This somewhat unusual (well, to me anyway) temple is located fairly close to our apartment in Setagaya; Brett and I came upon it the other day when we were walking around the neighborhood. I use the word unusual because Buddhist temples are typically quite distinct from Shinto shrines, but this site seemed to be something of a mash-up of both, which I have never seen before in Japan.
According to what I could find out about the temple, it was constructed in 1951 following World War II. However, in 1955 the Special Attack Kannon (Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) statues were moved to the temple. Initially these Kannon statues were placed in the main temple, but were moved to their own building in 1956. The statues are in remembrance of Special Attack forces (known as kamikaze) during the war, and dedicated to the 4,615 young men who sacrificed their lives for their country. A memorial ceremony for the dead is held on the 18th of each month.
The temple grounds contain several memorials to the kamikaze. Some appear to be group memorials, while a few seemed to be for individuals. One memorial is in front of the main gate, but the others are located throughout the grounds.
What was most interesting and confusing to me were the Shinto shimenawa (hemp ropes) and shide (folded white paper which is attached to the rope) found throughout the temple grounds, and on all of the buildings. When we first entered the temple compound I thought we were visiting a Shinto shrine, and was confused by Buddhist indicators or symbols, such as statues of Kannon and swastikas. Shimenawa are placed to note that ritual purification of a space by a Shinto priest has taken place, and that the area inside is sacred. They act as a ward against evil spirits. They are also placed around objects which can be inhabited by spirits, such as trees or rocks, and cutting down those trees or moving those rocks can bring misfortune. Although Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines can share many features, in all my visits to Japan I have never seen shimenawa placed inside or anywhere near a Buddhist temple, and now I am very curious about why it’s been done at this particular place.
The whole temple area had a particularly haunting feel to it. It’s all well-maintained, some other visitors came and prayed while we were there, and we were greeted warmly by a priest. But the overall sensation was one of great sadness like I’ve never felt before.