Kannonji is the name of this temple, as well as the city in which it was built. While Jinnein looks a bit modern and carefully groomed, this temple is a bit more rustic, well-worn, and warm with wood forms, polished by hand and feet over time.
During the Mongol invasion the Emperor Kameyama came here to pray for deliverance. Kannonji is the temple to pray in for victory over your enemies, and for safety at home.
I like very much that this is a temple that you may come to for prayers of safety for hearth and home. That means something to the pilgrim who is on the road. Perhaps we may romanticize that as a pilgrim, life away from home is unattached, and the teachings of the Buddha to become detached from things is desirable, if not holy. We may use the pilgrim’s road to “get away” and to re-create ourselves.
As a long-term expatriate in Japan, I get to see this a lot. Many people, particularly those recently graduated from university who come to Japan, see this time as a time to become someone new, or to escape the previous person they were known as in junior high and high school. Sometimes the “time out” from their small town world is good. It broadens them. It forces them to examine their feelings and thoughts. It permits them the space to step out of the noise and confusion of parental expectation, mind-numbing socially permissible religious expression, and pressures from friends and people they know back home. They outgrow many things. They shake off the dirt and junk attached to them. A free mind, wobbly and unsure, slips out from under the ill-fitting clothes of a former life.
But sometimes the “time out” is used as an excuse to slip into a new set of clothing, equally unsuitable, culturally inaccessible, and in essence, alien to the person they came into this world as. I get to see this too, and it can be hard for the person trying to find their way.
Sometimes we see well-intentioned expatriates who try to “go native” but what they “go native” as is often a figment of their imagination, a product of comic books and role-playing games. It is a kind of golem, and while the former transformation is of someone perhaps at the beginning of finding their way having shed their skin, this second kind of person attempts to change their core, to become a “full Japanese person”, a “bushido warrior”, a “geisha princess”, a character from medieval literature or ages gone by, or some odd combination of them all, is a kind of emotional Frankenstein.
There was no shedding of skin, just the artificial attempts to graft skin to their own that was never there in the first place. In the end, the expat is deeply confused, unknowing of who they are, desperate to be someone, yet failing to recognize their own tremendous innate worthiness that exists in and of itself.
Getting back to why this temple is interesting to pray for hearth and home, is that you have one. You come from someplace. Even if you don’t like your old home, you can pray for your new home. You come from some culture in the world. You came from people before you. You have people related to you in the past or present who may or may not know you. But you know yourself when you look in the mirror. Be brave to pray for the home you are making as the person you are coming from the place you have been. Be honest about that. Be who you are. Be what you are, even if that is still taking shape. Don’t grab at the surface of things and glue them to your soul.
Hiding that away as if it does not exist will bring trouble to your home later.
“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince