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Beautiful 130 Year-Old Malaysian Chinese Temple: Kwan Imm Temple, Klang

Mention Klang, and the first thing that comes to mind is probably bak kut teh – the town’s most famous dish comprising pork ribs, mushrooms and beancurd cooked in a complex broth of herbs and spices.

But dive deeper and you’ll find that the royal town of Selangor has plenty to offer, from vibrant cultural hubs – such as the Little India district, where one can shop for spices and sarees, or tuck into authentic Indian cuisine – to beautiful heritage sites like Kwan Imm Teng, a historic 130-year old Chinese temple dedicated to Guan Yin, the Buddhist/Taoist goddess of mercy.

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Founded in 1892, the original temple consisted of a simple wooden pavilion, built by Hokkien immigrants from China who settled in Klang during the tin mining boom. Since then, the temple has been relocated three times, to its current location along Jalan Raya Barat. Today, visitors are welcomed by an impressive outer pavilion, complete with studded wooden doors, lionhead-shaped door knockers, and lanterns.

Video below. Subscribe to my Youtube channel if you haven’t already!

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Entering the temple grounds, you will come to the grand-looking central pavilion. On both sides of the archways are granite stone carvings depicting figures of deities and dragons. Meanwhile, the building’s eaves are tiered and resemble clouds, while the roof boasts the signature Chinese temple look, with curved edges. Offerings of joss sticks may be made and placed into the large urn facing the structure. In the middle of the pavilion sits an intricately carved wooden shrine housing Budai, or the Laughing Buddha.

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Look up and marvel at the richly carved and gilded ceiling, which form a mesmerizing spiral pattern around several sacred symbols made to look like a flower. Coincidentally, you’ll see the colours of Buddhism (white, yellow, red, blue, and green) widely represented here. These colours are also common in Chinese culture and architecture, as they represent the five elements, namely wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.

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The temple’s spacious courtyard comes in handy during religious festivals or ceremonies.

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Moving on to the innermost pavilion, the structure features a more enclosed design, its facade mostly covered in intricate stone reliefs and carvings. Once again, dragons, deities, clouds, and flowers are common motifs — but instead of a curved roof, the inner pavilion’s design is features more tiers, and appears more angular.

Our timing was unfortunate as the hall was closed for prayers. I caught a glimpse of the interior, though, which has an even grander ceiling, as well as a large statue of Guan Yin.

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Fun fact for my non-Chinese friends who are wondering why dragons are so common in Chinese culture. In Chinese mythology and folklore, dragons are considered benevolent creatures, with magical powers that allow them to control wind, rain, and water. As such, they are meant to symbolize strength, power, and good luck. Some Chinese families still consider it auspicious to have babies born in the Dragon Year of the Chinese zodiac (the next cycle is in 2024, so if you want a Dragon baby, plan accordingly :P).

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Just outside the prayer hall you can perform kau chim, an ancient Chinese fortune telling practice which involves asking the divine for answers to any questions that a devotee has. The practice is said to have originated in the Jin dynasty around 3AD. And because Chinese culture has strong Buddhist roots, a lot of these folk practices assimilated into religion — which is why you’ll often be able to kau chim at Chinese Buddhist/Taoist temples.

Each cylinder contains a bundle of sticks, each with a number. Devotees shake the container until one falls out — then match it to the corresponding fortune. Back in the day, it was more common to find a fortune teller on site, who would interpret the fortune written on the paper in context to your question. These days, like everything else, it’s self-service. lol

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Just next to the inner pavilion is a smaller, simpler structure housing two Buddhas. This is actually the ‘original’ building before the temple was expanded, and you can see the foundation stone on one side of the wall.

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We’re not done exploring! Don’t forget to stop by the adjacent Chinese-style garden for some rest and respite from the hustle and bustle of Klang. It comes complete with pond stocked with koi fish, a small bridge, a gazebo, and plenty of greenery.

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A tranquil oasis in the heart of the city.

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To be honest, I’m surprised there isn’t more publicity for Kwan Imm Temple as a tourist attraction, given it’s rich history and beautiful architecture. While locals seem to know about it, I wouldn’t have found out about the place if I hadn’t specifically been googling “places to visit in Klang”.

