KOEDO-KAWAGOE

by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism
 

§ No.17

The Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple in Kubo-machi, established in 1853, when Commodore Perry's four black warships came to Japan from America

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about the Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple (Map E-4) in Kubo-machi, established in 1853, when Commodore Perry's four black warships came to Japan from America. This is number seventeen in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
 
"Ofudo-sama"
The Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple is familiar to Kawagoe natives as "Ofudo-sama." If you pass through the north gate, you will find a small pond with many tortoises on your right. Small children enjoy watching them. This "Ofudo-sama" is the Kawagoe branch of the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Narita City, Chiba prefecture. Let's look at the history of this temple.
 
ISHIKAWA Tomegoro
In 1805, ISHIKAWA Tomegoro was born on a farm in Shimosa Province (now Chiba Prefecture). It is said he went completely blind due to a sickness when he was around 30 years old. He despaired about his future and tried to kill himself three times, but he could not do it. He believed that surely the reason he could not lay down his life was that the gods and Buddha had not abandoned him. Then he entered the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and led a fasting, ascetic life. Owing to his ascetic practices, step by step, he slowly regained his eyesight and by the time of completion of his vow they say he had completely recovered.
 
Naritasan Shinshoji Temple
The Naritasan Shinshoji Temple is dedicated to Acala, a fierce manifestation of Buddha Dainichi Nyorai. It is said that Acala gives us the power to overthrow outside enemies and to renounce worldly desires, inside enemies. The principal object of worship at this temple originally belonged to the Jingoji Temple in Kyoto. But in order to conquer the Taira-no-Masakado Rebellion, which occurred in the Kanto Region in 939, it was shipped from Naniwazu, Osaka, and came to Kanto region. Since then, it has been the principal object of worship at the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.
 
ISHIKAWA Sho-on
ISHIKAWA Tomegoro, after regaining his eyesight through ascetic practices at the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, became a devout believer in Acala. He received the Buddhist ecclesiastical laws, entered the Buddhist priesthood in 1842 and was named "Sho-on." He was 39 years old. He toured all over the country and was adored by many people. Volunteers established an Acala temple in the Hachiman (Shinto) Shrine in Kawagoe and in the spring of 1850 invited Sho-on to stay. This is the origin of the Kawagoe Acala Temple.
 
Restoration of the Hongyoin Temple
In 1853, when Commodore Perry's four black warships came to Japan from America, more than ten Kawagoe citizens did their best to obtain permission from Kawagoe's Lord MATSUDAIRA Yamatonokami to restore the Hongyoin Temple. The temple lay in ruins in Kubo-machi but they wanted to restore it as a branch of the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and transfer the Acala temple to the ruined temple site. In 1873, a new main building was constructed and the next year a special service to inspire the Acala spirit was performed. There are many branches of the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, but this Kawagoe Hongyoin was the first branch
 
Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple
Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple
 
 
The Large Votive Tablet
On the site of the Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple, there is a large votive tablet describing how the construction of the temple proceeded. We assume that it was offered by the carpenters in 1874. The paint is now discolored but we can still see five woodcutters, sixteen people transporting rectangular pieces of lumber and two carpenters shaving wood with hand axes. When I was a child, there was a long bundle of hair near the tablet. I heard that during the construction of the temple, female believers cut their hair and offered it to the temple as a prayer for completion of the temple building. It seems that a long bundle of hair was very effective as rope in a time when there were no crane trucks. Thinking about those women who cut their hair, I felt a lump in my throat every time I looked up at the bundle of hair.
 
The 150th Anniversary
The year 2003 was the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple in 1853. A new building to house many new Buddha statues was completed next to the main building at the end of 2002. Following this, a special service was held on April 5th that consisted of burning small pieces of wood on the altar to invoke divine help. Many people including cute children gathered and prayed together.
 
Special ritual to celebrate the 150th anniversary Photo by SASAKI Ichiro By courtesy of Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple
Special ritual to celebrate the 150th anniversary
Photo by SASAKI Ichiro
By courtesy of Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple
 
A flea market is held on the grounds of the Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple on the 28th of every month. Why don't you pass through the gates of "Ofudo-sama" in kubo-machi?
 
ISHIKAWA Sho-on passed away when he was 82 years old. He rests in the Naka-in Temple. Please take a moment to pray.
 
 
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
 
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.
 

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