We live on a really steep slope, well above sea level. The hillside is steep enough that sidewalks to the bottom are flat-out flights of stairs. We descend 187 steps down one such pathway to reach our nearest train station, Negishi station. Twenty steps from the top sits a small Buddhist temple called Sokoji.
Two religions predominate in Japan: Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples look similar to newbies like me at first, but a few unique features quickly make the distinction easy to learn:
Shinto Shrine: guarded by two lion-looking dogs (koma-inu), red torii gates in front
Buddhist temple: name ends in -ji, an incense burner out front, often a pagoda on the grounds, statue of Buddha inside
So using the clues before me (and the “Sokoji Temple” label on Google maps), I’m guessing that this is a Buddhist temple.
Unfortunately the koma-inu lion/dogs muddy the waters a bit. If this is a Buddhist temple, then why are there Shinto-style dogs out front?
This interesting piece from the Japan Times talks about the syncretism, or weaving together of religions, that started back in the eighth century. Buddhist temples were often built right next to Shinto shrines, and the religions have blended and blurred off and on ever since.
Back to “my” koma-inu. They guard the temple or shrine in pairs; as at Shinto shrines, one has its mouth open, and the other’s is closed.
I stepped up to the glass doors to try and peek inside, but I chickened out on actually opening the doors and going in. The lights were out so I couldn’t see all the way in, but I did see tatami mats on the floor and the outlines of a gilded altar at the front. Maybe next time I’ll get braver and venture inside! Also I’ll leave my dog Ruby at home on my next visit. 😉
Off to the side of the temple, a small spring erupts from the hillside. It’s really lovely, and the sound of the splashing water adds to the temple’s tranquility.
Small temples and shrines are scattered throughout the neighborhoods; two more sit just a few minutes’ walk from our house, and in the coming weeks I’ll visit those too.