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Walk the approach towards Dazaifu shrine all the way. Turn right at the end of it. Follow the narrow street about 50 meters. You will see a temple at the end of it. That’s the Zen temple, Kyomyo-zenji Temple, known for its Zen garden (a dry landscape Japanese garden. It’s the only dry-landscape Zen garden in the entire Kyushu).
The temple is also called Koke-dera. (Moss Temple: koke means moss, dera means a temple).
Admission is 200 yen per person – not bad
The front garden is a rock garden – the only rock garden in Kyushu. You see rocks and white sand which are the characteristics of Japanese rock gardens.
A little bit of Mt. Homan can be seen behind the Japanese maple tree.
Mt. Homan (宝満山 (Homan-zan) – “homan” means being filled with treasure, “zan” is a mountain, so it’s a mountain filled with treasure). It’s a very steep mountain which used to be a praying place for many ascetic Buddhist monks over a thousands years ago.
There are 15 rocks layed out in the garden. The 15 rocks are supposed to form the Chinese character, “光” (light), but I could not really recognize it. Why light? Here, because this is a temple, light refers to the halo of Budda. The halo of Buddha is meant to lighten up the dark world and save people from the dark. If you have a chance of seeing paintings and sculptures of Buddah, look carefully – many of them have a halo behind his head. You can see halos in Christian paintings as well. Interesting that different religions similarly used halos in the artwork.
Well, this temple looks just like the famous Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto.
Yes, this is a mini Kyoto!
There are numerous mini Kyoto all over Japan. Many local towns want to call themselves mini Kyoto and want to attract tourists.
It certainly is nice to have a mini Kyoto near Dazaifu shrine, too! I welcome it.
Go inside the temple. Go straight to the open corridor. Then you will see the beautiful Japanese dry landscape garden. This kind of dry garden is called Kare san sui (枯山水 – “kare” means dry, “san sui” means landscape), which is characteristic of Zen temples of meditation.
Use of rocks, sand, and moss is characteristic of Kare san sui garden. This is the only dry landscape garden in the entire Kyushu!
This garden is named “Itteki Umi no Niwa” (Garden of A Drop Ocean – “itteki” means a drop, “umi” is an ocean, “niwa” is a garden). The areas covered with moss represent continents and islands, and the areas covered with white sand represent oceans.
There are 49 varieties of moss in this garden. The Japanese maple trees in the garden are over 300 years old.
Now, I don’t know if they ever water the trees?? They must – it’s called a dry garden, but no trees can live without water! I really don’t know… I will have to ask somebody next time. Ha ha, I am a Japanese, but I don’t know a lot about Japanese stuff.
I looked forward to fall colors as it was late November, but most leaves were still very green – to my great disappointment. In fact, it was not only here; I heard on the TV news that many regions in Japan were experiencing an unusual delay in fall colors that year (2011).
Temples are always quiet. Just watch Japanese gardens in the quietness. Don’t think about anything. Then you will start feeling calm, peaceful, satisfied – maybe this is happy feeling. Just like the meditation I did in the yoga class I took before (in the U.S.)
Meditation has become pretty popular in the U.S. over the past few decades. Interesting – it is usually emphasized for stress reduction and health benefits. Is it really effective?
Zen temples are for meditation. Zen is a school of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation.
Most Japanese do not do meditation. If they go somewhere famous like Kyoto for sightseeing and if there is a Zen temple in the sightseeing area, then maybe they visit the Zen temple and enjoy viewing dry landscape gardens. That’s about it. Zen temples are, in general, nothing more than sightseeing places for most Japanese (that was the case for me and my family at least).
The above sign says Komyo-zenji Temple is associated with Dazaifu Shrine, because the founder of Komyo-zenji Temple was one of the decendents of the family of Mr. Sugawara-no-Michizane who is enshrined at Dazaifu shrine (I wrote about Michizane in Dazaifu Shrine- Asian Plum Blossom). The name of the founder of the temple was Iron-Heart Monk (Tesshin Osho 鉄心和尚).
There is the legend that a priest of Dazaifu shrine was training in Kyoto and fell in love with a Kyoto lady. When the priest finished training and returned to Dazaifu, the lady followed him to Dazaifu. She could not get to used to the different dialects and customs, and had a nervous breakdown. She threw herself into the river to kill herself, but was rescued by Michizane who happened to walk by. Iron-Heart Monk was this lady’s son. The river runs across the street from the temple (the river looks too small for anybody to throw herself in to commit suicide). The river is far from beautiful, but it used to be very clean and beautiful and the moss used to grow on the banks of the river. In the wartime (Japan had several wars in the past 150 years or so), people picked the moss on the banks and mailed it to their husbands, brothers, and/or sons in the battlefields to wish for their safe return home.
There is another legend associated with Komyo-zenji temple. If you read the English pages of Dazaifu’s official website, it explains about the “Tenjin-Crossing-China” legend associated with Komyoji-temple, but it does not explain enough at all. You’ll probably have no idea what it is. I did not, either. Fortunately I have a few books about Dazaifu, and found out what it is.
