Jan 10, 2018
Crowds of worshippers continued to pour through the gate of Kawasaki Daishi on the last weekend proper of New Year’s celebrations in Japan.
We included Kawasaki Daishi (full name - Kawasaki Daishi Heikenji Temple / 川崎大師) in our list of the most popular shrines and temples in Japan at which to perform hatsumode - the custom of the first visit to a shrine / temple of the new year - with the Shingon Buddhism temple attracting around 3.02 million worshippers over the new year period.
What makes this Kawasaki landmark so popular among the believers is its power to ward off evil - the power of yakuyoke.
With the past weekend in being furnished with the national holiday in celebration of Coming-of-Age-Day (seijin no hi / 成人の日) it was the last chance for worshippers across Japan to fit in their hatsumode while still basking in the New Year’s celebratory vibe. And they were out in force on the Sunday at Kawasaki Daishi.
This was in evidence immediately at the nearest station to the temple, the unfortunately petite Kawasaki-Dashi, the two platforms of which appeared to be groaning under the strain of so many temple commuters.
Kawasaki-Daishi station sits plumb across the road from the Daishisando (大師参道), the straight-as-an-arrow thoroughfare leading to the temple. Here, vendors were still in operation hawking the usual Japanese-festival fare -- yakisoba, okonomiyaki, beer, … and stuffed Minion toys. With the going smooth and the hour still early we stopped off for some meat on a stick.
We can’t access the temple directly from Daishisando, or the obligatory narrow street rammed with shops selling temple tat. Instead,the throngs are ushered into the residential streets east of the complex in order to make a roundabout assault on the temple entrance.
(The approach to Kawasaki Daishi during the New Year period)
It’s a staggered assault though. Even a week after the actual turn of the year we’re crammed into the streets like a mob of football supporters on match day -- they can’t fit everyone into the temple in one go. We have to wait. It took about 30 minutes to reach the foot of the looming Dai-Sanmon (the main gate) where we took bets on whether or not we would be able to make it through with the next flow of foot traffic.
(Passing through Dai-Sanmon)
It was with some dismay that upon making it through the gate and into the Daishi complex that we were faced with the prospect of more ushering through a roped-off course. The complex as a whole isn’t the goal though. Nearly everyone here has eyes first on a good cleansing at Kawasaki Daishi’s Dai-Hondo -- Main Hall -- passing through the cleansing incense on the way to the hall steps (eyes second are on buying fortunes, and third on the beer). There are enough jittery believers here, though, to reduce the hall to ruin and turn what should be a pleasant afternoon out into something of a nightmare. The people in charge know this, and have come prepared, why, even the “DJ police” are here, dishing out quips to keep everyone from the precipice of madness.
(Main Hall, Kawasaki Daishi)
Personally, this expat was willing to forego the ceremony and instead make a beeline for the beer and food. The Japanese in our party, however, hadn’t been offered much in the way of good fortune at an earlier attempt at hatsumode and so was back for round two -- proof that the locals are prepared to order their spirituality a la carte. Up the steps we head.
(Looking back over the crowds towards Dai-Sanmon from Kawasaki Daishi's Main Hall)
New Year’s / hatsumode exploration at Kawasaki Daishi begins after the brief, hand-clapping ceremony at the Main Hall, the set of structures to the left of which offer space for a warren of stalls through which the booze and food flow. After the spiritual cleansing is complete, this is where the believers head to be replenished.
In the case of Kawasaki Daishi during the New Year a moment of quiet can be found at the Jidosha Kotsuanzen Kitoden, in the far south of the temple complex -- a brilliant structure built in the Indian-temple style but one that has the more brute practical function of being a prayer hall for safe driving. It seems an unlikely setting for such a purpose but then if you’ve ever experienced the roads of India it perhaps becomes more pertinent. If you’re after the purchase of omikuji (おみくじ), -- Japanese fortunes -- you’ll find the going much smoother here.
(Buddha in repose outside the Jidosha Kotsuanzen Kitoden)
Where entering Kawasaki Daishi during hatsumode is shepherded affair, everyone is free to leave, but not before being siphoned into the narrow souvenir-shopping street street that would normally mark the approach to the temple.
(Nakamise marks the post-temple experience at Kawasai Daishi during the New Year)
Along with the power of yakuyoke the more tangible product of choice at Kawasaki Daishi is candy, and it’s here on the approach that you can hear the (purposefully) rhythmic hammering of candy-chopping knife on chopping board emanating from a number of stores that specialise in the sweet stuff.
(Rhythmic candy chopping on Kawasai Daishi's Nakamise)
The irony of getting cleansed only to then purchase something that could see the onset of tooth rot seems to have gotten lost among the believers. Or maybe they don’t care. Hatsumode is worship in its most casual form. It’s a just-in-case appeasement to whoever or whatever might be paying attention, allowing us to approach the year’s excesses and indulgences a little less guilt-free. And in the case of Kawasaki Daishi these indulgences start with a bag of freshly made candy.
Have you ever been to Kawasaki Daishi over the New Year? Did you go to a shrine or temple for hatsumode? Let us know in the comments.
Kawasaki Daishi Heikenji Temple
Address: 4-48 Daisahi-cho, Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki, Kanagawa 210-8521, Japan
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