Myofukuji is a Nichiren Buddhist temple tucked away in a residential area of Nerima, Tokyo. Riding along the Shirako River last week, I came to this rather large place and happened to have my camera. Before entering the outer gate (sōmon) I felt an otherworldly energy overhead, or in the woodwork, and it watched. Perhaps it was merely an undertow of anxiety, at my being the only visible soul around, with also something of an odd desire to trespass opposed by an equal measure of reluctance to go one step further. Or maybe the religious architecture and well-groomed grounds naturally makes one feel as if they are in the presence of the unnatural. In any event, something felt lopsided or off-kilter. And now, this very moment, I notice the soft jawline and thin lips and choppy hair of what might be an apparition, gazing down on me that day as I pressed the button and unknowingly captured her with my lens.
Entering the second gate, or Niōmon, I pass the Kongōrikishi, or Niō, a pair of frightful figures standing on either side of me. Misshaku Kongō glares at me from my right, with mouth open to voice the “A” sound, the first in the Devanagari, a set of characters based on ancient Brāhmī script. Naraen Kongō, the statue to my left, has closed his mouth upon uttering the final sound in the set. Birth and death are thus symbolized by the basic elements of language, like alpha and omega, and all existence, all creation, is contained within the syllabary. And through I go.
Small tower called a shōrō, constructed to house bonshō (Buddhist bells)
Bonshō, or Buddhist bell, made of copper in 1664 by recasting the old bonshō. Japan’s oldest bonshō, nearly 1,000 years older than the one pictured here, was cast in 698. Known as the Okikicho bell, it is still in use at Myōshin-ji in Kyoto. Many believe the sonorous, solemn sound of bonshō can summon the dead. Their earthly functions, however, are mainly to call the living, indicate the time, or sound an alarm.
Far side of main hall
Statue of Nichiren, 13th century Buddhist priest who formed his own branch of Mahayana Buddhism. I’ve read that he was outspoken, and often angry, especially for a sage.
Pails and ladles for grave cleaning
Old vermilion mailbox in front of monks' living quarters