This was one of my favorite parts of the trip, but it was probably also the most difficult for me emotionally and spiritually. I got off the train with my group and partnered up with Heather, the summer intern who was assigned to my crew, to prayer walk through the plaza in front of the temple, the temple marketplace, and the temple itself. I felt a sense of dread and spiritual oppression as we neared the temple and as Heather talked about the large lantern that sits at the gate of the temple. It is the largest lantern in the world.
An old man in a dark robe stood near the entryway, banging a wooden staff on the ground and asking for money from "worshipers". As Heather and I walked into the gate, I glanced around at grotesque statues that looked like snake/dragon/human beings. Heather explained that they were not gods, but they are what she considers demons. They certainly looked like demons would look in my imagination: scaly, disgusting, ferocious, big teeth and horns.
As I walked into the courtyard, I was surprised to see dozens of vendors lining the streets on each side, selling everything from candy to toys to T-shirts. It was so incredibly commercialized. Later it made me think of the money changers in the temple in the Bible. It's a really smart strategy to set up shop in the temple, though, because everybody goes to temple. Mami, my Japanese friend who came with us on the trip, said that most of the people don't really even believe in Buddhism. They just continue to go through the motions because of ritual and social obligation. Not going to temple is not socially acceptable.
Heather and I continued on past the market, praying that God would open the eyes of the Japanese to see that fulfillment can't be found in things. Just before the entrance to the actual temple building was a large metal contraption with smoke coming out of it. The air around the metal thing, which looked like a big, decorative metal lantern, was hazy and reeked of incense. People were crowded around it, waving smoke all over their bodies. This is a ritual they undergo for some sort of spiritual cleansing before they enter the temple.
I could hear a sound like a half-full piggy bank being shaken, and when I looked to my right, I saw that there were Japanese people shaking little containers. The people stood next to rows and rows of little drawers with Japanese numbers on them; once the person had shaken the container, he or she would draw a number from it and then open the drawer with the corresponding number. From the drawer, the person would withdraw a small slip of paper with a fortune on it. If it was a good fortune, the person would keep it and enter the temple to pray that it would come true. If it was a bad fortune the person would tie it up on a string near the drawers and enter the temple to pray that it would not come true.
As I walked toward the steps of the temple, my dread increased. I really DID NOT want to go in, but I felt like I had to. I needed to see and better understand this part of the Japanese culture. As I walked into the large, open room, I could see and hear hundreds of Japanese people praying to Buddha. Jingling, clanging sounds filled the air as people threw money into containers to ensure their prayers would be heard by their god. To the right and left were large glass containers full of brightly glowing candles, lit in memory of lost or aborted babies. Every time someone walked up to one of these to light a candle, my heard broke a little more.
I stood there for several minutes, praying and just trying to take it all in. Eventually, our 12-person crew huddled together for a group prayer. I sobbed as my heart broke even more for the lost, blind, chained up condition of this group of people. Less than half a percent of the people of Japan know Christ.
I left the temple with a greater understanding of some of the spiritual aspects of the battle in Japan and with a realization that these people need a divine eye-openin to see that the key to their chains is right in front of them in the person of Jesus. They just need their blindfolds removed.
A wee little update.
3 months ago