31 October 2011

Tea Whisk Monument

Walk along the streetcar tracks from JR Nagasaki Station, turn left at the corner near the Sakura-machi streetcar stop, and climb the hillside.  You'll pass a tree-shaded park on your left and come to a narrow flight of stone steps extending up into the graveyards on the upper part of the hill.  Most Japanese cities hide their graveyards in temple compounds or suburban reien ("spirit gardens"), but Nagasaki's cemeteries sprawl conspicuously across the hillsides right above the city, as if to remind the populace of the impermanence of life.

Turn right and continue along the street for another 100 meters or so and you'll find yourself in front of the brooding sanmon (gate building) of a Buddhist temple.  Up the steps and through the gate and you're in a different realm: you're finished with cars and crosswalks, freed from haste and noise, invited into a hidden corner of Nagasaki mostly unchanged by time.

Shofukuji, literally meaning "Temple of Holy Happiness," was established in 1677 by Tesshin (1641-1710), the son of a Chinese merchant of Nagasaki and his Japanese wife.  Tesshin entered the Buddhist priesthood at the age of 14 and studied under a Chinese master of the Obaku Zen sect before traveling to Mampukuji Monastery in Uji near Kyoto to clarify his "view."

Many of the old Obaku Zen temples in Nagasaki, often referred to as akadera or "red temples" because of their red paint and other Chinese features, are tourist attractions stormed by thousands of people every year, but Shofukiji has managed to stay off the beaten track and to maintain its traditional if slightly dog-eared appearance and atmosphere.  No one collects a fee at the gate or interferes with visitors.  You climb the old steps past the Tennoden inner gate building -- where a wooden statue of Hotei the "laughing Buddha" relaxes in an altar-like cubicle -- and emerge into a grassy courtyard in front of the main hall.  To the right is an arched stone gate leading into the temple living quarters; to the left a two-story structure with a bell tower above and a Zendo (meditation hall) below, the latter now used as storage space.

The main hall, erected in 1678 and refurbished in 1715, is a beautiful example of the Chinese-style temple architecture that sprang up in Nagasaki in the middle of the 17th century when Chinese mariners and merchants accounted for about one-sixth of the city population.  It is also one of the most enduring, having withstood not only three centuries-worth of wind and rain but also the blast and heat generated by the atomic bomb in 1945.

Steps lead up to the Tennoden, the inner gate to Shofukuji where a statue of Hotei greets visitors with a welcoming laugh.

The main hall at Shofukji exhibits typical features of Obaku architecture, including the red banister encompassing the porch and the front doors with illustrations of peaches. 


Look to the left of the main hall and you see a small garden enclosed by a bamboo fence and, inside, a rather odd cenotaph.  You can make out the Chinese characters 茶筅塚 engraved on the base, that is, chasenzuka or "tea whisk monument."  Sure enough, the weathered stone sculpture of about one meter in height installed on the base is shaped like the bamboo whisk used in the Japanese tea ceremony.

Some observers might interpret this as a signpost for the tea ceremony or perhaps a tribute to a great tea master of the past.  Others might take it for an eccentric work of art, like a statue of a spoon or fork installed in a park somewhere.  Fundamentalists might denounce it as evidence of superstition: What, after all, could a lowly kitchen utensil have to do with faith or worship?

The chasenzuka (tea whisk monument) at Shofukuji.

But of course all of these miss the point.  The sculpture is an expression of gratitude to the tea whisk, the little bamboo tube that is meticulously split halfway into dozens of fine prongs that are then pulled apart with cotton string into two rows forming a perfect bell-shape.  Years of training and hours of effort go into each handmade tea whisk.  To the sajin (tea ceremony practitioner), the tea whisk is not only an indispensable tool but also a symbol of the worldview underpinning the art of chanoyu, namely the appreciation of transcendent beauty in simple things.    

No matter how reverently the practitioner uses it, the tea whisk easily wears down and needs to be replaced.  But instead of exile to the garbage can, the countless teas whisks retired in Nagasaki every year are collected and burned during a ceremony in front of the monument at Shofukuji.  The Japanese term applied to this custom is kuyō, which originates from the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word puja, meaning "offering."  In the Indian tradition the word usually refers to offerings to religious deities and distinguished guests, but the Japanese term includes expressions of gratitude to inanimate objects and non-human species to which people are -- or consider themselves to be -- deeply indebted.  In the former case this could be a tool used in traditional arts; in the latter case, insects killed in the process of agriculture or mice used in medical experiments.

In short, the tea ceremony practitioners simply cannot discard a tea whisk without thought or regret.  Thus, they built a monument and hold a yearly ceremony.

The consumer society of industrialized countries, including modern Japan, generates mountains of garbage every year in the form of wasted food, single-use packaging, and a spectacular array of products tossed away without the slightest hesitation.  The whole system is geared to mass production, mass consumption and mass waste, regardless of the looming problem of resource depletion and environmental degradation.

