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【Legends and Historical Stories of Okinawa】Kannonji Temple and Nisshu Shonin
post : 2018.01.12 23:00
Once upon a time, there was a cave inhabited by a giant snake at a village in Kin. The snake plowed through the village while seeking water from well, and it often savaged barn animals of villagers causing so much sufferings to them. One day, a Buddhist monk arrived on a small boat at the bay of Kin. His name was Nisshu and he came from place called Nachi, Kishu Kumano mainland Japan. Knowing the villagers’ plight, he decided to get rid of the snake and chanted Buddhist sutra and suceeded in driving away the evil snake into the cave and shut it away permanently. The villagers’ peaceful life finally came back.
Kin town is situated almost in the middle of mainland Okinawa. If you rent a car and get on the Okinawa Express way, it only takes one hour from Naha airport. In Kin town, there is a Buddhist temple of Koya-san Shingon sect Kinpusen established in 1522 by a Buddhist monk, Nisshu Shonin (a respectful term for a Buddhist monk) who had arrived on a boat at area called Fukka in Kin town.
Abundant plants grow in the ground of temple such as Fukugi trees aged over 300 year, bougainvaillea, Javanese bishopwood, croton and bird's-nest fern, all of them are representative flora of Okinawa.
The temple as we see today is actually rebuilt structure in 1942. Its significance is that the main hall structure survived the World WarⅡ. An American service man stationed in Kin town was academics and played a certain role in registration of this facility as cultural asset. This valuable wooden structure shows the traditional style of architecture of pre-war era.
The cave first described in this article is said to be the one in the ground of the Kannonji temple, called “Nisshu-do (cave)”. Nisshou-do is a limestone cave of 10-meter deep and 270-meter long. The Sansho Gongen（three deities）of Kumano and Suiten are enshrined there. In Kannonji Temple, Buddha and Shinto gods are worshipped together.
It always gives me a feel of serenity and purity when I visit Kannonji. Even after an edict for Separation of Shinto and Buddhism had been issued during Meiji era, syncretism of two religions in Kannonji never disappeared and carried out for long time.
Nisshu was a monk described in a number of historical documents such as “Ryukyukoku Yuraiki”, the oldest topography compiled by the kingdom government of Ryukyu, the official history record “Chuzan Seifu” and other document written by the Chinese envoy “Chuzan Denshinroku” and another comes from Satsuma clan compilation “Sankoku Meishozue”.
According to “Chuzan Denshinroku”, a tale of Nisshu was sung in an old folk song. It said, a “kaminchu” (highest priest) came to our land. When he played at the sea, the water was purified and white sand turned into rice. Since Nisshu went through harsh training at Mt. Koya, he had a knowledge of cultivation. Villagers were well taught how to farm the land from Nisshu and the village was blessed with abundant crops thanks to Nisshu. He was respected and worshipped by local people.
Nisshu Shonin had reached Kin Bay by boat after his departure in search of Pure Land of Kanjizai Bosatsu (Kannon Bodhisattva）. The small shack was created on a boat with some food and oil enough for only 30 days for him.
Usually ascetic Buddhist monks were supposed to be housed inside the shack and just sat there patiently while the boat was drifting away.
One legend told that there was a hole on the bottom of the boat but a shell of abalone sealed the hole so the Nisshu's boat didn’t sink to the bottom of the ocean.
After going through hard ascetic practice of Buddhism, what he saw at arrival at Kin may have looked quite odd to him. First seeing subtropical flowers such as colorful hibiscus and bougainvillea, maybe Nisshu thought he was finally in paradise…