The Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) statue at Ryougoji

Ryougoji in April entry gate is decorated with banner.

We live in a neighborhood called Ryougoji, named for the temple at the end of our lane. In Japanese it’s written 龍護時 and means Temple of the Dragon Protector. It’s a small temple and although there is a residence on the grounds, the priest doesn’t live there. It was associated with Togamure Castle which was built in 1527, but when the daimyo Mori Takamasa came to Saiki he had it destroyed to build a new castle in a more strategic location. (if you have more accurate information or more details, please comment).

Ceremony on final day of celebration

Every year there is a 3-day celebration in April and they open the altar to show an old Kannon statue. People from all over Oita come to see her during these three days. The temple is decorated, old scrolls are brought out and displayed and visiting monks also come to chant. On the third day there is a big gathering after the prayers, there is a mochimaki- the monks throw mochi and sweets to the crowds and everyone scrambles to get some. After seeing this celebration for three consecutive years, I have become more curious about the significance of this particular Kannon.

Some of the scrolls

I had heard a story about the Kannon swimming to Ryougoji from the largest temple in town Yokenji and then found the story online. I’ve translated it, but now I want to know more. Here is the translation (original story)

THE KANNON THAT WAS THROWN INTO THE RIVER

In the 10th year  of the  Keicho Era (1605) at the peak of spring, there was a lively gathering of drinking, and singing at Yokenji, the temple where the remains of generations of the Mori family are now kept. All the samurai of Mori Takamasa were enjoying the festivities. Everyone including the lower ranking members of the court were encouraged to join in the revelry. Even the Daimyo Takamasa Mori was having a grand time. They were celebrating the placement of the thousand-armed Goddess of Mercy (Kannon) statue that had been moved from Ryougoji, the temple of the recently ruined Togamure Castle.

In the quiet of the following morning the head monk went into the main hall of the temple to chant the scriptures. Holding his prayer beads, he looked up, but he couldn’t see the Kannon. Panicked, he looked around and found the Kannon lying face-down as if she were crawling away from the temple. “Who did this?” he yelled at the young monks. “How can you be so careless with the Kannon?

The  young monks replied that they had nothing to do with it, there is no way that they could have moved such a heavy statue. They moved it back into place, but the next morning and every morning after that, the Kannon was always found face down below the altar.

After six days, the head priest declared that he was going to figure out who was behind this. On the 7th night, the angry head priest stayed all night with the Kannon watching carefully. But because it was a long night, he drifted off to sleep. When he awoke, the Kannon was face down again. The frightened priest reported to Mori Takamasa what had happened. Takamasa called his kerai and consulted with them but they had no idea. They called an exorcist to pray. The exorcist stood in front of the Kannon hands pressed together, mumbling. Finally he reported “The Kannon says she wants to go back to Ryougoji.”

Hearing this, Takamasa was really upset seeing as they had just celebrated the arrival of the Kannon. He asked his people what they thought. They worried about what disaster might  befall them if they stopped the Kannon from returning, so they recommended returning the Kannon to Ryougoji. However Takamasa really didn’t want to give up the Kannon and came up with a plan, ”What if we build a hall on the Wada Hill and enshrine the Kannon there so she can see Ryougoji.”

A little while later, the hall was completed by several skilled carpenters. No sooner had the kerai declared this a fine solution than the Kannon was again lying down facing Ryougoji. Takamasa was furious. “How dare the Kannon do this when we have honored her in celebration. All of the land and people of Saiki belong to me, why won’t this Kannon obey me?” And why does it need all these extra arms, two is enough!” and he broke off all but two of her arms.

“If you want to go back to Ryougoji, go back on your own!” he screamed as he threw the Kannon into the Banjyo River.

Everyone watched nervously, worried about what would happen to the Kannon-sama. To everyone’s surprise the Kannon started swimming upstream against the current towards Ryougoji.

Later the arms that Takamasu had broken off grew back and it is once again a thousand-armed Kannon in Ryougoji.  Ryougoji is a temple known for protecting women for safe birth and also for women who are hoping for a child. And now every year on the 14th day to the 18th day of the 3rd month (old calendar) people  come to the temple to pray.

Monk with prayer book

So now I want to know where the statue originally came from. Are the arms, in fact, older than the rest of the statue? And I wonder about the scrolls that are displayed at the same time. I guess I’ll have to initiate a conversation with the monk there.

It’s getting warmer, Kai and Nina arrive in Japan in less than a week and arrive here in about 10 days. Can’t wait!

I’m making chirashi-zushi for dinner tonight. Hope to get in a few more blog entries in the next week. Want to write about a couple trips I’ve taken.
Wish I were with my own mom for Mother’s Day!

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