Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Yesterday evening we went across the Lake to Injoji temple at the foot of Mt. Suzuka, just below Hyakusaiji temple. Unlike Hyakusaiji, though, (which is one of the Koto Sanzan) Injoji seems to be unknown in the wider world.

Injoji is rather unprepossessing with its small gate and conventional entryway, but then on this special day when you go around the side and along the cobbled path toward the drums and chants sounding in the garden beyond, you turn a corner of the hedge and find hordes of saffroned Yamabushi young and old gathered around starting the Tendai bonfire of cedar, which all commences with one of the elder priests incanting and shooting bamboo arrows in the four directions (plus alpha) as the fire begins to smoke, the small glow slowly but fiercely turning into a monstrous coiling gray dragon of smoke that nearly asphyxiates the unmoving head monk who sits before it, until some energetic young priests come with huge paper fans and fan the smoke upward, gingerly managing the roiling body like a pet monster until the flame at last forces its way out upward through the thick wet cedar branches, the smoke and fire climbing into the sky like a whole nest of dragons as a squad of Yamabushi kids watch, anxiously eyeing the countless and sizeable embers that soon begin to fall from the darkening sky.

Stretching up the slope behind all this are thousands of small stone monuments and Buddha engravings arranged among young and old pine trees, all of which soon disappears into darkness as the ceremony draws to an end and the fire dies down, when everyone sets out to light a candle before each monument.

What a picture that makes of a summer mountain night, when the big fire has burned out, the dragons are gone and all this candlelight is all the light there is but for the stars... And in that golden light, young and old wander among the stones lighting candles and saying prayers, the spiritual mood deepening every moment...

Until suddenly from a stage that had been hidden down in a corner behind the fire a Las Vegas brightness erases the dark at the same instant a cliche rhythm begins to blare, as a kimono clad enka singer starts belting out a live version of the opposite of silence, plunging the mood instantly from spiritual meditation into Coney Island peak hour.

From what we could find out, this is the first time Injoji has done the enka thing. Couldn't find out, though, why they've lost the distinction between spiritual inspiration and carnival sideshow, but maybe it was just us; I heard no irritated tsks, no words of disappointment, saw no one turn toward the stage in sudden disbelief, heard no one complaining.

It must be a new aspect of the Tendai ritual, depicting the ancient battle in which the mystical is utterly destroyed by the mundane, only to be briefly reborn on a next-year summer's night.

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