Today we paid a visit to Unjo-ji Temple located in Shiogama City in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. We entered the temple and observed how well taken care of this particular temple was. Making our way to the front of the main hall, we were greeted at the door by the temple’s chief priest, Shoji Ryosho. We walked inside, kicked off our sneakers, exchanged business cards and began to tour the facility.
Here is a statue of this temple’s Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, or Jizo Bosatsu. As you can see the Buddha depicted in this photo is helping needy infants. Unjo-ji Temple is actually the branch temple of the Jodo sect headquarter Chion-in Temple, and is the oldest in the city.
I have noticed compared to shrines, temples have a lot of gravestones. Sometimes they go as far as you can see with there still being more behind them. Once can find many things left on gravestones for their loved ones, sake, beer, stuffed animals or other sentimental items. Although somber and filled with memories of mourning, it is still a peaceful place to walk through, and I would not mind being buried here.
We followed Chief Priest Shoji Ryosho into the temple, and he showed us a few instruments which are used on various occasions. The chief priest showed us a piano, his big taiko and a smaller, more religious, drum. Chief Priest Shoji was kind enough to let me try them all out, and, as a musician, even get a little creative with them. I suggested to him we start ourselves up a Buddha band; he chuckled and told me, “That would be a most strange band.”
It was now time for a lunch fit for a priest. We sat around the table as a nice lady who works at the temple brought us out some vividly green tea, and a tray containing chopsticks, a bowl of miso soup, and an even smaller tray which had a bed of white rice, with saucy pork and veggies on top. I could have definitely gone for seconds. That meat was delicious, and tasted so fresh; these chief priests know how to eat.
Chief Priest Shoji went on to show us where the ceremonies are held, as he demonstrated a beat on the taiko, followed by the lighting of candles on the main hall in front of the Buddha of Infinite Light. He said a few words of prayer, finished and led us to the next room.
There we found a large collection of what appeared to be small golden cabinets; however, they were actually o-ihai (a 2-inch wide by 5-inch high, rectangular black-painted wooden plate, encased in a footed box to stand it), each dedicated to an ancestor of the temple, visited my current members often so they can spot their ancestors name.
It was nice getting to meet Chief Priest Shoji Ryosho, he was a very kind and composed gentleman. If you are ever in Shiogama City, I would encourage you to pay the historical Unjo-ji Temple a visit!