Mt. Shosha & Engyō-ji Temple
Japan is well-known for not only its well-preserved ancient castles, but its Buddhist temples, as well, and while I don’t practice Buddhism myself, I had to take the time to visit at least one. It just so happens that the town of Himeji has a temple on top of nearby Mt. Shosha: Engyō-gi Temple. So, with a day off from work at the guesthouse, I set out with a half-hour bus ride and a half-hour hike to the top to visit the shrines and witness the sacred grounds of Mt. Shosha.
The temples are nestled within the depths of the mountain forest. With trees encroaching all around, offering a connection with nature, it’s easy to get carried away and spend hours on top of the mountain. In fact, it was so peaceful I just had to sit in one of the temples and enjoy the silence. Even without practicing Buddhism, I found myself calmed by the serenity of such a place away from the hubbub and noise of the city. If nothing else, this is a great place for a hike and a bit of quiet.
Though, I also found myself mesmerized by the traditional Japanese architecture of the temples. Simplistic in that they’re made of just wood, they’re also intricate in their designs for the support beams and structures. Take a peak!
Yet, besides the nature, the views, the architecture, the calm, there were many other strange and interesting things to behold at the temples. One of them being the donation boxes. Quite a difference from Western-style donation boxes which are generally locked and made of stone with slits just big enough for a few paper money donations. These Japanese donation boxes are made of wood and look like wash-boards.
After watching a few of the Japanese toss in a few coins, clap their hands, and bow their heads in respect or prayer, I felt it only necessary to do the same. Why? I’m not Buddhist. No. However, I find it to be a symbol of respect to the people who built the place, the people who maintain the place, and the importance it holds in others’ lives. And I think 100yen(which I hope is an appropriate amount) is a small price to pay to keep these gorgeous places in mint-condition for generations to come.
After all, where in Western culture will you see a Buddhist temple from ancient history? Or the stone lamps that look like sentinels in front of tombs and temples alike? Though, I’m not sure when they are lit (my friend said most often for festivals and the like), they are still something to behold even in day time with their different shapes and designs.
And then there are the fortunes. Another thing that befuddles me to no end. Apparently, it’s common to collect fortunes at temples (somewhere. I’m not really sure where from), but if the fortune is bad then you tie it to a tree or, in this case, a string. I believe it has something to do with sending the bad fortune away, but that’s just my interpretation. After all, traveling by oneself to a temple run by Japanese people who speak little to no Japanese makes it quite difficult to understand why things are done. Still, they look rather cool, don’t they?
While this post may be short, the time I spent on top of Mt. Shosha was close to 2.5hrs, excluding the hike up and the bus rides. In all, it was about a six hour trip, but it was a good use of a day. I found a little peace and serenity, a gorgeous look-out over the town below(which is one of my favorite parts because I LOVE heights), and perhaps a smidge of understanding of the Buddhist religion. Not that I’m an expert. :p I’m still as baffled now as I was before I visited the temple. Still, it was an experience and I hope to continue to broaden my understanding as I continue my trip in Japan!