Having passed out early, I had no trouble getting up extra early the next morning. I dressed and slipped out about 6 to make my way up the steps. I went around the side entrance because I thought the blocked main gate still applied to me, and heard chanting coming from one of the buildings off to the left. I found my way to the main hall where I looked stupid until someone was kind enough to take me in hand and tell me where to go to get my ticket.
It was a Thursday at 6:30, so I was the only guest at this morning event. Every monk that passed me bowed and said good morning in a way the reminded me of being at school, and how the kids are always told to give a really energetic greeting (in fact, one of the monks struck me as really young.. like maybe middle school age, and I thought, what the hell, why isn’t that kid in school?! until I remembered it is summer vacation right now ^_^). I couldn’t tell if the guy sitting just next to me explaining stuff was high ranking or just exempt from some of the niceties in order to take care of me, but he was never the first to say good morning. He handed me a book in which was written the text of the prayers and chanting, including in some parts these little notations for how the syllable was held and whether the note went upward or downward or squiggled.
|This is the area where we were assembled. I was sitting in front of that thingy at far right, with my back to it.|
He showed me where the leader would speak and where the assembled monks on the area where I was sitting (and theoretically I too) would respond or be chanting. He explained how the second part would be chanting along to a drum beat from within the temple. Then we had a little extra time so he told me about the temple building itself, how old the statue was (third temple in a row where the main image was just right there in front of you), and some other features of the place. I nodded a lot, said ‘hai,’ a lot, and was glad I already knew gassho-rei from kempo practice (that’s the kind of bow that isn’t so much a bow as a hand position).
My Japanese isn’t good enough to chant along, especially once that fast paced drum got going, but I did like listening to all the monks chanting together around me, and I followed along in the cool book he had given me (which was folded kind of accordion-style, so turning the pages was also an act of stretching and I could look at as few as two, as many as maybe six pages at a time! Useful when I lost my place). After this, we did a sort of morning salutation prayer (I think?) standing and facing the mountains in a few different directions visible from the main platform.
|This is a photo of a sun-worn poster, but it shows what that part looked like.|
Afterward, I walked down the main path with its 399 stairs, falling into step beside an older guy who talked with me pleasantly a little bit about where I lived and what I did before bidding me good morning and disappearing off a side path. I took the rest of the steps and returned to the ryokan for breakfast.
After breakfast, I went back up to the temple to explore some more, seeing as how I had no further buses to catch. Hasedera is called the Flower Temple, and I could see where lots of things could be blooming at different times of the year. Naturally in August only the cicadas were in full bloom beneath the swelter of the sun. The mountain trees, though, gave a nice shade to my wanderings.
The whole place is beautiful, though, and has a calm, sweet feel. I like the way the main image of Kannon is holding Jizo’s staff (according to my sources, this is rare) symbolizing her ability to travel to any place at any time. (Click that link to see a photo)
While I was getting my stamp and seal, I was asked if I knew about the “ban-gai.” These are three temples listed in the back of the seal book, not counted amongst the 33, but which are still part of the pilgrimage for other reasons. That ‘gai’ is the same as the gai in gaijin, and it just means ‘outside’ .. so the ban-gai are the temples outside the ‘ban’ or order/numbering. I know almost nothing about the ban-gai even now, and knew utterly nothing then other than that there were some.
He explained that one of the ban-gai temples was located just down the road (and in fact, basically right next to my ryokan), so I shrugged and thought, I’ve been to two temples every time so far, why not keep that tradition going? I do feel a little weird about going to temples I have absolutely no information about. I always look to the Sacred Japan website in order to sort of ground my travels; it’s almost a ritual now. On the bus or train to a place, I peer into my smartphone and read (or in most cases review) what is said there about whatever temple I’m on my way to. It makes the whole experience a bit more meaningful.
After all this, I made the same mini trek to the train station, which was no more fun in reverse being as it was late morning and this time uphill. I returned to Nami-san’s house with the intention of going farther, but I never made it and ended up just hanging out with her and Hiroshi-san all evening and staying another night. It didn’t occur to me til then that I might not see them again for a while, and I just couldn’t get myself out the door with that in mind.