So the next time you’re in town for a bak kut teh fix, allocate some time to stop by Kwan Imm Temple. Entrance is free. They’re okay with photos, but as with any place of worship, be respectful during your visit. 🙂

KWAN IMM TENG (KWAN IMM TEMPLE) KLANG

30, Jalan Raya Barat, Selangor Darul Ehsan, 41000 Klang, Selangor

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Registration of Marriage @ Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur

For non-Muslim Malaysian couples who wish to get married, there are a few places where you can get your marriage solemnized and registered; namely the National Registration Department, or a church, temple or association where they have an assistant registrar of marriages. In KL, Thean Hou Temple is a popular place for Chinese couples, as it is a beautiful venue that offers plenty of photo opportunities.

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My good friend Helen and her husband Hong initially planned to have their ROM here on May 20 (5/20 sounds like ‘wo ai ni’ / I love you – so it’s a very popular date! ) but due to the pandemic, it had to be postponed to July. Although the temple has reopened to the public, there are new SOPs in place – so be mindful of these when visiting for leisure, or if you’re attending someone’s ROM.

Note: This is a post on my experience attending an ROM as a guest, so I will not be including info on what documents you need / the procedure. Some useful links here and here. 

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Considered one of the most beautiful Chinese temples in KL, Thean Hou is eponymously named after its principal deity, the Heavenly Mother, aka Lady Mazu. Like many Chinese temples in Malaysia, the temple offers a blend of Buddhism, Taoism and cultural elements. Located atop a hill surrounded by lush greenery, the temple also has awesome views of the city and its surroundings, making it a popular tourist attraction.

To ensure health and safety, a canopy has been set up leading into the main building, with a clearly demarcated route – so you enter from one side and exit on another.

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The marriage registration office is located at the basement, where the temple’s food court and souvenir shops are. Before entering the premises, visitors will have to scan their details via QR code, and have their temperatures checked. Visitors are also required to wear face masks.

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The marriage registration office is divided into two sections. The front is a reception area of sorts – the couple gets a number, waits for it to be called, and then goes in to verify their details. Once that’s done, they can then proceed to rooms at the back where the actual solemnisation and signing takes place.

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Since ROMs are formal events, avoid wearing casual clothing like jeans, shorts or T-shirts and slippers.

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In light of the pandemic, only seven people are allowed into the room at any given time (including the couple). Helen had her sis/bro-in-law as witnesses, while Hong brought his parents and I was the +1 guest. So honoured to be part of their special day 🙂

In comparison to my own ROM at JPN (I got a rather chatty Assistant Registrar), Helen and Hong’s ceremony was quick and fuss-free. After signing some documents and exchanging rings, they were formally declared husband and wife in the eyes of the law, and given their marriage certificates. A life of wedded bliss awaits!

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We made our way up to the shrine and the temple’s magnificent courtyard for some photos. It was a Saturday but the temple was quite empty, so observing social distancing was not a problem.

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After the photo taking, the new couple left and I hung around abit more to explore/pray/snap more photos.

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There are new SOPs to observe when entering the prayer hall. Temple volunteers are at hand to control visitor traffic, and there are clear indicators on the ground as to where you’re supposed to go – as much as possible, they want visitors to follow these marks when offering up prayers.

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Vivid painting of a ‘door guard’ – images of fierce general-gods that are meant to protect the temple and keep evil spirits away.

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The principal deity at Thean Hou Temple –  the Mother Goddess. She is flanked by two other goddesses, Goddess of Mercy (Gwanyin) and Waterfront Goddess (Swei Mei). There are deity statues seated at the bottom of the large golden ones, surrounded by tall prayer light towers. Walls are lined with pictures of Bodhisattvas, donated by devotees to accumulate merits (or karma). You can get joss sticks outside by making a small donation.

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One of my favourite architectural fixtures at Thean Hou is the ceiling dome, which is intricately carved with a stunning pattern. The effect is mesmerising.

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Gone are the days of the traditional ‘kau chim‘ (fortune telling) where you shake a bunch of sticks until one falls out and you get a reading from the resident monk or fortune teller. These days, you grab the sticks from a holder, bunch them up and toss them. You get the number from whichever stick is poking out above the rest, then look for the corresponding number from the drawer and get your fortune. Hand sanisiters are placed next to them so you can sanitise before and after.

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You don’t say. 2020 has been a shitty year for a lot of people. ha 

 

Note: Parking can be difficult to find in the area. If you are driving, the temple has a parking lot but a RM5 fee (channeled to the temple as a donation) applies.

