Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Paying Closer Attention to My Surroundings (Ethan)

For this assignment I was asked to do participant observation at a site in Kyoto that I hadn’t been to.  There were many places I wanted to do this at but the place I decided on was Nishi-Hongan-Ji.  I decided on this site because it’s a Buddhist temple with over 500 years of history but, unlike many other historic temples in Kyoto, it is still very active.
I went to Nishi-Hongan-Ji for my observations on a Sunday morning.  When I got there I was impressed with the size and beauty of the temple.  I’ve seen some large temples and shrines in Japan but this is definitely one of the largest.  Next, I tried to pay attention to the people using this massive building. 
Nishi-Hongan-Ji
I noticed that while the space is a tourist destination, it doesn’t feel heavily marketed as one and the majority of the people using the space seemed to be Japanese.  There was a variety of ages among these people, from middle and high school students to senior citizens.  One thing I noticed while walking through the inside of the temple was that no matter their age, many of the people stopped, even if just for a second, to pray or pay respect to the Buddha inside.  I’ve seen this at other locations as well and find it interesting that people will stop for every temple or shrine they see.  Around the side of the temple, there was a several hundred year old gate, which was an original piece of the structure.  Here, there were significantly fewer people and people in this area were just taking pictures.  Here, any religious feel from the temple seemed to disappear. 
Gate on the side of the temple
In addition to the Japanese people, there were a few foreign tourists around the site as well.  While they were much smaller in number, they were visibly present at most times and interacted differently with the space.  The tourists seemed fairly well-mannered and respectful of the site, but it didn’t seem like a religious place for them.  I didn’t see as many of them enter the building or interact with it in a religious way.  I also saw tourists at the gate on the side of the temple taking pictures (along with people that I believe were locals)

From just a couple of hours, I learned a lot about this space and how people use it.  I noticed that not everyone uses the space in different ways and everyone appreciates it differently.

1 comment:

Millie Fan said...

I think this is the most special temple I have ever seen before. The gate is so gorgeous!!
For the tourists, I think it depends on their religious thinking. I have seen a girl with hand folded, offer the prayer and give the three bows in front of the gate of the temple.