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Saturday, Nov. 26, 2005

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Gate ceremony: Pomp or circumstance?


"Please come to the opening ceremony for the gate," said the Buddhist priest. I'd never seen a ceremony for a gate before, so my first thought was, "What should I wear?" My second thought was, "I won't even be here for it, so I could probably go naked and no one would notice." I thanked the priest for the invitation, although I knew I had to be on the mainland that day. To attend, I would have to travel 1 1/2 hours home for the ceremony, then 1 1/2 hours back to the mainland, just for a gate.

News photo
Kairyuji Temple's gate keeps out evil, like a spiritual metal detector.

But this was no ordinary gate. It was not a driveway gate or a sidewalk gate or even a tollgate. This gate, in fact, doesn't even close, so there is no key or lock. It's a permanently open gate, like an invisible door where you can see through to what's on the other side, but you have to pass through the gate to get there.

This gate is the new Buddhist gate built on our island. Many temples in Japan have gates, but Kairyuji Temple didn't have one until recently. They started building the gate last year and it has been finished for a couple of months now, but no one was allowed to walk through it. Not until it had been given a proper opening ceremony. You've got to respect gates or else they might not let you in. Or out.

The gate protects the temple from evil, sort of like those metal detectors you have to pass through at airports. But this one is spiritual. It works like the charm boards the priest gives us when he blesses the houses for the new year. You place the charm board over the front door of the house to keep evil from coming into the house. So I think of this Buddhist gate as a giant charm board. The strange thing is that the gate has not been given a name. I think it's strange, since most insurance companies have names.

So you're probably wondering how exactly the gate protects the temple. Not without the help of two gate guardians called "O-nio-sama," who stand on both sides of the gate: one with his mouth open and one with his mouth closed. Their job is to destroy evil minds. They also serve to purify people who come to the temple. Although our gate doesn't actually have the O-nio-sama, the priest assures me they are there, symbolically. The gate does have "oni" goblins on the roof, however. They are good oni that also help protect.

Kairyuji Temple was originally built in the Edo Period to comfort the souls of the soldiers who fought in the Mizushima battle between the Heike and Genji at the end of the Heian Period in 1183. It makes you wonder: How did the temple manage to survive this long without protection from a gate? The temple has had unprotected relationships with complete strangers for hundreds of years. Perhaps as crime rises in modern Japan, more of these gates will be built to keep evil out. I'm all for it, especially if the gate can purify previously evil people. A far better solution than incarceration.

There was no way I was going to miss this opening ceremony. After all, how often do you get invited to attend a ceremony for a gate? And since the gate would be protecting the island temple, I wanted to should show my appreciation to the gate.

To my surprise, many priests came to the opening ceremony for this no-name gate. They prayed for protection and happiness. The Buddhist priests clashed cymbals and the "yamabushi" mountain ascetics blew through bull horns to make music for Buddha. There were flowers and chanting and more praying. It was absolutely thrilling and lovely to see such respect for a gate.

I was glad I had come back to be a part of this. And although I felt the strong urge to come back for the ceremony, I wondered exactly what it was that drew me back. Was it that I feel some connection to these events, or is it merely because I have a place to be?

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