Living in Japan
Mie Prefecture... The Demon Spring

Mie Prefecture... The Demon Spring

Added In: Living in Japan › Arts

David Jones

In Mie tourist information, you will not find much about cold weather. As spring arrives, you would also think you could forget gloves and frozen fingers while sketching, and so did I. That is until driving to the location of this print, to see the narrow but unusual bridge in the grounds of Kongoshoji, a temple complex on Mount Asama (Asamayama, 553m) located to the east of Ise, with access from the Ise-Shima Skyline.

Mie’s seasons had always seemed to be one month ahead of Aichi whenever I visited – but not on this day at this temple, which is quite high up on a winding road. A very cold wind whistled through the refurbished main gate with me… and the only refuge from this freezing draft was a tiny building where visitors could huddle around an oil stove. I huddled quite a bit that day…

The lake and the bridge itself could be seen from the dusty windows of the building, but I was not able to figure out why such a steeply-arched bridge had been built to cross such a small area of water – actually I thought the “lake” was a large lotus pond, as you could walk around it in a short time. There was nobody to explain this though.

One question I am asked is “Why didn’t you take photographs and draw in the comfort of home?” And again, I repeat that this is not the way to create art... as you will often find more than you expect if you look awhile and then sit down to record things there and then. Freezing fingers and sharp cold may not seem attractive but, on this day, I found an interesting angle when I walked the lake’s path and briefly crouched down at one point to look at the underside of the red woodwork. For a minute, the surface of the water and the sky melded - because, from where I had accidentally stopped, there were no temple walls or trees in the background to divide the two - presenting the illusion of an endless stretch of water or, alternatively, a bridge in the sky.

I retreated to the warmth. Instead of recording the temple itself, which was under re-construction anyway - with huge blocks of numbered stone scattered near piles of timber, similarly numbered - I would make the bridge my focal point.

Spending the remainder of the day flitting from the cold to the warm and back, I also saw the changes of light and shadow from my outside viewpoint. The sky remained clear but the wind continually whipped up ripples on the lake’s open areas – yet I managed to finish before dusk. Nobody else had shared my day by the time the wind dropped. And Kongoshoji became silent… I still did not know who had provided the much-appreciated island of warmth for my work space, nor had I any new details on the long history of Kongoshoji. Two snippets found beforehand had the dates 854 “…when it was the prime location for Tantric Buddhism” and 1392 when a monk of the Rinzai Sect “…lamented over the devastated state of the temple”. Was that restoration still ongoing?

Anyway, I opened my Ise City Map to check the way home - finding not only directions but also a hint as to why my spring-time sketching might have been so cold and uncomfortable. Map quote: “The temple guards the ‘Demon’s Gate,’ the abominable northeastern quarter of the Inner Grand Shrine of Ise.” Ah, now I understand. But what about that stove… are there kind demons too?

Woodblock print: 20 blocks, hand-carved and printed.

Title: Sky on the Water… Kongoshoji

David Stones, Woodblock Printer, Okazaki.


Mie Prefecture... The Demon Spring
Sky on the Water... Kongoshoji