 

 

Exploring Wat Pho, Bangkok : The Birthplace of The Traditional Thai Massage

One of Bangkok’s oldest temples, Wat Pho is a must visit if you love architecture. Built in the 16th century, this vast royal temple complex boasts a splendid design, with towering spires, colourful glazed-tile roofs and grand halls. The temple is home to the largest collection of Buddha’s images in Thailand (over 1,000), the most famous being a 46-metre-long giant reclining Buddha. It is also the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage, which is offered to visitors as a communal experience at an open-air pavilion.

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The temple complex covers over 80,000 square metres, so it’s best to allocate several hours if you wish to fully explore the place. There are numerous pavilions, hallways, shrines and prayer halls to within, so tourist maps (located at various points throughout the temple) come in handy !

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The ordination hall, or Phra Ubosot, is where monks perform rituals. The hall looked absolutely stunning, with maroon and gold floor to ceiling motifs and a glittering gold and crystal dais, upon which was seated a gilded Buddha dating back to the Ayutthaya period. The statue was ‘shaded’ by a golden, tasseled nine-tiered umbrella, a symbol of Thailand. The ashes of the ruler Rama I can also be found under the pedestal.

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Making our way around the temple complex, we could see influences from various cultures, such as these Chinese-style stone pagodas. There were figures and statues of Chinese deities as well. The colour of the tiles on the roof differed from building to building, but most had orange/gold as the primary shade, accentuated by blue, red, white and green.

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Chedis are an alternative to stupas in Thailand, and there are hundreds of these within the temple grounds. The smaller ones rise up about five metres, and are decorated with floral or geometric motifs from the base to the top.

Beyond being just a religious place, Wat Pho was also intended as an education centre, so visitors will find murals and engravings on granite slabs throughout the complex with texts and illustrations depicting subjects such as history, medicine, health, custom, literature and religion.

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Marble towers called Phra Prang, which are found at the corners of one of the main courtyards.

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Aside from the Reclining Buddha statue, I found the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn – a grouping of four large chedis – to be most impressive. Located within a courtyard, their sharp spires towering over their surroundings, these 42-metre-high chedis are dedicated to the first four Chakri kings: Rama I, Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV. The chedis each have a distinctive look and are covered in beautiful tiles, in green, yellow, white and blue.

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Inside one of the buildings called Viharn Phranorn, we finally came to the temple’s famed golden reclining Buddha. It was humongous, filling up one entire side of the hall, the statue’s long legs stretching from one end to the other. There were nooks all along the passageway for visitors to stop and take photos, while on the right were bowls where devotees can drop coins as part of a prayer ritual. The walls were decorated from top to bottom with elaborate murals, and there were artists doing touch up on places where they had faded.

 

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The feet are decorated with laksana, Sanskrit symbols and texts, some of which have been inlaid with mother of pearl.

Wat Pho is located right next to the Grand Palace, so you might want to pair your trip with a visit there. The entrance fee for the Grand Palace is quite pricey, which is why we opted not to.

Address: 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

GETTING THERE 

Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin, then a Chao Phraya express boat at Taksin pier to Tha Tien Pier.

There is an entrance fee of 200 baht to get into Wat Pho.

Opening hours: 8AM – 6.30PM (daily)

 

We Went To A Taoist Medium In Selayang

Despite being Buddhist, my family has never been devout. We have an altar at home dedicated to Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy), and make offerings at temples during religious occasions – but they mostly stem from tradition, because these were practices handed down by our ancestors.

Lately, my mother has become increasingly spiritual. She is going through a hard time, what with old age, illness, and the inability of medicine to help alleviate the pain. I’d like to believe that religion has given her some comfort – but we’ve also advised her on the dangers of superstition, as there are many charlatans out there preying on the desperate.

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On the recommendation of a friend, she went to seek blessings for an upcoming surgery from a medium in Selayang, Kuala Lumpur. The ‘temple’ turned out to be a double-storey terrace house in a quiet neighbourhood, hardly distinguishable from the rest of the houses if not for the giant brick furnace outside (for burning offerings) and several small shrines within the compound.

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The place didn’t look much like a temple, aside from baskets of paper offerings in a corner. There were several couches at the waiting area and a large wooden altar with Buddhist and Taoist deities. I recognised the main one as Guan Yu, the general-god, and Guanyin. The altar was furnished with the usual trappings; platters of fruit, oil candles, a reflective mirror (for repelling evil spirits) and a tapestry depicting heavenly scenes.

My dad got there at about 7.30AM to get a number, as the medium is very popular. The temple opens at 9.30AM, after which the medium will see you according to the number you have written.

 

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The medium was a curly-haired lady, not much older than my mom. She had a stern face but kind eyes, and a mole almost at the centre of her forehead, like a third eye. If I passed her on the street, I would have assumed she was just another auntie going about her grocery shopping.

