#21     December 2001

A Gift of 72 Years Ago
\The Organ of Horenji Temple\

Hello, friends.
This month I would like you to know about a wonderful gift of 72 years ago.
It is the organ of Horenji Temple in Karatsu.

First of all, I have to explain you about the Temple itself.
Horenji is a Nichiren Shu Temple. The temple was started in 1484 in Ishishi Village by Nichigo-Shonin. He was once a Shingon Shu monk, but after having a religious debate with Nisshin Shonin of Nichiren Shu, he decided to follow the teaching of Nichiren Shonin, the Founder of Nichiren Shu. The temple was moved to Karatsu under the patronage of the Lord's Lady of the time and completed in 1714 at the present place. And since that time, the candle lights and the smoke of incense have been kept here for so long a time.

In the Western civilization, you have much music in the religious services, but in Buddhism usually only the priests pray the Sutra in a polyphony, or euphony, and few kinds of instruments are used like bells, drums, gongs or cymbals , etc. We do not have a choir chanting hymns for Buddha.

In 1952, the 25th Jushoku (Head Priest) of Horenji, Nichien Shonin, ( Please notice the difference of the names, because they are very similar to each other) created a musical ceremony by children for the Memorial Day of the Founder Nichiren Shonin. It is quite a unique and wonderful ceremony that children are very proud to take part in.
The 26th Jushoku, Reverend Eishu Fujiyama, has succeeded this beautiful ceremony, and here in Horenji, children are always welcome, and laughters and giggles are heard just as in good old days of Japan.
November 23 is an important ceremony day for Nichiren Shu temples. Children serve the ceremony in yellow apprentice's dresses, and they sing in angelic voice. The songs they sing are songs written and composed by the 25th Jushoku Nichien Shonin. They are the hymns to admire the mercy of Buddha and the virtues of Nichiren Shonin. Some songs are the Lotus Sutra, re-told in easy words.
The 25th Jushoku's daughter Tomoko plays the organ for children.
Can you imagine how beautiful and soft the sound of organ is in this old wooden structure of the temple? I assume that the whole temple is resonant to the tune of the organ.

And this organ was the gift of 72 years ago, when Horenji was guided by the 24th Jushoku Nichige Shonin.

In the Eras of Meiji and Taisho, Karatsu was a prosperous port town from which coal of good quality was shipped out. Western steamships came to buy the coal, and the Japanese Imperial Navy was the biggest client. At that time, the coal-mine owner Iko Takatori was at his most brilliant days, and his generosity was turned to the citizens of Karatsu. He donated schools, institutions, scholarships, and helped poor people.
Iko's wife Shina was a most religious lady. When she knew about the Sunday school which the 24th Jushoku opened for children, she donated an organ. At that time, an organ was more than a dream for ordinary people.
The instrument served for about 40 years, and it got out of order. The time was changing. A new instrument electone took its place. The broken organ of Lady Takatori was put in the storehouse.
30 years past, and there was no more Sunday school. The education system has begun working well. But Horenji has been keeping the musical ceremony.
After the electone, an electric piano was used.
Tomoko Fujiyama and the Reverend Eishu Fujiyama wondered if there was any other instrument whose sound was more gentle to the ears of children.

Then, the organ in the storehouse was remembered.
Reverend Fujiyama asked a musical instrument shop in town if it was possible to fix an organ of 72 years ago.The shop 's answer was not positive. Everybody thought that it would be less expensive to buy a new organ than fixing the old one. But Reverend Fujiyama did not give up his hope.
He searched on the internet for a person who would gladly offer a help.
The organ was made by YAMAHA HAMAMATSU in 1929, the original company of the present YAMAHA.
YAMAHA promptly answered, and they found a person in Nagasaki who could fix this old instrument.
After months, the organ returned with a new decoration of red cloth inside the carving on the face, and the soft sound echoed in the temple in rejoice!

Next year, 2002, is the 750th celebration of the foundation of Nichiren Shu. I hope Nichiren Shonin would appreciate the children's hymns with the accompaniment of the 73 year-old organ.

I didn't ask Reverend Fujiyama why he decided to fix the old organ rather than to buy a new one. I know that you can guess the reason and will not ask why.
An old gift of wisdom has found a new meaning now. Rejoice!

If you are going to visit Horenji someday, do not miss seeing a pair of very unique stone lanterns before the Hondo( main building) of the temple. Dedicated to Nichigaku-Shonin of 5 generations before, these stone lanterns are in the shape of tea-ceremony utensils. (From the bottom, square basement, Tea-kettle=Chagama, Tea-container=Natsume, Bamboo tea-brush=Chasen, Tea bowl=Chawan, Kettle-lid rest=Futaoki, Kettle-lid=Futa)

But the most attractive thing you will find in Horenji is the smile of Reverend Eishu Fujiyama.

wish you a merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year!
I hope you will visit my site again next month.
                                                                      Yours, Harumi Okochi
  Mail to Harumi Okochi