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The Goma Fire Ritual at Shinshoji Narita-san Temple: Chiba

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The taiko drums reverberated with deep, steady tones, as the monks on either side of the altar pounded them with consistent strokes of their long, wooden bachi (taiko drum sticks). We removed our shoes and found spaces to kneel amongst the other parishioners on the crimson carpet. It was morning outside, but the interior altar was dark and candlelit, with an array of large reflective and intricately decorated golden ornaments dangling from the ceiling. The taiko drumming monks continued, while other monks chanted and shook golden bells. The head priest, also chanting, added sticks to a fast growing fire that he had created as a symbol of peace and purification. The flames, that seemed to understand his esoteric commands, were part of a ritual that is intended to deliver the wishes of the people to Buddha. The pilgrims pray for safety, luck, and prosperity in their lives, and in conjunction with this, at the end of the ceremony, everyone brings his or her purse or satchel to the priest to be waved over the smoke. This supposedly enhances the future value of the bags' contents.

Temple (Photo by Marian Goldberg)

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  • Temple procession (Photo by Marian Goldberg)
  • Temple (Photo by Marian Goldberg)
  • Priests praying at Narita-san temple Courtesy of Melody Moser
  • Temple (Photo by Marian Goldberg)
  • Temple (Photo by Marian Goldberg)
  • Priests praying at Narita-san temple Courtesy of Melody Moser

Full Article:

The taiko drums reverberated with deep, steady tones, as the monks on either side of the altar pounded them with consistent strokes of their long, wooden bachi (taiko drum sticks). We removed our shoes and found spaces to kneel amongst the other parishioners on the crimson carpet. It was morning outside, but the interior altar was dark and candlelit, with an array of large reflective and intricately decorated golden ornaments dangling from the ceiling. The taiko drumming monks continued, while other monks chanted and shook golden bells. The head priest, also chanting, added sticks to a fast growing fire that he had created as a symbol of peace and purification. The flames, that seemed to understand his esoteric commands, were part of a ritual that is intended to deliver the wishes of the people to Buddha. The pilgrims pray for safety, luck, and prosperity in their lives, and in conjunction with this, at the end of the ceremony, everyone brings his or her purse or satchel to the priest to be waved over the smoke. This supposedly enhances the future value of the bags' contents.

 

Shinshoji Narita-san Temple is the head temple of the Shingon Sect of Chizan-ha Buddhism. It's main figure of devotion is a deity named Fudō Myōō, one of the “Wisdom Kings”. His image was carved and consecrated by Japan's founding Shingon Buddhist priest, Kukai (774-835), known by most today as Kobodaishi or “Great Master of the Propagation of Dharma.” The image was originally enshrined in Kyoto, but it had been removed to Narita during a revolt in 939. After the revolt, the oracle of Fudō Myōō himself requested to stay in Narita and “relieve innumerable people from suffering.” Narita-san Shinshoji Temple was built around and in honor of this image and the oracle in the year 940.

 

Narita-san is a great place to visit if you have a layover at Narita Airport, as it's only ten minutes away by local train. The Goma ceremony is conducted several times daily, and everyone is welcome to witness and participate. The ceremony is free of charge, but our group spent a few yen. Firstly, for 100 yen (about $1) each, we purchased paper fortunes from omikuji vending machines located on the grounds. Then, for 800 yen, I purchased a Migawari-omamori, a small, brocade or washi paper-wrapped talisman that wards off evil and accidents by absorbing the bad fortune itself. (You can also purchase fortune papers with specific prayers to help you do well on exams, meet the romance of your life, or get over an illness quickly.)

 

After the ceremony, we took an hour temple complex tour, with Keiko, our volunteer guide, which we arranged in advance through the Japan tourism office website: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/arrange/travel/guide/list_volunteerGuides_a-n.html#chiba. She then gave us a fond farewell, and  walked us back through the Niōmon Gate and onto Omotesando-dori, the delightful traditional store-lined street that runs from Narita-san to JR Narita station. She directed us out on our own to shop and sample the unique local street fare. What a splendid morning!

 

More information: http://www.chiba-tour.jp/narita/sight/sight_top.html

 

April 10, 2014

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