During the three years I lived in Japan, the main activity of the weekends was geared towards meeting two of my great passions: traveling and sacred art. To combine both is not a complicated issue in Japan given the number of Buddhist monasteries and Shinto shrines that populate these islands. Moreover, the shinkansen (bullet train) and Nagoya’s central location allowed me to reach in a few hours almost anywhere at Japan.
Because of the fertile cross-pollination occurred between the Dharma that arrived from India via China and Korea in the sixth century and the indigenous animism, the distinction between Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines is not clear at all, in fact, most Japanese feel comfortable identifying themselves with both traditions.
The assimilative capacity of this people is reflected, for example, in the not uncommon occurrence of the three major anniversaries of life, i.e. birth, marriage and death being held by Shinto, Buddhist and Christian rites respectively. The association between birth and fertility goddesses justify the choice of Shinto rituals to celebrate the birth, and the association between death and rebirth the choice of Buddhist rituals, but what justification could there be for the election of Christian weddings? The answer is, sadly, the glamour of the bride’s white dress.
From the architectural point of view, the capital’s ancient seats of Kyoto and Nara are the cities with the most monumental and ornate temples, gardens and pagodas across the country, scattered like precious stones embedded in a medallion in the first, and focused as a brilliant in the second.
The times I acted as Cicerone to foreign visitors, I always took them to Kyoto and I chose the temple Sanjusangendo as the main attraction. If thirty two cans of Campbell’s soup can cause great aesthetic impact, what will not get a thousand statues at human scale of almost identical bodhisattvas? I enjoyed glancing my party accessing the temple; likewise me the first time, they all inevitably drop their jaws and arched greatly their eyebrows.
Fortunately, Kyoto and Nara were respected by American bombs, and humanity can still count with these unrepeatable gems among its assets.