documents had been kept. (B29 is as well known to the elderly Japanese as B747 is.) This is a major reason the Temple's historical backgrounds are not necessarily clear.

Conveniently located in this densely populated region between Tokyo and Yokohama, the Temple draws each year nearly 3 million worshipers during the first three days of New Year, always ranking in the third place next to Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo and Shinshoji near the Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture.

Priest Kukai, a.k.a. Kobo Daishi

kdaishiMHHe is known as the founder of the Shingon Sect, or the Esoteric Buddhism (also referred to as Tantric Buddhism) in Japan. Born to a local aristocracy's family in Kagawa Prefecture and highly gifted from childhood, he was sent to Kyoto for study at age 14, and entered a college at age 18 majoring in Chinese philosophy such as Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. However, he dropped out before long and focused his study on Buddhism. What he did soon afterward was to practice ascetic self-discipline in the mountains of Tokushima and Kochi Prefectures. Later in Nara, he came across the Mahavairocana (The Great Sun) sutra, which led him into the Esoteric Buddhism. In 804 at age 31, he was enrolled as a member of the Japanese envoy to China under the Tang dynasty, the first of the official diplomatic mission. Arriving at Ch'ang-an, then the capital of China, by way of Fuchien Province, he became a student of Priest Hui-Kuo (746-805) (Keika in Japanese) at Ch'ing-lung temple, which was thought to be the mecca of the Chen-yen (Shingon) sect of Esoteric Buddhism in China.

A fluent speaker of Chinese language and master of Sanskrit, he was welcomed by Priest Hui-Kuo. So capable as he was, Priest Hui-Kuo had ordained him to the master of the Esoteric Buddhism just before Priest Hui-kuo passed away, conducting an initiation ceremony called Abhisecarna in Skt. In 806, he came back to Japan as a specialist of the Esoteric Buddhism and brought in a great deal of Buddhism-related artifacts made in China including graphic arts and ritual implements. The same year, he joined Jingoji in Kyoto, where he was engaged in propagating the Esoteric Buddhism. It was so influential and appealing to those who had been accustomed to perfunctory Buddhism that he won patronage of the Imperial Family and court nobles. Backed by their support, Priest Kukai founded Kongobuji in 819, the head temple of the entire Shingon Sect, at Mt. Koya in Wakayama Prefecture with the aid of Emperor Saga (786-842). In 823, the same emperor granted him Toji (its official name is Kyo-o-gokoku-ji) located near Kyoto Station as a seminary for the Esoteric Buddhism. It was the Japanese equivalent of Ch'ing-lung temple in Ch'ang-an. In commemoration of his dedicated performances, the Buddhist honorable title Kobo Daishi was conferred on him. Daishi is literally a great master, an honorific title given by the Imperial Court to prelate-like priests with high virtue.

Besides his role as a religious leader, Priest Kukai was also a great calligrapher, a poet and an artist. The fifty one hiragana {he-rah-gah-nah}, or the Japanese phonetic symbols we Japanese widely use today, were invented by him simplifying Chinese characters. The first thing today's school children have to learn are those hiragana. Before hiragana was invented, all Japanese wordage were written or expressed in complicated Chinese characters.

There are two pieces of popular saying related to his skilled penmanship. The first is "Priest Kobo chooses no pen", which corresponds to "A bad workman quarrels with his tools". The other is "Even Priest Kobo misspells", which is equivalent to "Homer sometimes nods". Incidentally, Emperor Saga was as good a calligrapher as Priest Kukai.

Another achievement made by Priest Kukai was the Shikoku Eighty-eight Temples Pilgrimage. Even today, the pilgrimage is quite popular and honored by tens of thousands of worshipers every year. It starts at a temple in Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku Island, and make the the rounds of the total eighty-eight holy temples clockwise to Kochi, Ehime and Kagawa Prefectures. To complete the 1,400-kilometer-circuit on foot requires usually two months. In Shikoku Island, you can spot those white-clad pilgrims with straw hat and wooden staff. Though many are making the round by air-conditioned buses or cars in a week or so, real pilgrims finish the circuit totally on foot chanting the Heart Sutra at each temple. They regard the wooden staff as Kobo Daishi himself and believe they are always with the Daishi.
His bronze statue on the pilgrim with a wooden staff and bamboo hat is standing in the Temple's courtyard.

