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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sofukuji's Doorway To Hell

The photo above is one of my favorite images taken while in Japan.

The thing is... it's not Japanese.

This metal plate situated about 5-feet high on an eight-foot wooden door is one of the few actual items to have survived the atomic blast that devastated Nagasaki-shi (City of Nagasaki), Nagasaki-ken (Nagasaki Prefecture) back in 1945.

The image above is a Chinese Lion door decoration of the Chinese Sofuku-ji  (崇福寺), an Ohbaku Zen Buddhist temple built by Chaonian, a Chinese monk back in 1629. I should point out that the whole temple did survive the atomic blast as well...

While people consider this temple to be spectacular looking, for me, after seeing the 1000+ temples of Kyoto, this Chinese temple seemed - ordinary. I know that's not  fair, but that's how I felt. 

The only thing that stood out for me when I visited the place back in the spring of 1991, was this damn red door and its metal decoration. 

It just looks so ... evil. Like it was a marker denoting this blood red doorway as an entrance to Hell. 

And, considering it survived the atomic blast, perhaps it was. 

As an aside... ever year between July 26 - 28, the Chinese Obon festival is held at this temple. Obon is the festival of the dead celebrated in China and Japan. And while Chinese from all over Japan come to participate in Obon here, just know that in the Buddhist tradition, there is no Heaven... only Hell.... which is where the spirits of the dead reside. 

It is during this three-day period that the dead are allowed to leave Hell and can visit their living relatives, should they actually leave the proper food and drink offerings at their family grave site to entice them to come home with them. That's the five-cent explanation of Obon... there's a great story about it HERE in Wikipedia.

And that's why I think the image above perfectly captures the spirit.     
The photo above was taken by myself with my Minolta SE camera using a 28mm lens and Fuji 400 color film.

For more visions of Hell in Japan, might I suggest this blog on Ghost Island; this one showing off some photography, including the third photo in of Beppu; and this one of a famous Rodin sculpture of the Gates of Hell residing in Tokyo - it's right at the bottom of the blog. 

Andrew Joseph

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