Yes- I`m a Temple Snob

After living in Japan for over a year, and visiting thousands, if not millions, of temples and shrines, I`ve become a “Temple Snob.” Enticing the Ouisar-san in to a temple visit now requires a hook. Upon further reflection, the temples which reel me in usually fall in to one of several culturally relevant categories: it houses a giant Buddha, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to rabid deer, claims a cave temple on the grounds, or contains in it`s description “oldest xxxxx in the world.” Otherwise I`m not going. Especially if its claim to fame is a Zen Buddhist garden.

One of my favorites, is Byodoin, or Phoenix Hall, in Kyoto. Phoenix Hall boasts three awe-inspiring hooks- it`s a World Heritage Site, appears on the 10 yen coin, and contains a giant Buddha.

Wikipedia Image

Temple Nirvana.

Great spot for entertaining- or maybe the pond floods.

Adding “ancient” to its claims to fame, Phoenix Hall was built in 998 AD in the shape of a – wait for it- phoenix. Phoenix`s of old apparently contained numerous right angles and were shaped in an x versus the modern rendition resembling a rooster. Using one`s imagination and aided with hallucinogenic drugs, one can decipher the phoenix- the main building comprising the body, the two side buildings the wings, and the rear annex the tail.

Left wing, main body and tail

Just in case one missed the shape, numerous examples of the majestic and mythical phoenix squawk from the roof top.

The architect demonstrated his tremendous vision for the future by making the living room large enough for 50 people and a giant Buddha. Lucky for  Fujiwara no Yorimichi who converted the villa to a temple 200 years after it was built. The middle section contains the giant Buddha Amida who gazes benevolently toward the pond. I am curious as to why the architect installed doors allowing Buddha to be seen from outside. Although disconcerting to find a giant Buddha observing one`s moves, his oversight probably keeps the tourists from pilfering plant samples from the garden. Or perhaps it’s just the precursor to the modern-day garage door.

Wikipedia Image

Other celestial bodies line the walls surrounding Amida Buddha. Several carved Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings) play musical instruments or pose reclining on clouds prompting viewers to leave in hot pursuit of an ascension powered by cloud.

Onmark Productions

Observing the local currency is one way of identifying a nation`s hot spots. The Phoenix Hall was first brought to my attention by its presence on the 10 yen coin.

Just a side note- I`d also like to see this from the back side of the American dollar. Must be known as the “Great Seat” if anyone knows of it.

I submit that relics of enlightened beings- fingers, toes, hair, or bodies mysteriously preserved  in glass coffins- such as those we Catholics use as hooks within cathedrals, would be welcomed additions to the temples and shrines.

Those hooks I always pay to see.

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21 Responses to Yes- I`m a Temple Snob

  1. ccorks says:

    Good photos.

    I am often disappointed by the Zen Rock gardens – they’re just gravel! Maybe I just lack the required imagination…


  2. Just an observation, but that a nation with such spiritualism and enlightenment to have its evolution hijacked by the militarism of the first half of 20th Century is a tragedy. Unfortunately the US is manipulated by the very same forces.


  3. I don’t think one can live in Asia for a year and not become a bit of a temple snob–think churches here in the US. “Oh,oh come see the Methodist one on the corner. It has a steeple and stained glas windows.” Not much of a draw, is it?

    At any rate, hope you all have a wonderful Christmas. Sara and I both send our love, along with hugs for the new year–though I guess they could be Christmas hugs, as well. Take your pick.



  4. Tori Nelson says:

    I’m going to follow the intelligent and thought provoking comments ahead of me by saying this: It’s all so pretty!


  5. Very nice. The Zen gardens are supposed to be a peaceful place to meditate or just relax with your thoughts while soaking up the pain of wandering around the rocks and pebbles in sandals! Apparently it is “Good for You”!

    Merry Christmas to you and yours and may the New Year(Western) bring more of your wonderful stories.


  6. Beautiful temples, Emily! Thanks for “enlightening” us! Have a wonderful Christmas!



  7. Dana says:

    Temple Snobbery is a matter of practicality. You can’t go *everywhere* and appreciate *everything*, right? Especially Zen Gardens. And churches that can only boast “wooden pews” or “a crucifix” as highlights. 🙂


  8. Interesting post and photographs. Initially I looked at all the photographs (without reading the text) and thought the phoenix was a rooster. So you see how much I’m in need of enlightening! 😉


  9. Kathy says:

    Kathy McCullough urged me to come over and visit your blog and writing and I’m glad I did. I’m a closet Zen type of person and wouldn’t mind to visit a temple or six. I am so wondering how you got to Japan and what you are doing there! Should dive in and read some more and find out…but have to go meditate right now. Nice to meet you, Emily.


  10. Divya says:

    This is best article so far I have read online. I would like to appreciate you for making it very simple and easy. You are writing awesome on real life topics


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