Shingon Sect and Esoteric Buddhism

Teachings of Esoteric Mahayana Buddhism originate in India and flourished from the 6th to the 10th centuries. In Japan it was first introduced by Priest Kukai via China as noted above, and then by Priest Saicho (767-822), the founder of the Tendai Sect and Enryakuji at Mt. Hiei, Shiga Prefecture.

It shares with other sect the dedication to achieving enlightenment, but takes the stand that its fundamental scriptures are the Dainichi-kyo (Mahavairocana sutra in Skt.) and the Kongocho-kyo (Vajrasekhara sutra in Skt.). They are expounded by the cosmic Buddha Dainichi-Nyorai (Mahavairocana in Skt.), or the Ultimate Reality. Sakyamuni is interpreted as one of many manifestations of the Buddha Mahavairocana. A sedentary statue of Dainichi-Nyorai at e-Museum.

In the case of Shingon Sect, the formula that are repetitively declaimed are Nam-daishi-henjo-kongo, similar to Nam-amy-dah-boo'ts for the Jodo Sect and Nam-myo-ho-ren-ghe'kyo for the Nichiren Sect. Nam means adoration to something. Daishi is Priest Kukai himself and Henjo-kongo stands for Dainichi-Nyorai.

The Sect puts more emphasis on elaborate and secret ritual practices such as mantras and mudras rather than theoretical doctrines. This purificatory and exorcistic rites are so elaborate and complicated that no other sect Buddhists can follow. In this context, the Sect has closer affinity with Hinduism and Lamaism. Best known among the services would be a sacred fire-ritual for invocation, which is called Goma or Homa in Skt., meaning a holy fire for invocation to exorcise evil spirits. To be specific, it is the rite of burning cedar sticks on the altar while chanting sutras and using many Buddhist implements. Fire is believed to purify or ward off the evil spirits. Not in the written scriptures at all, the method of rituals are handed down from masters to disciples by word of mouth. As a result, the Sect is said to be secret or esoteric.

Meditation is usually made in front of the altars, on which two sacred mandala (which represents the universe pictorially with geometric designs of Buddha deities pantheon) are placed: One is the Diamond World (Vajra-dhatu in Skt. Kongo-kai in Japanese) and Womb World (Garbha-dhatu in Skt. Taizo-kai in Jpns.) The Diamond World mandala represents the realm of transcendent and the Womb World the compassionate aspects of the Buddha. Mandala also serve as the object of worship as they represent the deities pantheon and the spiritual universe. Mandala can be seen at Culture Net site.

Shingon Sect temples usually enshrine statues of Dainichi Nyorai and or Myo-o (Vidyaraja in Skt.) group. Unlike other Nyorai statues, Dainichi-Nyorai is represented in a princely costume and accessories similar to those worn by Bodhisattvas. All Myo-o are its attendants and are believed to admonish, by the command of Dainichi Nyorai, those who are reluctant to accept its teachings. Myo-o are warlike deities representing the luminescent wisdom of the Buddha, typified by Fudo-Myo-o (Acalanatha in Skt.). In stark contrast to Nyorai and Bosatsu statues, all the Myo-o statues take on a ferocious appearance with pugnacious aspect, with a third eye in the middle of their forehead, designed to frighten away evil spirits and threaten those who do not easily accept teachings. Among Myo-o, most often we encounter are Go-dai-Myo-o, or the Five Great-Wisdom Kings. Shinshoji situated near the Narita International Airport is also a full-fledged Shingon sect temple.
A Fudo-Myo-o statue at NNM.

In the early 9th century, Priest Saicho also visited China and introduced to Japan the Tendai (Tian-tai in Chinese) sect, another Esoteric Buddhism. In Japanese, the Esoteric Buddhism is termed Mikkyo and to distinguish the Shingon Sect and the Tendai Sect Mikkyo, we call the former Toh-mitsu (Mikkyo of Toji) and the latter Tai-mitsu (Mikkyo of Tian-tai).

Yakushi Hall
The two-story building looks like an Indian temple and has a total space of 723 square meters. On top of the three towers, large one in the center, are equipped with Horin, or Dharma-cakra in Skt., a Buddhist implement which is believed to drive away evil spirits. Brand new Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru) and its attendants Juni (Twelve)Shinsho statues were enshrined at the hall only recently in 2008 in commemoration of the Temple's 880th anniversary.
A sedentary statue of Yakushi Nyorai at e-Museum and six of Juni Shinsho at MFA..

