Probably Japan’s Best Kept Secret
It was at the beginning of March 2008 during my year as an exchange student at Osaka University when I went to Kyoto to explore the city on my own for a whole day. Actually, I didn’t plan to be on my own there, but due to a misunderstanding, I suddenly had plenty of time to kill, which is pretty easy to do in Kyoto with its uncountable tourist spots.
The weather was fine as well, so I walked from Shijô-station alongside Kamogawa to the south. Although I was heading in the direction of the National Museum, the weather was too good to spend the day inside and I decided to have a look at the many temples nearby. Among them was the famous Sanjûsangen-dô which contains one thousand statues of Kannon, but as I had too much time anyways I wanted to see the small temples right next to it as well.
One of them is Yôgen-in, which comprises a wooden ceiling littered with blood, because the wood was taken from a floor of Fushimi Castle, where the castle’s defenders including Torii Mototada committed suicide as the castle fell. So it said on a sign in front of the temple written in Japanese and English.
Due to the fact, that the sign had an English explanation as well, I was quite confident that this was an invitation to tourists to go inside the temple to see the historic wood.
I walked down the long path to the temple which was secretly hiding behind trees. As I entered, a group of Japanese had just slipped of their shoes and went behind the wall which divided the entrance hall supposedly from the room made of bloody wood. Just like them, I was about to take of my shoes when suddenly an old Japanese lady (i.e. a typical baba) shouted at me: “Come back, come back!!” I hadn’t even noticed her until then and didn’t know what she wanted from me. Obviously she was in charge of the temple, so I tried to talk to her in Japanese, but she just repeated “come back” and “Japanese only” several times…
In the meantime, a Japanese couple came out behind the wall. As they saw my helpless attempts to address the baba, they asked me what the problem was. While the woman then started to explain some historical aspects of the temple to me, her husband had a discussion with the baba. But neither could he find out why I wasn’t allowed to enter nor convince her that I wouldn’t destroy the precious room. Even their offer to accompany me to make sure that I wouldn’t do anything to the temple was denied. In the end, the couple gave up and told me that this baba was just “baka“. On the way out of the temple we had a very nice conversation and the woman was so kind as to give me a post card depicting the sliding door painting of a lion.
This post card is all I could see from the inside of this temple, so to me, the bloody ceiling of Yôgen-in is Japan’s best kept secret kept by the nation’s best secret keeper.