Ninna-ji Temple

#ninnaji #shingon #pagoda

After visiting Kinkaku-ji temple (14th century, Zen Buddhist temple) and Ryoan-ji temple (15th century, Zen Buddhist temple), the Ninna-ji temple (9th century, Shingon Buddhist sect – Omuro School) was an ideal ending of a one-day adventure in north-west part of Kyoto. Visiting these three places in a row offers you a very good opportunity for immediate comparison of many architectonic elements and composition of gardens.

Nio-mon Gate (仁王門)

Coming here I always spend a significant time at the Nio-mon gate (仁王門) guarded by two mighty Nio (仁王), the two guardian Deva Kings outside, and two Komainu (狛犬), the two guardian lion-dogs inside. I am always fascinated by the expressions on their faces and the perfection of craftsmanship they are made with. You will probably notice that the statue of king on the right side – called Naraen Kongo (那羅延金剛) – has his mouth open and the statue of king on the left side – called Misshaku Kongo (密迹金剛) – has his mouth closed. It represents so called a-un (阿吽) concept of Japanese Mikkyo Buddhism, the beginning and the end of all things. In Sanskrit “a” is the first letter of alphabet with which everything starts and “un” is the last one with which everything ends. So an open mouth stands for “a”, agyo (阿形) and the closed one stands for “un”, ungyo (吽形). The same goes for Komainu and expressions on their faces. Usually you can find these Komainu statues at every shrine. According to the condition of their bodies, in other words how much they have been already eaten by insects or not, you can easily tell for how long they have been here like this and how good the timber they have been made of is.

You will also notice quite a lot of special stickers attached to the construction of the gate at many places. You can find these at all gates of shrines and temples around Japan. They are called senjafuda (千社札) and are left there by travelling worshippers as a memento of their pilgrimage.

Ninna-ji Temple Complex (仁和寺)

Entering the Ninna-ji temple complex from the Nio-mon gate you will find yourselves in front of the entrance to Goten palace (御殿). This used to be the residence of head priest and it is the most elaborated palace-garden part of Ninna-ji temple. After entering through the gate, the tremendous pine tree in the shape of hand will greet you. It is masterly shaped pine with its needles carefully manicured, picked one by one by skillful hands of professional gardeners.

From the entrance of the palace you will get a unique chance to admire Ikebana flower arrangements in numerous rooms with beautifully painted sliding doors. Walking through the roofed wooden alleys, the surroundings change bit by bit. But there are some spots where you can get many views of the gardens around from a very different perspective. If you sit in front of the low railings, the structure of corridors will allow you to enjoy variety of sceneries and you will always find some new scene you were not able to see before. The sceneries are like painted pictures themselves. And as usual, there is not only a visual part but everything is also sketched in by the sound of small waterfall that substantially enhances the strong impression of natural beauty you are experiencing.

Thanks to its perfection, it is never easy to leave the gardens but five-storied pagoda which silhouette accompanies you the second you enter the temple is also urgently asking for your attention.

Thanks to its perfection, it is never easy to leave the gardens but five-storied pagoda which silhouette accompanies you the second you enter the temple is also urgently asking for your attention.

88 Temple Pilgrimage (八十八ヶ所巡礼)

After enjoying the pagoda and during the cherry blossom season also famous grove of Omuro cherry trees you may feel like wanting to visit a miniature pilgrimage of 88 small temples simulating the real 88 temple pilgrimage in Shikoku. I tried it last time but to be honest, it was not a very big success. So unless you are a complete Buddhist freak it is probably not worth going there. Even the hike itself was not such a huge glamor and did not bring much of a fulfillment. But in case you have a lot of time and really do not know what to do next, you can try. After all in Japan you never know what you can find next time.