It used to be a hall for Yakuyoke, or warding off evils. Yakuyoke against car-accidents are most popular.

kdaishiyakushiYaku denotes every sort of misfortune, be it man-made calamity or natural disaster. The Japanese still harbor the belief that those misfortunes befall them by the power of evil spirits or divine punishments, and they have to exorcise those evil spirits in order to drive them out. Esoteric Buddhism as represented by the Shingon Sect seems to fit for those who want to be free from ill fortunes rather than those who seek happiness, since the Sect supplicate the gods with greatest fervency. Japanese exorcism reminds me of the discovery of the Egyptian King Tut's mummy as a case in point. After it was unearthed in 1922 by Howard Carter (1874-1939), a series of misfortunes befell those who were involved in digging the King's tomb including Lord Carnarvan (1866-1923). If it had occurred in Japan, religious Japanese might have believed the ill fortunes were brought by the evil spirits of the King Tut and had to be exorcised immediately.

Besides, the Japanese like divination, most of which are based on the ancient Chinese philosophy. According to the principle, there are the dual forces in this world: The positive and negative, the active and passive, the male and female, etc. In addition, there are five natural elements: Fire, wood, earth, metal and water. Divination is created by the combination of the dual forces with the five natural elements just like astrology, and such divination is called Onmyo in Japanese.

A typical divination based on this thought would be rokuyo, whereby each day of calendar is allocated one of the following six specific names telling what or when we should or should not do something:

: A luck day,
Shakku: A bad day except for twelve noon.
Sensho: A lucky day in the morning but unlucky in the afternoon.
Tomobiki : A trail day for better or for worse.
Senbu: Good in the afternoon but unlucky in the morning.
Butsumetsu: The most unlucky day in all respects meaning Buddha's death.

Those fortunes are applied in continuous six-day cycles (not always in the order above), and appears on most of Japanese calendar. The older the people, the more likely they honor the designations to get away from yaku. Scientifically speaking, those soothsaying are groundless and the trends are at work that calendar makers do not print those rokuyo simply because they are superstitious. Nevertheless, many still observe them. To name a few, crematories and funeral homes are all closed on the Butsumetsu day. Wedding-ceremony halls charge extra fee on weekend taian days due to strong demand. Even in the modern corporate society, the custom has extensively been honored. There are ten electric power companies in Japan and they have to report to the Ministry of Economy and Industry whenever they change the electricity rates. Oddly enough, all the reports by them have always been made on the taian days. It was only September 2000 that one of them, Tokyo Electric Power Co., finally changed the time-honored custom and announced the rate change on one of butsumetsu days. The Asahi Shinbun, the most influential daily in Japan with a circulation of 8 million, played up the event in its business page.

In ancient days, major yaku were such calamities as listed on the marine insurance policy like war, earthquake, tempest, inundation, pestilence, a famine, etc. Yaku changes with time, however, and today's top yaku would be traffic accidents. Every year, nearly one million people are injured in traffic accidents, and of those, 5,000 people were killed (counting only those who died within 24 hours after accidents). Almost all car owners visit temples or shrines to have priests exorcise the evil spirit and pray for the drivers to be protected from accidents in one way or another. The Temple is among the most popular in this respect, so popular that this hall functions as a prayer hall for the safe traffic. The hall was first constructed in 1961 and then expanded to the present building in 1970 to catch up growing demand. The exorcism ritual coupled with Goma ceremony takes place every thirty minutes from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. year-round. Applicants can apply for it by paying 5,000 yen a car, usually good for one year. After the ritual, they receive a couple of exorcised amulets and hang one in front of the driver's seat or stick it near the license plate. On the amulets, a mark of katsuma or Karman in Skt. is printed, which is one of the ritual implements used by Esoteric Buddhists to win karmic merit and believed to have a magical power to drive away calamities. When I was here one day to take pictures, a young driver who apparently finished the exorcism rite sped out of the parking lot with bustling noise. Muffler of his car was apparently altered. He may have felt relieved and trust the god would keep him from all sorts of accidents. Does the god really protect such a hot-rodder and give better divine favors to him than to those who do not visit temples or shrines but drive carefully?

