On one of our trips around Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, close to Entokuin, we had once spotted the gigantic head of a statue peeping over a wall as we hunted for the Ghibli Studio shop on Ninenzaka. We wandered up the hill to see if we could get a closer look, but there didn’t seem to be an entrance.
When we returned to Kyoto 18 months later, we decided that we were going to find out what this statue was and how to visit it. After a little searching on the internet, I discovered that the statue is the Ryozen Kannon, constructed in 1955 by the architect Hirosuke Ishikawa. The statue is a memorial to those who died on both sides of the conflict in the Pacific warzone of the Second World War.
Entry is from the same street that Entokuin lies on, just along from the flight of steps that lead up to Kodaiji Temple. As we went in through the gate, we paid our 200円 entrance fee and were handed a guide and a stick of incense to place in the brazier in front of the Kannon.
Inside the grounds the atmosphere was very peaceful. Although this is a war memorial, it takes great pains to make sure the visitor knows that it doesn’t just focus on the war dead of Japan. It is a place of peace that aims to commemorate everyone who lost their life during the war. Inside the shrine, there are memorial tablets for the two million Japanese who lost their lives in the war, but there is also a monument to the memory of foreign soldiers who died on Japanese territory or in territory under Japanese military control. The names of both Japanese and Allied soldiers who died are also filed in drawers inside the memorial hall, and within the grounds is an altar containing soil from every Allied cemetery from the Pacific war zone.
We placed our incense sticks into the brazier and then walked around the grounds and looked out across the city beneath us. It’s possible to climb up inside the statue of Kannon, but we didn’t. I can’t remember why, now, but I think we had the impression that it wasn’t open that day.
One of the structures in the grounds protects are large golden sphere, called the Negai no Tama. Tradition has it that if you walk around the sphere three times, with your hand against its surface, wishing (or praying) for something, then buy an ema plaque and write your wish on it, your wish will be granted. I decided to give it a go. As Ryozen Kannon also has a small altar dedicated to Aizen Myoo, the God of Love, who promises to find those who pray there a good marriage match, I decided that my wish should be for a long and happy marriage.
Only two and a half years have passed since I walked around the golden orb, but we’re still married. Read into that what you will!
Looking back on our visit to Ryozen Kannon and comparing it with our trip this year to the Showa Daibutsu at Seiryu-ji, I much prefer the ethos of peace as a memorial to the war dead at Ryozen Kannon. Further up the hillside from Ryozen Kannon is a more nationalistic war memorial, at Gokoku Shrine, which we haven’t visited so can’t compare.
I was reminded of our visit to Ryozen Kannon this week, as some in the UK media have tried to stir up controversy over the art installation at the Tower of London that commemorates the dead of the First World War. An article that appeared in a national newspaper that I thought should know better, tried to suggest that the memorial was a focus for nationalistic sentiment and a bandwagon for UKIP to jump onto. Or at least the headline for the piece did. The article itself is just the writer’s opinion, and a bit flabby. Still, it filled some pages and gave someone else the chance to chime in on the non-story. However, it reminded me of Ryozen Kannon because, in that second piece, people who had volunteered to plant a poppy to commemorate a British & Commonwealth life lost in the conflict spoke of how it made them reflect on all of the lives that had been lost. Unless it is allowed to be hijacked by nationalistic sentiment, or is set up with that purpose in mind, a war memorial is just that: a memorial to lives lost in conflict. A space where anyone from any nation can stand and consider the sacrifices made by many. I thought that Ryozen Kannon succeeded in being such a space.
The Goddess of Mercy sitting on her hillside is a peaceful monument in a place that encourages reflection.
I’m glad that we visited, and if this blog is still in existence in 50 years, I’ll let you know how the marriage thing is going!