A Historical Journey of Zenkoji Buddha(s)

June 11th, 2009 by
Category: Information
 

 Zenkoji’s Gokaicho season closed on May 31st.

Now Nagano city must have gone back to its normal serenity,hasn’t it?

Kai (ancient name for Yamanashi)Zenkoji Temple
Kai (ancient name for Yamanashi)Zenkoji Temple

From a village in the eastern edge of the prefecture, I would like to introduce another Zenkoji,comparatively nearer to my place, in neighboring Yamanashi pref.

 
Although approximately 120 Zenkoji temples all over Japan all have some relations with the original Zenkoji in Nagano , this Kai-Zenkoji is the most closely related.
 
It is a very long story, so let me start with the journey of the Golden Triad ,which is the main Buddhist statue of Zenkoji.
 
 
crowded Zenkoji during the Gokaicho season

crowded Zenkoji during the Gokaicho season

   If you have visited Zenkoji during the Gokaicho period, you may have touched the giant pillar in front of the Main Hall,which was connected with 5 colored ribbons to the Buddhist statue inside the Main Hall.
 
The Buddhist statue connected to the ribbons is the so-called Maedachi-Honzon,or” stand-in-front Main Buddhist statue”, which is usually stored inside a treasury hall within the temple’s compound and every once in 6 years open to public as we had recently.
 
This leads to a question;” Stand-in-front? Is there another Buddhist statue ‘behind’ it?”
The answer is Yes, there always is the Main Buddhist statue standing inside the Main Hall.
And you know what? This Main Buddhist staue has been NEVER EVER OPEN to public WHATSOEVER!
Moreover,it is hidden from anyone including the chief priests of Zenkoji.
 
It is bundled neatly and repeatedly with white cloth and put inside a cabinet inside a double curtain in the Main Hall.
Every morning a monk clean as far as the cabinet, and at every year end they clean inside the cabinet, but the white cloth is never removed.
This so called Golden Triad has its own long  journey before it was finally settled here.
 
Let me tell you about its journey.
the Golde Triad of Zenkoji

the Golde Triad of Zenkoji

 
 
 The Main Buddhist statue of Zenkoji is actually a trio; the main Amitabha Buddha and his 2 follower Bodhisattvas.
It,well “they”actually,because they are threesome,are from India back nearly 3000 years ago.
Their story concerning a sickened princess and so forth is depicted in ancient drawing scrolls which you can see at some Zenkoji related temples. I reccomend you visit Daihongan Temple along the path to Zenkoji.(Japanese HP)http://www.daihongan.or.jp/index.html
 
 
After they saved lots and lots of people in India and in Korea, they thought they would come to Japan to save us.
It was in the 6 C. It was the first ever time that a Buddhist statue came to Japan.
 
On their arrival in Japan, there was a conflict between the pro-Buddhist clan and the anti-Buddhist clan.
The anti-Buddhist clan tried many things to destroy the Golden Triad,such as throwing them into fire and hitting them with hammer,all in vain.
Finally the clan threw the triad into the sea, where the triad remained as they were until a local servant named Honda Yoshimitsu from Nagano came by.
He would be none other than the founder of this Zenkoji.
 
 
Honda Yoshimitsu carrying the Golde Triad to his hometown Nagano

Honda Yoshimitsu carrying the Golde Triad to his hometown Nagano

 
 It was their own will that they chose a local servant to take them all the way to Nagano.
Being a religious man, Honda Yoshimitswu obediently carried the triad back to his home in Nagano.
It is said that during the day time, Yoshimitsu carried them on his back, during the night, vise versa.
 
Thus the Gold Triad was safely settled in Nagano, later to be settled in Zenkoji.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 After another 1000years, Japan was in a chaotic state. It was called the Warring States Period.
Warlords here and there fought against each other over their territories.
 
 
2 strongest warlords in 16C and their territories
2 strongest warlords in 16C and their territories

In the late 16 C, the 2 strongest were Uesugi Kenshin in Niigata pref. and Takeda Shingen in Yamanashi pref.

Their territories were both neighboring from Nagano pref.
Their strength were almost the same, so they repeated fighting against each other without decisively winning over the other.
And their battlefields were always around Kawanakajima, which was/is near Zenkoji.
 
Now, both Kenshin and Shingen were religious warlords as many warlords were at that time.
They didn’t want the famous sacred Buddhist statues and other holy assets destroyed by  battles.
So both of them moved many of the assets the temple possessed to their own countries.
Especially Shingen of Yamanashi pref. had constructed a whole temple town back in his country to move the entire Zenkoji including priests and servants etc.
to the newly constructed New Zenkoji.
 
So that was when the sacred Golden Triad along with its ” stand-in-front” Main Buddhist statue started their journey over central Japan by warlords.
It was the Warring States Period after all, so there was too much confusion for the statues to be settled in one place.
They travelled to Gifu after Takeda family was defeated, and then to Aichi,Shizuoka,back to Yamanashi, and then to Kyoto, and finally back to Nagano , all the way changing possessors from warlord to warlord.
 
 
Takeda Shingen of Yamanashi

Takeda Shingen of Yamanashi

 

Oda Nobunaga defeated the Takeda family

Oda Nobunaga defeated the Takeda family

 

 

Toyotomi Hideyoshi replaced Nobunaga after he was assassinated by another follower

Toyotomi Hideyoshi replaced Nobunaga after he was assassinated by another follower

 

 

Tokugawa Ieyasu was the one eventually conquered all Japan

Tokugawa Ieyasu was the one eventually conquered all Japan

 

 

Now, Kai Zenkoji in Kofu,holds the original “stand-in-front”Main Buddhist statues as its main Buddhist image.

Zenkoji bell "dragged" all the way from Nagano to Yamanashi in 16C
Zenkoji bell “dragged” all the way from Nagano to Yamanashi in 16C

Recently  a guiding tour in English was conducted in Kai-Zenkoji.

The guide is showing people the scratches on the surface of the bell which was “dragged” to Yamanashi in 16C by Shingen’s order .
 
 
 
 
 
So many twists and turns! Well, thank you very much for reading!

One Response to “A Historical Journey of Zenkoji Buddha(s)

  1. Mariko-san,

    Your story of the journey of the Zenko-ji Buddha is a great fun! I really enjoed reading it.
    I loved your pictures (drawings ) a lot!

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