Yakudoshi or yaku year, and yaku age are also of great concern for Japanese. According to the Onmyo school, the age 25 and 42 for men and 19 and 33 for women are thought to be critical years. (Note: A person's age in this case is counted in a traditional way according to the calendar year starting from the year of birth as age 1. A baby who was born on December 31, therefore, would be age 2 the next day.) Those whose age reach yakudoshi are usually at a crossroad in life and are deemed vulnerable for evil influences. Here again, Yakudoshi men and women visit temples or shrines to get divine favors. The Yakudoshi concept is not necessarily superstitious. Statistically, those ages are climacteric ones and those who reaches yakudoshi are most likely to experience one misfortune or another. In my personal case, for example, it was right in this Yakudoshi year that the Yom Kippur War broke out and changed my business career. Careful enthusiasts want to be exorcised a year earlier and a year after in addition toYakudoshi year, calling them mae {mah-eh} (pre) yaku and ato {ah-toh} (post) yaku.

The 210th and 220th days counting from the first day of spring on lunar calendar, which usually fall on September 1 and 11 are also thought to be bad days for farmers because typhoons are likely to hit Japan's archipelago on those days and cause heavy damages to the rice plants. Rice is the staple food for Japanese like wheat is to Westerners and the plants bloom in early September. According to Japan Meteorological Agency, however, typhoons that gave dire havocs in the past hit Japan during September 25 to 27.

kdaishipagodaThe Temple has long been reputed not only for its Yakuyoke exorcism but also for its ability to fulfill the wishes of worshipers, and a magnet for pious enthusiasts. They apply the Temple for exorcism and prayers for a wide array of wishes, which include: Driving out evil spirits, well-being of one's family, business prosperity, recovery from sickness, success in entrance exams, good marriages, pregnancy, getting a good job, safe overseas travels, and so on. Exorcism rituals and prayers for those applicants are performed 7 times on weekdays and 8 times on weekends with a cost of ranging from 3,000 to 30,000 yen depending upon the time needed for such rituals. When I visited the Temple at 1:10 p.m. on a Saturday, the electric signboard was telling that the applicants had to wait until 14:30 for the next session.

For those who cannot afford the expensive rituals, the Temple provide them with numerous trinket-like talismans. Again, there is an array of amulets of all kinds, to prevent sickness, ensure family safety, foster business prosperity, to prevent automobile accident, and good luck charms like rabbit feet in the West. The costs range from 300 yen to 2,000 yen.

Temple Structures

The Temple is among the three largest New Shingon sect temples in the Kanto region (Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures) . The other two are: Shinshoji in Narita and Yakuo-in at Mt. Takao, Tokyo. Worthy of the name, it has many gorgeous structures and draws a great number of visitors.

Henjo-mon Gate
In memory of the 850th anniversary of the Temple's founding, the Gate was constructed in 1977. With double-decked, half hipped roof, it houses shiten-no statues, or four statues of deva kings, on both sides. As to details on Shiten-no, see Buddhism. They are cast copying those that are enshrined at Toji in Kyoto, the mecca of the Esoteric Buddhism. Enshrined in the upper story are a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, or Bhaisajyaguru vaiduryaprabha in Skt., and Juni-Shinsho, or twelve guardian deities of Yakushi Nyorai.

Main Hall
Built of reinforced concrete in 1964, it employed an architectural style prevailed in the Heian Period (794-1185). It measures 42 by 32 meters and 25 meters high. Before the War, it was a masterpiece of wooden building. Unfortunately, it was totally destroyed by air raids in April 1945. The original main object of worship, or the statue of Priest Kukai, had been evacuated to a temple in Yokohama and survived, while the one temporary enshrined at the time of the raid was ruined.

Fudo-do Hall
As the name indicates, the hall enshrines a statue of Fudo Myo-o, or Acalanatha in Skt. Literally it is the Immovable and was invited from Shinshoji in Narita as its main object of worship. The hall was first erected in 1890 and was rebuilt in 1964 together with the Main Hall.

Octagonal Five-story Pagoda
Pagodas are often seen at Shingon Sect temples and here "Octagonal" represents the eight training methods Buddhists have to practice. Normally, Japanese pagodas are square structures. Octagonal ones are rare in Japan and often seen in China or Korea. Inside the colorful structure is a statue of Dainichi Nyorai, or Mahavairocana in Skt., standing on a dais that is made of eight leaves of lotus flower. Constructed in 1984.

Annual Observances
The Temple holds major observances honored by other leading temples. Unique rituals held by the Temple are as follows:

Referring to the Shingon Sect there are two sub-sects; traditional and new ones. The new Shingon Sect was founded by Priest Kakuban (1095-1143). Shinshoji in Chiba Prefecture, Yakuo-in in Tokyo as well as the Temple belong to Chizan school of the New Shingon Sect.

(Updated July 2010)