The Seven Wonders of Chion-in
Here, we will introduce the “seven wonders” of the Chion-in, which have been passed down from long ago. Due to the construction on the temple grounds, some of these items are not available for public viewing. (At present, the wasuregasa (“forgotten umbrella,” located above the front verandah of the Mieidō), the uguisubari-no-rōka (“singing nightingale hallway,” located in the Mieidō and Shūedō’s connecting corridors), and the uryūseki (“cucumber rock,” located in front of the intersection of the Kuromon).
(Nightingale Hallway: The Buddha’s Vow)
The corridors which connect the Mieidō (hall which houses the image of Hōnen) to the Shūedō (Assembly Hall), Ōhōjō (Large Guest House) and Kohōjō (Small Guest House) total 550 meters in length. When you walk through these corridors, they make a sound similar to that of a nightingale. The less noise you try to make, the more the floorboards creak, so the floorboards served the function of a burglar alarm. Also, since the cry of the nightingale sounds like “hō kike yo” (listen to the Buddha’s teachings), it is said to serve as a reminder to listen to the Buddha’s teachings.
(Plainwood Coffin: A Symbol of Nonattachment to One’s Life and Body)
At the top of the Sanmon (Main Gate), lie the Plain wood coffins of Gomi Kin’uemon and his wife, who were ordered by the Tokugawa shogun to construct the Sanmon. It is said that they carved wooden statues of themselves, poured all of their energy into building the Sanmon, then committed suicide once the gate was completed. To this day, people weep at the sight of these statues.
(The Forgotten Umbrella: A Symbol of Gratitude)
This umbrella can be found between the eaves on the southeast section of the front of the Mieidō (hall which houses the image of Hōnen).
According to legend, it was forgotten by Hidari Jingorō, a master carpenter. However, according to another legend, it was left behind by a white fox as a sign of gratitude to Reigen, who protected his nest during the construction of the Mieidō. Supposedly, the fox also promised to guard Chion-in. Since the umbrella has a relationship with water, it is thought to protect Chion-in from fires.
(The Sparrows that Flew Away: A Symbol of Polishing One’s Mind)
The fusuma-e (paintings on the sliding doors) in the Kiku-no-ma (Chrysanthemum Room) of the Ōhōjō (Large Guest House) were done by Kanō Nobumasa. On the lower left-hand side of the photograph, a white chrysanthemum can be seen, but it is said that originally there were sparrows right above it. Supposedly, the sparrows were painted in such a lifelike manner that they came to life and flew away and all that is left on the fusuma-e is the mark they left behind.
5thSanpō Shōmen Mamuki-no-Neko
(The Cat That Sees in Three Directions: A Symbol of a Parent’s Heart)
This picture is painted on the cedar doors in the hallway in the Ōhōjō (Large Guest House), and it is unique because the mother cat always appears to be looking in your direction no matter what angle you view her from. This painting is said to represent the dictum that humans must always keep their eyes forward, as well as representing the heart of a parent who protects their child, which in turn represents the compassion of the Buddha.
(Large Rice Paddle: A Symbol of the Buddha’s Salvation)
This rice paddle is 2.5 meters long and weighs about thirty kilograms. As a rice paddle this large is rather novel, it is considered one of Chion-in’s seven wonders. According to legend, during the Ōsaka Summer Campaign of 1614, Miyoshi Seikai, a Buddhist novice, used this rice paddle to scoop rice for the soldiers. Also, since one “scoops” with a rice paddle, it was placed at the Chion-in in order to save all mankind and lead them to the Pure Land. The rice scoop also symbolizes the depth of Amida’s compassion. (Note: in Japanese, the words for “scoop” and “save/rescue” are both pronounced sukuu, resulting in a play on words here).
7thUryūseki (the Cucumber Rock: A Symbol of Encouragement)
This large rock is located in front of the Kuromon (Black Gate). According to legend, Gozu Tennō, a deity from the Yasaka Shrine, descended upon this large rock and in just a night gourds started to grow from it. It is said that this mysterious rock predates the erection of the Chion-in and there are many legends surrounding it.