April 12, 2005
by Yuka Edohata; Tomomi Nakamura
Saint Hotan built Suzumushi Temple in 1723 (the middle of the Edo period);its official name is Myotokuzan Kegon-ji. Suzumushi means crickets in English. Hotan was famous as a hard-working Buddhist monk. There is one sect of Buddhism called “Kegon,” but because of its strictness, the number of monks undertaking Kegon was decreasing and the religion was dying out. The situation prompted Hotan to try and revive Kegon. He studied Buddhism and philosophy widely and tried to spread Kegon to monks. It is also said that he was the first to make a world map which put India (the origin of Buddhism) at the center of the world. When he saw the map that Europeans brought to Japan, he just was compelled to create a new type of map. The map is very valuable historically.
Nowadays Japanese have a need and wish for “healing power.” We call it iyashi. Many young Japanese go to temples to receive healing power, especially to Suzumushi Temple. They cannot only relax but also make their dream come true. This temple is the most famous for helping us realize our own dreams.
In summer, Japanese enjoy listening to crickets singing. Their songs make us feel comfortable and give us a pleasant time. However, we can listen to them only in summer. So a priest at Kegon-ji tried training crickets to chirp all year round. Twenty-eight years later, he could achieve his goal through hard research. This temple is the only place in Japan to listen to beautiful cricket songs in all the seasons.
Another reason why the priest started to take care of crickets is that crickets live simply without any greed. Crickets live only about 110 days. However, they can sing only for 40～50 days. Although their lives are very short, they seem to live eagerly each day. This way reminded the priest of Zen Buddhism, so he hoped that we too would live like them.
Let me tell you how he trained the crickets to sing year round. He tried to do it using some air conditioners. Usually there are no air conditioners at a temple; he tried to keep the air temperature the same in every season. And he was able to train about 3000 crickets at the temple.
You can also have some sweets and green tea in the Japanese-style room at Suzumushi Temple, a type of “small tea ceremony.” It is very delicious and makes you feel relaxed. Please enjoy your tea while listening to the beautiful cricket songs. Over tea, you also can listen to the lesson of the priest there. He talks merrily (in Japanese) about the history of the temple and why they have crickets. He put his beliefs of Zen Buddhism into training the crickets. So it is natural to name this temple Suzumushi Temple.
You will find a famous statue called Kofuku-Jizo (its official name is Kofuku-Jizo Bosatsu which means the happy Jizo Bodhisattva) beside a gate at the end of the stone stairs. When you visit this temple, there is no way to miss meeting him. He is holding a staff in his right hand and a precious stone in his left hand. He is the only Jizo wearing straw sandals in Japan. Tradition says that he comes to you by foot to give you a helping hand and that he will grant you one wish. A lot of people have claimed their wishes came true.
A talisman in which there is a small figure of the Jizo will protect you from unhappiness and misfortune. You can buy it for 300 yen after listening to the priest’s lesson. While holding the talisman, go and see the Jizo to wish for your happiness. Please always keep it with you until your wish comes true. Please don’t forget to tell the Jizo your address and name so that he can go to see you without becoming lost. What are you going to wish for?
The well-kept garden at Suzumushi Temple is beautiful. You can enjoy different colors in each season. In spring, Japanese apricots, cherry blossoms and azaleas are in bloom; summer is the season of fresh green leaves; the leaves turn color in autumn; and there’s a quiet and quaint atmosphere in winter when the garden wears its winter dress. You may find bamboos with strange shapes. You can also see an impressive view of Kyoto from the top of the 80 stairs.
Access: Take Kyoto city bus 73 or 83 from the C6 busstop at Kyoto Station. Go to the last stop. It takes about an hour. Bus 73 also leaves from Shijo Karasuma.
Open 9:00-16:30 (closes at 17:00)
Admission Fee: 500 yen for adult, 300 yen for children under 16 (including tea and sweet charge)
You should be patient if you go there during Golden Week or on national holidays. There will be a lot of people during these periods, and you may have to wait for 2～3 hours. Please enjoy your visit to Suzumushi Temple.