Could this be my best discovery yet? I think so. It's not the prettiest temple by far, but the very idea – a temple for stories! – is enough to place this at the top of my list of best quirky temples.
Honpōji (本法寺) is a tiny temple in Kotobuki, Asakusa, which is basically my backyard.
May I tell you a bit of history to explain why Honpōji is special? The period before and during World War II was a tough one. Military authorities tried to control public opinion, and one of their methods was to prohibit professional storytellers from telling any humorous stories that could weaken the Yamato damashii (大和魂) or Japanese spirit.
The traditional Japanese art of storytelling is called rakugo (落語). The stories themselves are also called rakugo or hanashi (話), and the narrators are known as rakugoka or hanashika. They have a big repertoire, but during World War II, 53 of their stories were banned.
A famous rakugo critic, Nomura Mumeian (野村 無名庵), suggested that the storytellers should erect a tomb for the banned stories, and this was done at Honpōji in 1941. They buried their banned scripts and gathered here every year to offer prayers to their dead stories. When the war ended, this ban was lifted, but the annual prayers at Hanashizuka, the tomb of stories, still continue.
|A tomb for dead stories|
|Click on the photos to see bigger versions.|
|The temple seen from the tomb for dead stories|
Nomura himself couldn't attend many services. He was killed in 1944 in the American bombing raids on Tokyo.
The bombing annihilated the shitamachi, and the temple itself suffered considerable damage. Two hundred storytellers got together again and proposed to build a wall around the temple. Each contributed a stone with his name, and today the fence still stands: 2 meters high and 10 meters long. You can read the names of the storytellers on this wall.
Why this area? This area, my beloved shitamachi, is where Tokyo's traditional crafts had their heyday and where they're still kept alive. That's why.
I only discovered this temple recently, but since I'm a booklover who believes absolutely in the magic of stories, I'll visit regularly to pay my respects to the dreamers, the wishers, the liars, the magic bean buyers …
If you are a dreamer, come in
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by the fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
(Invitation, by Shel Silverstein)
You can slaughter people and destroy their cities. You can never – never! – silence their stories.
|An Inari shrine next to the tomb for dead stories|
|Storytellers' names written on the bricks|
|Symbol on temple's gate|
|A tiny fox at a small Inari shrine in the complex|
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