“There’s no point in looking around here in this approach to the temple. Look at the cake shop opposite. That came from Tajimi six years ago. There are few which have stood here since olden days but my shop. Most other shops have come to this place recently from somewhere, and will leave for somewhere soon.” The 70-year-old man said bitterly.
I was at a tatami, or straw mat, shop in Kakuozan with some of my friends on December 21. We dropped by the store after visiting our main destination: Nata-yakushi. Kakuozan is a place name, but it actually means a temple called Nittai-ji standing there. The tatami mat shop is in the approach to the temple. As the owner said, many new stores, such as café chains and cake shops, lately have opened along the approach and they have gathered not only senior citizens but also youngsters.
As the tatami shop’s owner pointed out, the area is losing historical attraction because old buildings have been destroyed and been replaced with modern fashionable shops, though the alteration is attracting young people. However, there are still many old and historical place remained in Kakuozan. He was delighted when we told him that we had visited Nata-yakushi. “Oh! You went there! That’s good!”
Nata-yaskushi (a.k.a. Ioh-do) was built by Shimpo Cho originally in a temple named Eiko-in in Chikusa-ku in 1669. But it is not clear when the building was moved to the present place. Shimpo was a doctor in the Chinese Ming dynasty. He became a naturalized citizen and a special doctor for the lord of the Owari (Nagoya) Domein in the Edo period. Yakushi-nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru), or Buddha of Healing is enshrined in the building because Shimpo was a medical worker. In addition, Shimpo has become a street’s name in Chikusa-ku as well.
The building attracts people because of not only its statue of Buddha of Healing and Shimpo’s story but also two statues of Buddha of the sunlight and the moonlight and 12 god statues curved by a famous sculptor in the Edo period: Enku. According the legend, Enku made those statues using spare woods for building Nagoya Castle with only a machete. He was a man more than 300 years ago but his works look avant-garde in even the 21st Century. They were fabulous. Unfortunately I could not take any photos of them because it was banned…But you can see them here: http://www.a-namo.com/ku_info/chikisaku/pages_n/enku_butsu.htm
Interestingly many people were praying before those statutes putting a one-yen coin on the edge. I asked the reason around me, but no one knew. So, I rummaged through my wallet to find a one-yen coin, and stood it before a statue and prayed for people who were suffering from diseases, though I did not know why letting the coin stand. I found a stone monument when I came out from the old hall. It exactly looked like a coin. Standing a coin may have something to do with it.
After visiting Nata-yakushi, my friends and I went to a Japanese restaurant nearby for lunch. The restaurant is an old folk house on whose roof there is a statue of Shoki, which is a figure of Chinese mythology and is believed to expel evil spirits. There was only one menu for lunch that day on December 21 because the 21 of every month is a festival day of Nittai-ji Temple in Kakuozan. Actually, Nata-yakushi is also just opened on 21. So many people come to the area on 21 and the restaurant cannot offer their usual service that day. Our table at the restaurant was interesting. It was made of an old sliding door and four old ceramic blaziers. The place was very old and cozy. We relaxed there and enjoyed their lunch special.
After lunch, we walked through Nittai-ji temple’s ground, where there were many stalls and people. It looked like a bazaar somewhere. There were many food stands, and people were enjoying eating them outside. Many of the stalls were selling special items for New Year, such as rice cake, dried fish, and flowers and trees, and wives were shopping much they could not carry them all. The place was filled with energy from sellers and visitors.
We left the bustling marketplace and walked into a tranquil place. We visited an old building called Yoki-so, which was an old villa of the first president of Matsuzakaya department store. It stands quietly near Nittai-ji Temple. It was built in 1918 and now is opened to the public as a Nagoya City’s tangible cultural asset. But we cannot enter inside the old building. Even so, it is nice to visit there. You can see the interesting architecture and the tea ceremony house, and walk around the garden for free.
As going back to Nittai-ji Temple and the market area, we were returning to the hubble again. We dropped by a small shrine along the approach to the temple called Sai-Kobo-do, which has 65 statues of Kobo Daishi (a.k.a. Kukai). Those statues show his 62-year life. Actually Nittai-ji Temple has a festival on the 21st day every month because Kukai died on the 21 of the third month in 835. Despite Nittai-ji Temple does not worship Kukai, why has its special day become his death date? The old villa’s owner Mr. Ito started a campaign for gathering visitors to the temple using Kukai in 1909. He began building shrines relating to Kukai along the approach to the temple. The project hit a jackpot. Since then, many visitors have come to Kakuozan area and have spent money there.
There are many interesting historical and culture things in Kakuozan area. I had a wonderful time at Nata-yakushi, the Japanese restaurant, Yoki-so, Sai-Kobo-do, the bazaar and the tatami shop with my friends. Next time I go to the area, I would like to visit other old temples and to come across something new!