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The three-tiered Koyasu Pagoda (子安の塔) at the entrance gate to Kiyomizudera, possibly one of the most celebrated buddhist temples of Japan. The temple itself is behind the photographer. The pagoda contained an image of the buddhist deity Koyasu Kannon, which is believed to ease childbirth. In 1911 (Meiji 44), the pagoda was moved to a valley next to Kiyomizudera. It still exists and looks beautiful in Spring when it is surrounded by countless cherry trees in full blossom.
Visitors to the temple would climb a steep winding road, called Sannenzaka (産寧坂, nowadays often written as 三年坂). It was flanked with a multitude of souvenir shops. These sold especially statues of such kami (deities) as Inari, the kami of fertility, agriculture (especially rice) and business success, usually represented as a cute fox. Some shops can actually be seen in the background of this photo.
There are still souvenir shops on Sannenzaka today, but they have replaced their religious goods for more commercial fare. In one of those shops a wonderful woman in her eighties told me her memories of when she first started working there. “Most people in those days came to pray,” she recalled. “Now there are far more people, but they are mostly tourists.” Although the shop made more money now with all the tourists, she explained, she missed the old days.
The stone pillars at the entrance gate on this image were erected in August 1883 (Meiji 16). Like the pagoda, they have long since been removed and the entrance area today doesn’t resemble the above image at all. It is now a wide open space gratefully used by the millions of tourists that visit Kiyomizudera every year to take photographs to remember their visit by.
Koyasu Kannon is an interesting deity. She is widely accepted as being Buddhist, but actually used to be a Shinto deity known as Koyasusama, based on the mythical princess Konohana-sakuya-hime (木花之開耶姫), goddess of Mount Fuji. Her symbol is sakura (cherry blossom), possibly Japan’s most loved flower.
In the myth, Konohana gave birth to a son in a doorless hut which she set on fire to proof to her husband Ninigi-no-mikoto (瓊瓊杵尊) that the child was his. If it was truly the son of Ninigi, who was the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu, it would not be hurt by the flames, she claimed. The son was born unharmed.
Besides being revered for providing for safe births and being a model for fidelity, she is also a guardian deity for the prevention of fires, ocean voyages, fishing, farming, weaving, and more.
After Buddhism entered Japan, Konohana was slowly absorbed by her Buddhist equivalents. However, there are still some 1300 Asama Shrines in Japan dedicated to Konohana. The head shrine is Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha (富士山本宮浅間大社) in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture.
Kiyomizudera is the head temple of the Kita Hosso sect and still exists. It was first founded in 798, but the current buildings were constructed in 1633. It is a fudasho (an office where amulets are distributed to pilgrims) among the 33 spiritual places of western Japan. The temple is especially famous for its enormous overhanging wooden veranda. For more information about Kiyomizudera, see Kyoto 1880s • Kiyomizudera.
I have tentatively attributed this image to Nobukuni Enami. The numbering system in this image appears to be his, and there actually exist photographs attributed to Enami labeled “390 Gojiyosaka” and “393 Kiomitsu”. This one, labeled “392 Kiyomizu at Kioto,” fits perfectly in-between.