Mt. Takao

by Stefan Chiarantano, Nov 7, 2006 | Destinations: Japan

My visit to Mt. Takao allowed me to experience Buddhism within a pleasing natural environment albeit if it was thronging with the masses. Living near Mt. Takao, I decided to visit on culture day, a national holiday in Japan. It was a sunny day and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I expected crowds and there were. I learned that residents of Tokyo flock to Mt. Takao, a mountain retreat in the outskirts of Tokyo, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

When I boarded the subway at Takao Keio Station, it was crowded. I barely made it inside and was squished against the doors. Beside me was a young mother and her baby son whom I hadn't noticed until his sweet eyes found mine. He was very cute and unlike most young Japanese children who tend to cry or scream at the sight of my presence, he didn't. I was relieved and he'd smile at my jabberings. His young mother too.

Luckily I didn't have to wait long in line to board the chair lift to take me up the mountain. While waiting to get on the chair lift, just below in the square in front of Kiyotaki Station, a marching band began to play music which led me to think of the Sally Ann of all things. The chair lift gave me a fright. The chairs lacked seat belts and the benches were narrow and far too narrow for my large touche. So, I held on to the bars for dear life. It's times like these that I think I should slim down but I don't believe in diets. There were two sometimes three Japanese persons sitting comfortably on the chairs while I took up most of the chair myself. Here was another occasion when I stuck out like a sore thumb. What's a large man gonna do, eh? My thoughts of slimming down quickly faded as I took in the nature going up and noticed the many coloured chair lifts. There were signs everywhere and public announcements in English asking passengers not to litter or smoke. Would anyone be so stupid to do either? I shouldn't ask such silly questions. Not once did I let go of the bars. Just one jerk would send me crashing to ground which lay only a feet below. Perhaps, I needn't have worried but I was relieved when I got to the top.

There are many paths to choose from. I picked the one that would take me through Yakoin, a Buddhist temple, and to the very top of the mountain. The path to the temple is lined with red lanterns and bronze statues of Bodhisattvas. The path was thronging with people mostly going in one direction. It was cool and the air fresh. Food vendors and restaurants lined the path and even a monkey zoo. I loved the views of Tokyo that lay beyond the mountain tops and taking in the surrounding greenery some turning colour.

As I neared the Temple complex, I climbed up a set of stairs, 108 of them. I counted. The first of many that I would climb. According to Buddhism, 108 is an auspicious number. The Buddhist rosary has 108 beads. There are 108 symbols of the Buddha. There are 108 feelings/desires/passions which delude humans and blind (bind) them to the wheel of Samsara (suffering). On New Year's eve, Buddhist temples bells are rung 108 times (Joya no Kane). The resonating symbolically cleanses and releases people from the 108 worldly sins. The 108 steps represent the 108 desires. By climbing all 108 steps one can erase those desires. Each bead of the Buddhist rosary represents one of the 108 desires. By offering 108 prayers one is released from the 108 attachments. Here's the breakdown:

There are six senses sight (eyes), sound (ears) smell (nose), taste (mouth), touch (body) and thought (mind). (6)

There are three kinds of sentiments, like, dislike, and indifference for the above. (3 times 6 = 18)

There are 2 conditions of the heart, pure and impure for the above. (2 times 18 = 36)

There are 3 aspects of time, past, present and future, for the above. ( 3 times 36 = 108 desires)

I visited Yakoin then the temple above Yakoin, Momiji, which looked very Chinese in style decorated with dragons in vibrant rich colours. Yakoin dates from the Nara period. On display were three kakebotoke (hanging icons). These are images on flat bronze surfaces.

When I got to the top, I had a quick peak and turned around. It was thronging with people and there was no place to sit or stand. On my way down from the top, the Chinese looking temple was the stage for some cultural events. So, I stopped and took in the performance. The first was a dragon dance. It was fascinating to watch and somehow I had the sense that the dance was connected to its conversion to Buddhism. At one point, the dragon made his way into the audience. People were shrieking and trying to get near to give it a touch, pat, caress or maybe a squeeze. "Would it bring them good luck?" I wondered. He then returned to the stage and picked up a scroll with his mouth, thrown to him by a member of the troupe, which he then unrolled. Then, everyone clapped and cheered. I wish I knew what it said. Then, there followed a dance by another young man dressed as the fox (inari) god. He was dressed up in a white fox costume and wore a fox mask. Toward the end of his performance he threw goodies to the crowds. Everyone shouted "over here, over here" in Japanese.

I visited Yakoin again and explored the complex. There was a smaller temple nearby surrounded by 88 statues of Buddha on pedestal columns. There were all alike. I overheard a gaijin say in a piercing loud voice, "There's another one in Osaka." There were surrounded by Jizo and a few larger Buddhist statues on pedestals too.

As I understand it, these 88 Buddha statues represent the 88 temples in the Shikoku pilgrimage. They allow one to make the rounds here, letting one stop at each one to offer a coin and a prayer. There's a box that lets you exchange a hundred yen coin for a bag of one hundred one yen coins. How very thoughtful I thought. Also, for a hundred yen, you can buy a rock and inscribe it with your name and leave it at the temple. There were families picnicking on the lips of the smaller temples nearby and then someone began to ring the temple bell which flooded the complex with its vibrations.

The ride down the chair lift was more spectacular than the ride going on. I was overwhelmed by the beauty before me. When leaving the station, the line to the chair lift stretched way into the distance and the square was jam packed with people. Lucky it ain't me waiting I thought.

I would have liked to have had lunch near the station but alas all the restaurants were packed to capacity with dozens of people waiting outside to get in. So, I skipped lunch and headed on home. Would I visit again? Yes, I would but not on a national holiday.

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