Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of The Asahi Shimbun.
May 26, 2023 at 12:37 JST
Shungen Fuke, the administrator of Miidera temple in Otsu, meets reporters on May 25, showing a photograph of the pass the Buddhist monk Enchin used to travel in the Tang Dynasty in China. (The Asahi Shimbun)
“Konjaku Monogatarishu” (Anthology of Tales from the Past), written during the late Heian Period (794-1185), features many distinguished Buddhist monks who may have possessed supernatural powers.
In one tale, a monk who had returned from China suddenly waved a religious instrument, using it to sprinkle water aimed at the western sky. One of his disciples asked him what he was doing, and the monk replied, “The temple where I used to live is burning.”
The following year, a letter arrived from that very temple. It read, “A sudden downpour quenched a fire.”
The monk was Enchin (814-891), the founder of the Tendai Jimon sect of Buddhism, who was revered for his clairvoyance and this miracle that he worked.
On May 24, a set of documents this legendary cleric brought back from China was approved by UNESCO for inclusion in its Memory of the World register.
The centerpiece of the archives is the “kasho” (pass) that enabled Enchin to travel around China. Issued by a local administration, it was his valid passport for entry into, and departure from, the ancient Chinese capital of Changan where he studied Buddhism.
But dangers must have lurked here and there during Enchin’s long journey--something even his clairvoyance could not see through.
After he returned to Japan, I wonder if he took out his pass from time to time and went through its pages, just like we reminisce about our past travels by looking at the stamps in our passports.
What impressed me most is that the documents have survived for more than 1,100 years.
Miidera, the temple in Shiga Prefecture where they have been kept, is an ancient institution that was burnt many times during historical turbulences, including the Genpei War (1180-1185) between the Taira and the Minamoto clans and the civil war during the Nanboku-cho period (1336-1392).
I understand that the temple’s entire staff has remained fully prepared to instantaneously transport the documents to safety in times of emergency. I wish to congratulate them for the fact that the documents they have zealously protected are going into the Memory of the World register.
Shungen Fuke, the administrator of Miidera, summed up the thoughts of the generations of the temple’s keepers as “an accumulation of their sense of mission, confidence and determination to pass (the archives) on to posterity.”
I wonder if his words will ever be heard by black-robed court judges who have inappropriately dealt with court documents by discarding them one after another.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 26
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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