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

November 14, 2012

Haiku in Zenkoji (Nagano): Pulled by an ox

Nagano, the capital city of the mountainous prefecture of the same name, is - in contrast to most other prefectural capitals - not a former castle town. Instead of being an administrative center, in the past it was a religious magnet that drew worshippers from the whole of Japan to the famous Zenkoji Temple. The city grew up as a service center catering to the needs of pilgrims and priests. The core of Nagano therefore was Zenkoji and that is still the place where all visitors head to.
to the Unveiling
even sparrows come
with the whole family

Kaicho ni | au ya suzume mo | oyako tsure


Zenkoji Temple, Nagano
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Zenkoji is famous for a secret statue, an Amida Triad, to which various magnificent powers are ascribed. Some of the miracles it wrought in the past can be seen depicted on the ema votive plates in the temple museum. The statue is so secret that it is never shown and even a copy is only displayed once every seven years, in a great ceremony that is called the Unveiling (Gokaicho). Issa, who was born in Kashiwabara north of Nagano and spent the last part of his life again in his hometown, lived about half a day's walking from Zenkoji and must often have visited when there were important ceremonies. He was a Jodo Shin Buddhist who believed in the "Other Power" (Tariki) of the Buddha Amida, the Buddha of the Western Paradise. In this haiku, he comments humourously on the popularity of the Unveiling - not only humans, but even sparrows visit with their children!

Jizo statue in Zenkoji, Nagano
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spring wind -
pulled by an ox

haru kaze ya | ushi ni hikarete | Zenkoji

There are many legends about Zenkoji and one of them tells about a stingy woman who refused to believe in the Amida. One day, when she was washing silk at the river, an ox speared one of her precious scarfs on its horns and ran away. The woman went after him, in hot pursuit, running day and night. In the end, she found herself inside Zenkoji Temple where she saw a Kannon statue carrying her scarf... the statue had transformed itself into an ox. This display of religious power so impressed the woman that she became a convert and gave up het stingy way of life. Symbolically, the story shows how the Amida of Zenkoji "pulls" believers from everywhere to the great temple.
Both this haiku and the previous one have been engraved on a stone standing in the park to the right of the temple, on the way to the Shinano Art Museum and beautiful Higashiyama kaii Gallery.