Firelit Noh


In Japan, Zōjō-ji Temple is one of the temples from the Edo period that are still standing (if you’ve taken any Japanese history class, then you’ll know that the Edo period was plagued by fires–all their buildings were made out of wood, so one little flame was all it took!). Japan has gone through a lot of war, but Zōjō-ji Temple was still pretty magnificent! Especially standing next to modern architecture, like the Tokyo Tower.

Anyway, this past weekend Zōjō-ji Temple was hosting an event called “Firelit Noh.” I wanted to visit, as it was described to be one of the temple’s most bustling events of the year. They turn off the lights at the temple (though the area is still pretty well-lit because of its surrounding street lamps and, of course, the looming Tokyo Tower) and the monks put on a performance of an Edo ritual. If it’s any indication, by the time I arrived to the temple, most of the tickets for the Edo performance were already sold out!

The only tickets that were left were $40 seats near the back, and $40 is not a huge amount–but it was one that this broke college student could not afford… I was pretty bummed out, honestly, since I could hear the ancient instruments. Everyone was so quiet! And I wanted to be a part of that quietness! So I left the temple after feeling like I’d at least absorbed some of the ancient-ness of the buildings. But walking around the temple, I found a small area on the sidewalk where I could see a sliver of the performance. It was very far, but at least I could see what was going on!

The monks, altogether, lit some torches and walked ceremoniously down to a fire pit, where they held up their torches together. If anyone’s played that meditation game on the WiiFit, this environment felt exactly like that. I was almost starting to get comfortable standing and watching, when a complete stranger walked up to me and offered her extra ticket to come inside the temple!!! I was so surprised and taken aback–especially since I don’t think Japanese people are usually so outgoing like her–but explained that I didn’t have enough money to pay her back for the ticket. “Ah, money is no problem,” she said to me. Her act of kindness seriously dumbfounded me (and made me think that I should be more giving–how fitting that my personal revelation happened at a temple!). How can someone be so generous?! So after this, I got to go inside the temple and watch the Edo performance up close (unfortunately, no pictures because the atmosphere was just too intense)!!

On a creepier note, I found this garden at the temple’s cemetery, where rows of stone statues represent the unborn children of Japan. Occasionally stones are piled by the statue, which are meant to shorten the child’s suffering on their way to the afterlife.

All in all, a very eye-opening and blessing experience!


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