The longer I live and the more I travel, the more I realize the extent to which all religions are syncretic. For example, today we visited Senso-ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. The temple is, apparently, dedicated to Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. I may be wrong, but I had thought that Buddhism was established on the basis of the four Noble Truths, and the eight-fold way, none of which relies on a deity at all. Of all the ancient religions, Buddhism seems the closest to modern humanism, and yet here in this temple many people are wafting holy smoke over themselves for healing, and using divination to foretell their future.
The temple was founded in 645 AD. It was destroyed by Allied bombing in WW2 but has been rebuilt. In the courtyard is a tree that was hit by a bomb, but has regrown in the husk of the old tree. I’m encouraged by that symbol of hope. The firebombing of Tokyo was an appalling act – I won’t enter the debate as to whether it was essential to end the war and limit Allied casualties – I shall just mention that 100,000 people died by fire and very many more were injured and made homeless. Justified or not, it showed the depths to which human beings can fall.
Here, I shall declare an interest. I am a Christian, and I try to write from a Christian perspective. However, I do not see Christianity as exclusive. There is fine moral and ethical teaching in many religions, including humanism, and those who follow them sincerely are likely to be more humane as a result. So I am gladdened by the fact that 30 million people every year visit the Senso-ji. Many of them come with sincere hearts and I feel sure they are spiritually uplifted by the experience.
After visiting the temple, we took to the Sumida River, and cruised down to the Hama-rikyu landscape gardens. Like the other gardens we saw on previous days, these were wonderfully laid out and cultivated.
Then, this evening, we went from the sublime to the ridiculous – a walk down “Piss Street”, or “Nostalgia Alley”. This narrow passage is lined with tiny food outlets, with and without seating. A quaint and picturesque finale!