By the time 9.30AM rolled around, the temple was already filled with people eager to get a reading, or ask for advice and blessings. I thought that it would mostly be people my mom’s age, but there were many young people as well, some younger than me. Because most of my close friends have agnostic views towards religion, I just assumed that the younger generation did not care much for spirituality. I was obviously mistaken.

The medium here is Taoist and channels Ho Sin Gu (He Xiangu), one of the Eight Immortals in Chinese mythology and Taoist beliefs. She is the only female among the eight immortals, and in mythology, carries a lotus flower that is able to improve one’s physical and mental health.

The medium first invited the deity to enter her body. There wasn’t much pomp aside from some clapping and praying, which was very different from the deity I remembered visiting as a child, when I had seizures. The medium/deity sat at a ‘consultation’ table (reminded me of a doctor or a physician, really). There was an assistant on hand to translate, since the medium spoke in Hakka Chinese.

 

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Mom was third, and she asked for blessings for the operation to go smoothly. The medium advised that she should go for it, but it wasn’t going to be all hunky-dory because she foresaw ‘a long and difficult time’ for my mom’s illness(es), and cautioned her to be mindful of her health, avoid stress and look after her intake of food. She then proceeded to write on some talismans in red ink; some of these were to be burnt and consumed, one was to be kept on my mom’s person.

During our consultation, parents with children brought their kids to the medium for blessings. They seemed completely at ease, even going up to the medium and hugging her like a favourite grandma, so I think they come here pretty often. The medium then blessed them with a pat to the head and a stamp of Chinese characters in red ink (presumably a talisman or amulet of sorts?) to their backs.

The consultation took less than five minutes, and there was a token fee – kind of like a consultation fee when you go to the doctor’s. My mom was also advised to consume some pearl powder for recovery, which she bought at the temple.

If you’d like to ask for a reading / blessings, the temple is located at 7262, Jalan Len Omnibus, Taman Selayang Baru, Batu Caves, Selangor. 

Thoughts 

I’m an INTP, and despite my love for theories (which are intangible), reason often rules the roost – so faith is something I seriously lack.  It is not that I don’t believe in the supernatural or a higher power, it is simply that I don’t believe in much of what makes up organised religion. The reason I call myself a Buddhist is because Buddhist teachings centre around morality, rather than reliance on a higher power. My favourite quote is about how the Buddha only “points the way; but it is you yourself who must walk the path.” There is no ‘if you don’t believe in this, you go to hell’, or ‘you must pray to god to for salvation’. Buddha’s philosophies are about leading a mindful life.

Taoism, a relatively new religion rife with Chinese culture, Buddhist teachings and Chinese folk beliefs, requires a faith in the supernatural which I do not have. That being said, visiting a medium was still an interesting insight and experience, and it is heartening to see the solace and comfort many people find in their beliefs. If it makes things more bearable for them, then why not?

My mom often chides me about my non-belief. “I was like you when I was younger. I felt like I didn’t need god. But when you’re closer to death’s door, you will understand.” Perhaps, but that time has not come. In the meantime, I’m quite content just following what I feel is best, doing and practising good deeds.

PS: Mom had her surgery and is in recovery at the moment.

 

 

 

Visiting Tsukiji Honganji: Why Is There An Indian-Looking Temple In Tokyo?

There are plenty of beautiful traditional Buddhist and Shinto temples around Tokyo – but one, in particular, piqued my curiosity as I was Googling for places to explore around Tsukiji. Located not too far from where Tsukiji Market used to stand, Tsukiji Honganji is a Buddhist temple of the Jodo Shinsu sect, the largest in Japan, with a history dating back to the 16th century. What is notable, however, is the temple’s appearance, which is modelled after ancient Hindu / Buddhist temples from India.

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Physically, there’s nothing left of the ‘original’ temple, which was totalled in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. The current building was completed in 1934, and features many elements common to Hindu temples in India. Rather than the usual red typical of many Japanese temples, the Hongan-ji has a granite-brown hue; as well as dome-like shapes, elaborate carvings and even a pair of stone lions guarding the staircase to the main hall.

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The main hall, aka Hondo.

Japan is known to be more culturally homogenous than many other countries around the world, so it was amazing to see the blend of different cultural elements at the temple. While the interior features many Japanese elements, it also had foreign touches as well, such as a towering 2,000-pipe organ from Germany, and stained glass windows. I also felt it quite unusual to be in a temple with so little red – an auspicious colour for many East Asian cultures – but instead has lots of elegant black and gold.

