A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.
The 28th (and the evening of the 27th) of Each Month is the Time for Prayer Meetings at Tsukuba`s ( and the surrounding area`s) Fudo-Halls (不動尊)
By Avi Landau
It was the 27th, and May is an odd numbered month (the 5th), so I knew where I could find Mrs. Okamino. With notebook and pen in hand, I got off the bus at the former Sakura City Branch Office (KYU SAKURA NO CHO-SHA), walked back out to the main road, and took a right. About a hundred meters later, I came to an old wooden structure covered with an out-of-place red tin roof (which must have once been thatch). When I saw that the doors and shutters were wide open and the cushions were airing out in the sun, I felt reassured. And just like clockwork, there she was, broom in hand, vigorously sweeping the grounds of this old neighborhood meeting hall where women regularly gather to pray for health, fertility, and easy delivery.
Tsukuba has been changing rapidly, with plenty of new buildings and a large influx of out-of-towners. Still, with all the dramatic changes, the city can be seen as being a collection of villages which retain their own identities. The community spirit can most easily be recognized and experienced by outside observers in the individual village Matsuri (festivals). If you look more carefully, however, you will find other signs of what life was like before this area was turned into The Science City.
One interesting feature of the traditional village (shu-raku or buraku) is the meeting hall (shu-kaijo). Now many of these have been rebuilt as prefabricated sheds, others as more impressive western-style structures. However, you can still find several meeting halls that are used for KO (講) which are traditional wooden structures. These could easily be mistaken for small shrines or temples. KO are prayer or study groups with set members which meet at regular intervals. These community based activities became popular in this region during the Edo Period (1600-1868). There are a confusing variety of KO, and I have described the most popular one in (in the Tsukuba area), The Ko of the 19th (ju ku ya ko,十九夜講) in an Alien Times article.
When I arrived at the Higashi Oka Fudo Prayer Hall today, Mrs. Okamino was concentrating deeply on her sweeping and did not even notice my approach. I almost felt bad about having to disturb her, but I was determined to talk to her about tomorrow`s Fudo-Ko and to get some pictures of the inside of the Fudo Hall, especially of the fearsome statue of Fudo-Myoo,whom the women respectfully refer to as Fudo-Sama, and which I had only ever had a peek at through the grating of at the front of the hall.
GOMA-TAKI rituals, intoduced to Japan from India via China in the 9th century by the priest Kukai are also performed in the Tsukuba area regularly- especially on the 28th of the month at FUDO HALLS or temples of the SHINGON sect (Tofuku Temple, Tsukuba)
For many generations, a Fudo-Ko (women’s prayer meeting in front of the image of Fudo Myoo) has been held at this worship hall in Higashioka. It had always been held once a month, on the 27th, but now with it getting harder and harder to get the neighborhood women together (only eight regularly gather now), the frequency has been reduced to one meeting every other month.
The women take turns being TOHBAN, the person in charge of preparing food and tea, and they get together at about 8 pm, chanting the Dainichi Kyo Sutra which they all know by heart. This is done before an impressive wooden image of Fudo Myoo (不働明王), one of the 5 Deva Kings to have been introduced to Japan in the 9th century by the great Buddhist priest Kukai in the 9th century.
A FUDO HALL in Maeno, Tsukuba- just behind the High Energy Physics Laboratory
Kukai`s special attachment to this deity probably stems from the fact that he depended on the protection of Fudo-Sama ( which means-the Unmoveable one) as he crossed the sea to and from China (in the 9th century) and had a Fudo image placed at the front of the ship that carried him. It is because of Kukai`s special attachment to this deity that the Myo-o (Deva King) became by far the most popular of these frightening figures (there are actually four other MYO-O, beside the Fudo), and a Fudo cult spread throughout the islands, with special success in the Kanto Area, where he was worshiped by both warriors and peasants alike ( as a way of praying for calm in an area which had suffered terrble upheaval in the late 10th century during the Taira no Masakado Rebellion).
.The most famous place known for its worship of Fudo is Narita-San Temple(Shinsho-Ji),one of the most visited in all of Japan This popularity is interesting because in India and China it is RARE to find an image of Fudo alone (one that is not part of the group of all five myoo).
Another interesting fact is that at Narita-San, during the bean throwing ceremony of February 3rd (setsubun), instead of the customary ONI WA SOTO, FUKU WA UCHI (DEMON OUT, GOOD FORTUNE IN!), in order not to insult FUDO- only FUKU WA UCHI (GOOD FORTUNE IN !, is shouted !
An old prayer hall dedicated to YAKUSHI-NYORAI, at the foot of Mt. Tsukuba. In contrast to the Fudo meetings, the Yakushi-Sama meeting have all but died out in the Tsukuba area. At some place halls, however, they are held once a year.
The Fudo image at the Higashioka worship hall is impressive indeed with his sword and rope and halo of flames. What a contrast to the serene Nyoirin Kannon image worshipped at the Ju ku ya ko (19th Night Prayer Meeting). This difference in countenance, however, does not indicate a difference in objective, as the Fudo Myoo uses his fiercely determined expression to bring people to an understanding of Buddhism. He is believed to bring good health and easy delivery,prevent disaster and even bring monetary success.
A Nyoirin Kannon, whose gentle visage makes such a dramatic contrast with that of Fudo, can also be seen sitting outside the Fudo Prayer Hall in Hagishioka. This particular one, however, is one of few surviving Buddihist images that can still be found on the slopes of Mt. Tsukuba. When anti-Buddhist Fanatics set about destroying the great Mt. Tsukuba Chuzenji Temple before the site it had stood on into the Mt. Tsukuba Shrine (in the 1870s), they also went about decapitating every stone Buddha they could find – except for images of Nyoirin Kannon! A testament to how important this deity was to the local people. (Though perhaps the reason was that the vandals, who had come from outside the area, believed that Nyoirin Kannon had some connection to the Imperial Family – indeed it was Prince Shotoku`s personal protector (I learned that at the Ishiyama Temple in Shiga Prefecture).
Certainly, sitting in the old hall, smelling of ancient tatami mats, with Fudo glaring down as the rhythmic chanting pounds in their ears, could not help but make worshipers reflect on their ways and consider taking the correct, middle path .
Of the dozen or so Ko regularly practiced in this area before WW2, a few are still actively being kept alive. Just across the Hanamuro River in Saiki, there is another very interesting Fudo Hall which I have discussed in a past posting.
The old Fudo Hall in Saiki, Tsukuba
The monthly prayer meeting at Saiki`s Fudo Hall
There is no listing of these events online or in any printed form ( though the interesting and open-to-all- monthly Fudo Meeting which takes place at the old Fudo-Zon Hall just past the Kaba-San Jinja in Makabe is listed on The Traditional Events in and around Tsukuba Page). The best way to get information about a Ko near you is to speak to the older people in your neighborhood. They will be very glad to hear that you are interested.
The Fudo-zon Hall just up the road from the Kaba-San Shrines in Makabe. Ceremonies are held every month on the 28th from 10 AM. Anyone is welcome.
The roving mountain priestess who performs the ancient goma taki rituals at the Fudo Hall on Mt Kaba every month
After the ceremonies on the 28th each month at Mt Kaba, you can hang out and shmooz with all those who attended.
Close-up of the 12th Century Seated Figure of Fudo Myoo (designated an Important Cultural Property) preserved at Mt. Koya`s Kongobuji Temple in Wakayama Prefecture.
This Nyoirin Kannon sits outside the Fudo Hall is Higashioka, Tsukuba