August 21, 1907


Letter From Japan.


Nikko, Japan, Aug. 21.--


In my last letter I told of the various portions of the temple dedicated to Ieyasu. All the splendor of those decorations is forgotten when one sees the tomb itself, which is of massive stone, surmounted by a pagoda-shaped urn of finest gold, silver and copper bronze. In front, on a low table, are a bronze incense burner, a vase of bronze with lotus flowers and leaves of brass, and a bronze tortoise supporting a stork. This ornament is seen frequently in temples all over the empire, and typifies "length of days." The inclosure is surmounted by a lofty stone wall with balustrade, and shaded by grand old cryptomarias and a luxurient growth of azelias and bamboo grass. This unadorned tomb of the mighty shogun, standing in silence and shade behind the splendid red lacquered temples raised in his honor, is a stately finish to this exquisite creation. Massive stairways of stone, each gray with lichen, lead to the tomb, each stone being fitted with such exactness as to stand without morter the wear and tear of nearlly three centuries without slightest displacement.

Temples of Iemitsu, in close proximity to those of Ieyasu, are reached by an avenue that branches from the grand approach. On the right are two temples of Shinto faith, plain, but of much interest. On the left is a red lacquered building dedicated to Amida in which are preserved the bones of Yoritoma, founder of the shogunate. A flight of steps leads to the gate, guarded on each side by gigantic wooden figures painted bright red, and standing in niches. In the inner court is a massive water basin.

As there is much misunderstanding regarding the religion of Japan it may be well to say something [about?] it. There is no Japanese religion in the sense that we ordinarily understand the term. They worship no gods. Japanese religion, or Shintoism, is simply reverence for ancestors. They do not pray to them nor do they worship them. They deeply reverence them and erect temples to them, to which they make pilgrimages, not in the sense of worship, but to do honor to the memories of the departed relatives and heroes. There are no Japanese gods, neither is there a Japanese heaven or hell. All temples, and the empire is covered with them, have been erected in honor of some one who has passed away, and those relatives, friends, and admirers have taken this means of honoring him. Buddhism is taught by many priests and is believed in by many Japanese, but it is an imported religion and does not belong to the people except as it has been instilling into their minds. There are hundreds of Buddhist temples, but they are not the ones on which greatest reverence is lavished. Buddhism as a religion appeals to Oriental as no other religion can, but Japanese put above all religion their reverence for their ancestors.

Near Yokohama the image of the Great Buddha stands in a grove and it is a most sacred spot. The first view of this image is most startling. It is composed of gold, silver, copper and bronze forming a figure nearly fifty feet high. The mouth is three feet, two inches wide and all other parts are in corresponding proportion. The eyes are of pure gold. The head dress is of snail shells of pure bronze, protecting the head from the sun's rays, and representing the love and gratitude of animals for Buddha's love and care for all animals. The greatest figures in the world are in Japan. The one in the park at Nara is largest of them all, but the one just described is considered the best work of art. Buddha is always represented in a sitting posture, gazing over the plain, silent, calm, impenetrably mysterious. The sacred figure is hollow and contains a small shrine. After we had inspected it we came across the usual commercialism when the priest asked us to sit on Buddha's thumb and be photographed. We graciously did so, said [paid?] the small fee and left orders for pictures to be sent us. It is one means of revenue by which the priests are supported.

C. E. E.


Source:  Crittenden Record-Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1907-1918, February 6, 1908, Image 3 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.


[My comments are in brackets.]