More people should walk up the hillside to Shofukuji and contemplate the tea whisk monument. 

21 comments:

  1. This is some good information about the temple, I don't live there for someone like me these posts work as virtual tourists. Thank you for sharing this post with us

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow, it is excellent job wish you more success. Continue it as high you can anyway it is a good job you are doing.
    digital marketing services in india

    ReplyDelete
  3. Healthisgod is the only complete health and wellness website that you may describe as it yours. We created a site that introduces the collection of health and lifestyle information supported by reliable content providers and genuine user reviews. This is a sincere effort on our part to bring forth a user experience which is engaging, moving, and interactive. Visit for more- Health is God

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nutra Trials defines personal characteristics of different health products including skincare, weight loss, muscle and male enhancement. The study presented here is briefly described for reader convenience and to deliver them assurance with health standards. The best possible answers are given here regarding the selection of an ideal supplement or cream or serum that possibly remains to be safe for health and do not cause any side effects.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It is a great job, I like your posts and wish you all the best. and I hope you continue this job well.
    NutraT line

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hello, I am thomus jons thank you for this informative post. That is a great job. Wish you more success.Thank you so much and for you all the best. Takes Down
    123movies

    ReplyDelete
  7. Times For Health is Online Health & Wellness Program! This post is really really nice and so informative. Thanks for the nice post share with us! https://www.timesforhealth.com/

    ReplyDelete
  8. Healrun is a health news blog we provide the latest news about health, Drugs and latest Diseases and conditions. We update our users with health tips and health products reviews. If you want to know any information about health or health product (Side Effects & Benefits) Feel Free To ask HealRun Support Team.

    ReplyDelete
  9. especially the heart and lungs. The more exercise you do each day, the more fat you will burn. If you want to reduce the size of your body, I would advise you to do exercises for the cardiovascular system
    https://www.supplementsforfitness.com/

    ReplyDelete
  10. Pilpedia is supplying 100 percent original and accurate information at each moment of time around our site and merchandise, and the intent is to improve the usage of good and pure health supplement. For More Info please visit Pilpedia online store.

    ReplyDelete
  11. We are here to give you a complete review on the Parallel Profit project by Steve Clayton and Aidan Booth. If you are someone from the field you would already be familiar with these two names, for those of who are new. Parallel Profits Review

    ReplyDelete
  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Revuesdefaits defines personal characteristics of various health merchandise together with skincare, weight loss, muscle and male enhancement. The study presented here is briefly described for reader convenience and to deliver them assurance with health standards. The best potential answers are given here concerning the selection of a perfect supplement or cream or serum that presumably remains to be safe for health and do not cause any facet effects.

    http://revuesdefaits.fr/revolyn-ultra/

    http://revuesdefaits.fr/keto-fit-premium/

    ReplyDelete
  15. Buyers Reviews defines personal characteristics of different health products including skincare,weightloss,muscle and male enhancement.Buyers Reviews is supplying 100% original and accurate information at each moment of time around our site and merchandise, and the intent is to improve the usage of good and pure health supplement.

    ReplyDelete
  16. For the purpose of learning digital marketing you have come to the right place my friend. You, yes you my friend can be the first person to join this amazing program and then learn about the ins and outs of digital marketing. Digital marketing is a growing field in the economy and the people in this Academy are experts at producing other experts who will master this subject and then start their own business by joining the facebook advertising page. This Quit 9 to 5 Academy Review will let you know everything there is to know about this subject and then you too can start a business.

    ReplyDelete
  17. More than regarding thousands of supplements are there within the market which can facilitate your lose your weight but you would like to decide on a naturally formulated and effective product. You will have to face a heap of problems thanks to your overweight body and one in every of the most important problems is obesity. If you want to know any information about health o& Wellness Product (Side Effects & Benefits) Feel Free To ask Purefit Keto.

    http://www.purefit-keto.org/

    http://buypurefitketo.over-blog.com/

    ReplyDelete
  18. The Probiotic supplement helps to balance good bacteria and in this regard, Probiotic t 50 is creating buzz. How far is the supplement reliable and worth considering, you will come to know about it here.

    ReplyDelete
  19. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete

  20. Suplementarios >>> La autenticidad de nuestro sitio web es claramente visible a través de los blogs de moda de salud con el nombre mencionado en él. Tenemos una tendencia a ofrecer nuestro mejor apoyo a los huéspedes que buscan detalles de los suplementos y las comparaciones entre ellos. Para más información amable >>> http://suplementarios.es/

    http://suplementarios.es/erozon-max/

    http://suplementarios.es/reduslim/

    https://www.facebook.com/Suplementarios-2251727545101681/

    ReplyDelete