Saturday, January 4, 2014

2014 New Year Hozanji Pilgrimage

The new year brings out several traditional practices at VAOJ. So, of course, that means a visit to my favorite temple in Japan. Last year I wrote "Equally important spiritually and anthropologically is my annual new year's pilgrimage to Hozanji temple in Ikoma, Nara." I cannot state this any differently or better. Every year I experience Hozanji in a different way, and hopefully my photographs, aside from documenting the temple in general, illustrate the different experiences (see 2011, 2012, 2013). In addition to discovering old and new spots and angles to photograph, I had some very nice encounters with people at the temple. Every year I purchase ofuda (talisman) to protect my house and every year it is the same gentleman who sells it to me. He recognized me this year with a hearty greeting of "Long time, no see!" His portrait appears in this post.

One challenging aspect of visiting Hozanji is that it is on a mountain. There are many stairs to climb to get to the temple, and many stairs to climb to make the circuit of various shrines within. At the top of the usual route is a shrine dedicated to Daikokuten, one of the Japanese seven lucky gods associated with wealth, food, agriculture and good fortune (he is also seen as an incarnation of the Hindu deity Shiva; he is but one example of the many interesting Hindu origins of Japanese Buddhist deities at Hozanji). This year when I reached the top I stopped to take a break and to photograph the scene. Usually the shrine is closed and one can only get a glimpse of the deity and religious paraphernalia through a small opening. But this time there were two people inside attending to the shrine and the visitors. A young man opened the door of the shrine and invited me in. I'm not sure if he did this because I was a visual anthropologist (and/or foreigner) or because I looked so exhausted. In any event I was thrilled to go in, see Daikokuten up close, take photographs, talk to the attendants inside (the young man was a molecular biology graduate student working part time at the temple during the holidays and the other attendant was an older woman who was working as a volunteer) and receive a nice, hot cup of tea. Photos from this encounter also appear in this post.

At new year's time, there are several stalls selling various food and drinks at Hozanji (VAOJ recommends the amazake and tako yaki). This makes for a fun and festive atmosphere that is as much a part of the hatsumode (first visit to a shrine or temple of the year) experience as is the wishing-praying activities of the people who visit. The new year of the horse is off to a great start - VAOJ wishes all a happy, healthy and (in the spirit of Daikokuten) prosperous 2014!

See also the official website for Hozanji (宝山寺) in Japanese:

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