Prayer plaques at a temple in Japan.

Travel in Japan
Tōkyō — Kiyomizu Kannon-dō Temple and Ueno Kōen Park

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Kiyomizu Kannon-dō Temple and Ueno Kōen Park

Ueno Kōen Park was Tōkyō's first public park, and is now one of the largest parks in the city. Actually Kōen is the Japanese word for park, written in Romanji. You may see Romanji signs pointing you to Ueno Park, but more likely they will say Ueno Kōen.

The park occupies the former site of the Kanei-ji Temple, built by Tokugawa shōguns to guard Edo Castle against the unlucky direction of north-east. The temple was destroyed during the Boshin War, a civil war in 1868-1869.

Kiyomizu Kannon-do Buddhist Temple in Tōkyō's Ueno-Kōen Park.
Water trough and ladles for ritual purification and rack of prayer plaques at Kiyomizu Kannon-do Buddhist Temple.

In the early Meiji period starting in 1868 Japan borrowed many international practices. These included the establishment of public parks. In 1873, the year after the U.S. established Yellowstone National Park, the world's first national park, the Daijō-kan or Great Council of State called for the establishment of public parks in Japan, stating that "in prefectures including Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyōto, there are places of historic interest, scenic beauty, and recreation and relaxation where people can visit and enjoy themselves."

The following year Ueno Park was established, administered by the Museum Bureau, then the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce, and then the Ministry of the Imperial Household. So it was a park, but not exactly a public park in today's common sense. Emperor Taisho granted a large tract of land to the city in 1924, leading to its establishment as a public park named Ueno Onshi Kōen or Ueno Imperial Gift Park.

The Japanese words for museum and art were also coined in the Meiji period in order to express the western concepts. Several museums are in Ueno Kōen, including the Tokyo National Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and National Museum of Western Art. Schools of art and music, and performance halls for western-style concerts and opera and ballet are also in the park, as well as the Imperial Library.

Kiyomizu Kannon-dō Buddhist temple is the Temple of Pure Water, as kiyo (清) means clear or pure, and mizu (水) means water.

The current temple was built in 1631, although the original temple was started around 628 AD when a group of fishermen found a small gold statue in their nets. Its design was inspired by the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyōto, although this is a much smaller temple. It is one of the oldest temples in Tōkyō, and has been recognized as a national treasure.

A water trough (chōzuya) has ladles to ritually purify your hands and mouth before entering.

And the water, of course, is pure! Kiyo-mizu.

A redwood or cedar rack near the chōzuya holds wooden plaques on which visitors can write prayers.

Notice the intricately eroded rock, an auspicious natural piece of art.

Rack of prayer plaques at Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple.
Water trough and ladles for ritual purification and rack of prayer plaques at Kiyomizu Kannon-do Buddhist Temple

Stone lanterns stand beside the temple porch.

Nearby, another rack holds prayers which have been written on small sheets and tied around cords.

Stone lanterns, carvings, and an auspicious boulder stand beside the temple.

The temple is open, we will visit it. First, though, purify yourself in the incense smoke. Monks chant sutras three times a day, and talismans and candles can be purchased.

Its principal image is a seated figure of Senjo-Kannon, the Thousand-Armed Goddess of Mercy. It is a secret image, usually kept in a minature shrine but shown to the public on a special day in February.

Another sacred figure here is Kosodate Kannon, the Goddess of Child-Rearing.

Stone lanterns beside Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple
Rack of prayer strips at Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple.
Lanterns and carvings at Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple.
The entrance to Kiyomizu Kannon-do Temple.

Women who have difficulty conceiving make homage to Kosodate Kannon. Those who have had their wish for a child fulfilled return to the temple, leaving a doll as a gesture of thanks and praying for the good health of their child. All the dolls accumulated over the past year are burned in an annual ceremony on September 25. I think that I would like to see this annual Burning of the Dolls.

One sutra says:

As soon as peoples' cries of agony reach Kannon, the bodhisattva takes pity on them and saves them from the tortures of Hell. Devotees believe that with sincere prayers offered to Kannon, fire cannot burn them and water cannot drown them.

Kannon is believed to be the spiritual child of Amida, sometimes appearing as male, more often female, sometimes androgynous and with a small moustache.