Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

January 11, 2007

Marishi Sonten, another boar shrine in Kyoto

Marishi Sontendo is another temple of the boar (inoshishi) that is strong for luck and victory in this Wild Boar Year!

[Roaring wild boar in Marishi Sontendo, Kyoto]

Zenkyoan (the formal name of the temple in question) was set up as a hermitage by the noted Chinese Zen priest Qingzhuo Zhengcheng (in Japanese: Seisetsu Seicho, 1274-1339), who was invited to come to Japan by Hojo Takatoki in 1326. After arriving in Japan, Qingzhuo resided at various temples, such as Kenchoji and Engakuji in Kamakura and Nanzenji and Kenninji in Kyoto. He exerted a massive influence on Japanese Zen Buddhism and in many museums one can find his bokuseki, calligraphies with short texts and maxims.

[Marishi Sontendo, Kyoto]

Qingzhuo came from a family that had long venerated a strange deity called Marishi, originally an Indian goddess who like the whole of the Indian pantheon was eventually sucked up by popular Buddhism and traveled in that religion's slipstream to China and Japan. Marishi seems to be the personification of light, a sort of sun goddess. In fact, as the temple brochure informs us, when Qingzhuo still hesitated whether to accept the invitation to come to Japan, Marishi appeared to him riding on a wild boar and spurred him on to go. She promised to accompany him and protect him and the nation of Japan.

The priest decided to give his vision of the deity material form by kneading the miraculous appearance of Marishi in clay: the goddess with her three faces and six arms, wearing armor and a crown, but at the same time of girlish mien, and standing on a boar with seven heads. In her six arms she grabbed bow, arrow and sword to signify she would eradicate all evil, silk thread and needle to show she would help the work of women (and sow all evil speaking mouths tight shut!), and a sala tree, the same tree the Buddha was born under, as a promise of rich harvests.

[Cute boar in Marishi Sontendo, Kyoto]

Qingzhuo wrapped this image in his surplice and thus crossed the sea. Thanks to Marishi Sonten, he arrived safely in Hakata. After a very active life in Japan, where he deserves to be much better known considering his influence on Zen, he retired in 1331 to Zenkyoan, a hermitage that had been built for him near Kenninji, and there he also enshrined the Marishi image. Since then, Zenkyoan is known as Marishi Sontendo, and has kept the faith in this deity alive among the townspeople of Kyoto.

The image, by the way, is a secret one. What you can see, are the numerous statues of wild boar in the temple grounds, although none of these sports seven heads. Last Monday, when we visited, the grounds of the small temple were very lively thanks to the National Holiday and the festival at the nearby Ebisu Shrine.

[Even the wash basin has a spouting boar! Marishi Sontendo, Kyoto]

By the way, thanks to its association with the boar, renowned Japanese-style painter Koizumi Junsaku (who decorated the roofs of both Kenchoji and Kenninji with dragon pictures) recently donated a votive plate of a wild boar to the temple. In the temple shop reproductions of that painting were sold on shikishi, square pices of cardboard. In the hope that we too may roar forward on the broad back of the boar, we could not help but acquire one!

[Reproduction of the Inoshishi picture that Koizumi Junsaku donated to Marishi Sontendo]
Address: 146 Komatsu-cho, Yamato-oji-dori Shijo-sagaru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Tel: 075-561-5556
Access: 7 min on foot from Shijo Keihan
Hours: 8:00-17:00, grounds free. The hermitage itself can not be entered.