Haiku, faith and symbolism

For a few short days

Cherry blossom blooms then falls,

But the tree still lives.

We have seen many temples and shrines on this holiday. They are colourful and crowded. Many have been destroyed at some time and then rebuilt. They are often of great beauty. They celebrate important aspects of the natural world; for example, the temple that we visited today is called Kiyomizudera, which translates as “Pure water temple”. This particular temple has stood for 1200 years. It’s massive, it’s constructed of wood, and it is built entirely without using nails. The grounds were absolutely thronging with people.

Kyoto water temple 170407

This is the waterfall that gives the temple its name.

I have increasingly wondered during this visit about the extent to which Japanese people believe the teachings of these temples, and, so far as I can make out the answer is “A lot” and, simultaneously, “Not much at all”. In fact, I think it’s probably a meaningless question.

Kyoto throng 170407

The throng of visitors close to the temple.

There is, apparently, a Japanese joke that says that each Japanese is born Shinto, and dies Buddhist, which seems to mean that when you are young you are seeking to influence the world around you, and when you are old you are more concerned with a tranquil acceptance of death.

Many significant life events are recognised in a religious sense, to a much greater extent than in the UK. For example, graduation, or the start of your first job might well be celebrated with some form of blessing. People go on pilgrimage and collect stamps from the holy sites that they visit – there are thirty-three such sites in western Japan, I’m told.

Kyoto just married 170407

What comes across strongly is the extent to which symbolism is important. Children who have died young, or been stillborn, or been miscarried, are publicly remembered in wayside shrines. Houses often have symbols for protection or prosperity outside the front door.

And, of course, there is cherry blossom. Life is beautiful if brief – but there is continuity through our family. I have tried to capture a little of this with a haiku at the top of this blog post.

Kyoto cherry blossom 170407

 

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