I visited Isshinji Temple on July 31, 2011 with a Japanese colleague whose mother is going to be interred (which may not be the correct way to say it) within one of the upcoming Okotsubutsu. The Okotsubutsu are statues of the Buddha made from cremated remains. Every 10 years a new statue is created (since 1887) composed of the remains of about 150,000 persons. According to the brochure, they are "kneaded" into something that can be sculpted into a statue. The temple which was initially established in 1185 was virtually destroyed in March of 1945 in a fire as the result of a bombing. It was rebuilt during the period 1950 - 2000 and 7 Okotsubutsu are present at this time.
My friend selected Isshinji and an Okotsubutsu as his mother's final resting place. He is the last remaining member of his family. When he dies, there will be no one left to pray for his Mother. But, if she is a part of an Okotsubutsu, many people will pray in front of it daily, light candles, and incense, and she will receive the benefit of those prayers. What a lovely thought. Imagine what the world would be like if each time we took a few moments from our busy days to count our blessings and give thanks to those who have cared for us, given us life, love, shelter and comfort that those thoughts extended to all the people of the world; that when we gave thanks we were were truly grateful, if only for a moment, for everything.
Perhaps the real benefit in going to a place like Isshinji is that it creates a place in our lives to think about life and death; about how deeply we can affect each other, about much more alike we are than unalike; about how fleeting time is and about how we should not wait until people are gone to begin to appreciate them.
Isshinji was rebuilt after the war, and it is gorgeous. Look at the details. Look at the steps, constructed from single huge beams, going up the the main building where the remains are received and prayed over. There is an English Language pamphlet. Tours are available.
This temple is only open from 9 - 4pm, according to my friend, so plan accordingly. It is often packed with people paying their respects, so go early or late if you want to avoid a bustling crowd.
This temple is within easy walking distance of Tennoji Station on the JR line (there is a tourist center at the station.) Even closer from the Tanimachi subway line.
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