Tenjin means Sugawara-no-Michizane. Since the ancient time in Japan, it was a very prestigous thing to be sent to China to study the latest things. China was the most advanced country in Far East and Japan was very eager to learn from China. For centuries, Japan sent many missions to China; many died in shipwreck (it was not easy to sail across the rough sea to China); some successfully came back and brought China’s latest knowledge and expertise to Japan. Michizane never had an opportunity to go to China (I read somewhere, though, that he actually did not want to go to China). After his death, Michizane’ spirit still wanted to go to China so bad that the spirit flew across the sea to China and came back to Japan in just one day. So, now Michizane’s spirit is happy, having accomplished what he wanted to when he was alive. This is what “Tenjin-Crosssing-China legend is all about. Komyo zenji temple has a statue of Michizane (about 800 years old) somewhere inside (I have not seen it myself yet).
OK. I stayed in the temple long enough. I am getting hungry. So, I exit the gate of the temple and head back on the narrow street. Then I see a restaurant on the right side. It’s a well-known Japanese cuisine restaurant named “Sui Getsu An (水月庵: Water Moon Retreat). I have never been to this restaurant. I checked reviews on the internet. There are many online reviews such as “Tabelog”, just like Yelp.com in the U.S. The reviews about this restaurant are all pretty positive. I see a tall persimmon tree in their yard.
Red ripe persimmons against blue sky – a very very Japanese autumnal scene.
I turn my head to the left – mud walls on the left. Camellia sasanqua were in full bloom, hanging over the walls.
Camellia sasanqua belongs to the Camellia family. Basically Camellia and Camellia sasanqua are the same thing. They look so similar. The difference is Camellia bloom much later, in mid-winter, whereas Camellia sasanqua start blooming in November. Lucky for me I could come here in November! You see a lot of Camellia in old neighborhoods in Japan.
What’s inside the mud walls? The gates were open and there was this sign.
The sign says “Tei-en-kan (定遠館)”. It’s a memorial hall named Tei-en-kan.
The sign explains that the metal gate door panel behind the sign was an armored steel plate used in the flagship of the renowned Beiyang Fleet of China (Qing Dynasty). The holes in the door panel were made by the shells fired by the Japanese navy in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 – for real!!
The name of the flagship was Dingyuan (定遠).
“Tei-en (定遠)” is the Japanese way of pronouncing Dingyuan (定遠). When people from two countries read the same characters differently, it makes it pretty confusing.
Sino-Japanese War of 1894
I tend to remember the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 and tend to forget about the war between Japan and China (Qing dynasty) 10 years before it. China was severely defeated by Japan. It was the first step for Japan to become recognized and respectd by the Western power as a modern, industrialized country. Qing dynasty would collapse not long after this war.
I know how proud the Japanese were of Japan’s victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). It was meant to be a gateway for Japan to become a world power from a backward and disrespected oriental country. My late grandparents were little kids during the war. They learned certain songs that were popular during the war and stories about the war, and passed them down to my parents’ generation, and my parents’ generation passed them down to my generation. There have been many movies and TV dramas about the war, too.
Anyway, so, in the Sino-Japanese navy battle in 1894, the Chinese navy sank its flagship at their will when they realized they would lose to Japan (I guess that’s what the losers used to do in naval battles). After the war, the Shinto priest of Dazaifu shrine, who was also a congressman, probably with his political influence, got a permission from the government to pull the flagship, Tei-en (or Dingyuan), out of the ocean near China. Then he built a memorial hall here, using the parts of the ship. That’s why this place is called “Tei-en-kan” (kan means a memorial hall).
I did not have time to go inside the memorial hall. I hear that you can easily recognize various parts of the flagship used in many areas of the building.
I see a few big holes in this stone gatepost. Are they also from the Japanese shells? Wait.. nobody would have used stones like this in a naval battle.
Beiyang Fleet of China (Qing Dynasty)
So, OK, Tei-en (or Dingyuan) was the flagship of the renowned Beiyang Fleet of China (北洋艦隊)… What’s Beiyang Fleet? It took me a while to remember it… I think I learned it in the history class in high school… Oh yes, it was the fleet in the late 19th century which China (Qing Dynasty) was very proud of. It was highly respected by the West power. Everybody thought China would defeat Japan easily with its naval power. But China was severely defeated…It was a big humiliation to China to be defeated by a tiny country like Japan. China had had to modernize the country urgently, but the country was just too huge to be united and move on like Japan did in just about 40 years after the major political reform of 1868 (called Meiji Restoration). China had such hardship in the 19th century.
By the way, if you say to a Japanese, “you know that Beiyang Fleet (北洋艦隊)…”, he/she will be like “huh?” In Japanese, it’s “Hokuyo-kantai (北洋艦隊)”. What a pain in the neck….
Until now, I never knew there is a historical thing like “Tei-en-kan” memorial hall right next to Dazaifu shrine. Again, local people (like me) are surprisingly ignorant of what they have where they live or where they are from.
Anyway, Zen temples like Komyo-zenji temple are very nice places to go to. I feel as if I have done meditation after visiting a Zen temple. Meditation feels good.
Komyo-zenji temple has an official website. It’s only in Japanese, but has a lot of photos of the gardens. If you can’t read Japanese, you still can enjoy the beautiful photos.