At the end of the Daibutsu-Kuzuharaoka hiking trail, in Kita-Kamakura, sits Jochi-ji, temple number 31 of the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kannon Pilgrimage. Not far down the road is Tokei-ji, temple number 32.
In Japan, Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimages are fairly common. According to Kamakura City’s webpage on its Kannon-sama pilgrimage, the first Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimage — the Saigoku Sanju-San Sho — was established in the 12th century in the Kansai area, followed by the Bando Sanju-San Sho pilgrimage in the Kanto area in the 13th century. (NB – other sources suggest these pilgrimage routes were established many centuries earlier.) From there, Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimages took off, spreading around the country.
Why 33? Religious texts say that there are 33 manifestations of Kannon, so apparently, that’s why there are usually (but not always!) 33 stops on Japan’s Kannon pilgrimages.
The Kamakura pilgrimage doesn’t include all 33 manifestations, however — it’s just 33 important temples dedicated to Kannon-sama. I’m working my way around Kamakura, collecting stamps for the pilgrimage. This video is the second in what I hope will be a series to introduce the pilgrimage — as well as the city in general — to those outside of Kamakura.
Dating to 734 CE, Sugimoto Dera is considered Kamakura’s oldest temple — and it looks the part. The stairway going from the niomon to the hondo is uneven and moss-covered, and the grounds have an earthy, ancient feel to them.
The primary object of worship at Sugimoto Dera is Kannon-sama. The temple is home to three large statues of the Eleven-Faced (or Eleven-Headed) Kannon, which, legend has it, have escaped a fiery destruction on two occasions — once by their own power. As they sought refuge beneath a grove of cedar trees, the temple came to be known as Sugimoto Dera — sugi meaning cedar.
Unusually for temples, it’s possible to enter the hondo and have a close-up look at many of the temple’s treasures. Hats and shoes must be removed, and photography is not allowed, but even if you have laced shoes, it’s worth taking them off to have a look around.
In a corner of the shrine grounds, next to red-bibbed Jizo-sama, visitors will find a collection of stone gorinto, or five-tiered stupas. These are to memorialize samurai who died in a battle between imperial forces and what was left of the Hojo clan — regents of the Kamakura Shogunate, which fell in 1333 — in 1337. Behind the temple was a fortress, from which the battle spread onto temple grounds. Over 300 samurai were killed in the battle.
The temple is the first stop on two separate Kannon pilgrimages, the Bando Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimage and the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimage. As a result, a number of pilgrim items are on sale in the hondo, including the white hakue coat that pilgrims often wear. More evidence of pilgrims is visible in the form of votive slips pasted like stickers all over the niomon and hondo. These are senjafuda, and they bear the names of pilgrims, as well as their place of origin and other information, as a record of their visit.
A few weeks ago, some pretty major news dropped: the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (they make maps) proposed a set of changes to its tourist maps. The goal is clarity–some of the current symbols are a bit confusing for those who have just arrived. For example, “H” stands for “hotel”–not “hospital” or “helipad”, while an “X” means koban (police box)–not, um, treasure. Continue reading “When Discomfort Threatens to Overpower Culture”