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The main altar, with a Buddha at its centre. The temple also houses several important artifacts, making it a popular pilgrimage site.

 

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Getting There 

The temple is a 2-minute walk from Tsukiji Metro station.

HONGAN-JI 

3 Chome-15-1 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan

Opening hours: 6AM – 5PM

Visiting Senso-ji, Asakusa – Tokyo’s Oldest Buddhist Temple

Buddhism came to Japan very early – around the 6th century – and the archipelago is dotted with ancient shrines and temples. Unlike regions where the rise and fall of kingdoms have resulted in a change of the major religions (think the ancient Indonesian kingdoms which used to be Hindu, then Buddhist, and now Muslim), Buddhism in Japan has survived the influence of outside forces. Today, many Japanese practice either Shinto-ism or Buddhism, or a blend of both, as the principles tend to complement each other.

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One of Tokyo’s most important Buddhist temples, also its oldest, is the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. Completed in 645, it is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon, or Avalokitesvara, who is depicted as the female goddess Guanyin (the goddess of Mercy) in Chinese Buddhist beliefs.

The story of how the temple came to be goes that two fishermen found an Avalokitesvara statue while fishing near the river. The chief of their village built a shrine for it, and it slowly grew into a magnificent temple, with worshippers coming from far and wide. During the Tokugawa era, it was even proclaimed as the main temple for the Tokugawa clan.

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Entering from the South end, visitors will first pass through the outer gate guarded by two kami (Shinto deities) – Fujin and Raijin,gods of wind, lightning and storms – and the Buddhist gods Tenryu and Kinryu on the east and west, respectively.

The temple grounds house dozens of stalls selling everything from souvenirs and food to toys and clothes. After a long stretch, you will be greeted by the Hozomon, ie the ‘Treasure-House Gate’, or the inner gate before you enter Senso-ji’s main courtyard. Towering  two-storeys high with a wide berth, the structure is impressive to look at, and features giant lanterns hanging down each of the archways. We arrived right before a typhoon was forecasted for the night, so the main lantern had been rolled up and tethered for safety.

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The main temple is quite a sight, but what we’re seeing is actually a reconstruction – albeit a very accurate one. The original temple was bombarded by air raids during World War II,\ and much of the grounds and its buildings were destroyed. The roof, for example, is made from titanium, but retains its traditional architecture.

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Booths where you can get a fortune reading.

 

 

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Before entering the temple, you can cleanse yourself at a basin by scooping water up with a ladle. There is a proper way to do this with instructions written at the site, but I can’t recall – I think you’re supposed to wash your left hand, then your right, your mouth and finally the handle?

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The main hall, with the goddess Kannon in the centre. The original statue is kept hidden, similar to the one I visited in Nagano. You can make an offering by placing some coins in a large wooden container at the front, before paying your respects.

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SENSO-JI

2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan

Getting to Senso-ji 

The temple can be reached by the Tokyo Metro, by exiting at Asakusa Station. The temple is a one minute walk from the station. Alternatively, take the A4 Exit at Toei Asakusa Station, which will take you two minutes, or the Tobu Asakusa Station, which is 3 minutes away.

Opening hours (temple): 6AM – 5PM (Daily). Note: The temple grounds can be visited at any time.

 

Visiting The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple In Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

Many Buddhist temples in Kuala Lumpur follow the Chinese tradition, so it’s common to see cultural decorative elements such as dragons and phoenixes in its design. The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple in Brickfields is more ascetic, so it might not be a draw for tourists – but it is still an interesting place to visit if you’re in the neighbourhood and want to learn more about Theravada Buddhism. If you come during major celebrations such as Wesak (Buddha’s Birthday), the place transforms into a colourful and bustling hive of activity.

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Established by the immigrant Sinhalese (Sri Lankan) community in the late 19th century, the temple now encompasses several buildings and shrines. Dharma classes and talks are held weekly, and vegetarian food is served at the canteen after.

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The main shrine in the middle of the compound. It used to be a striking red colour, but has since been painted over in white.

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Buddha statues and ornate decorative tiles adorn the walls.

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Modern building where events and classes are held.

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Free books and CDS (on meditation, dharma talks, etc.) on Buddhism are available in various languages.

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Another shrine houses a small museum of sorts. You can observe Buddha statues from different regions and the different art styles. The statues are accompanied by helpful information on the rise and establishment of Buddhism in countries such as India, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.

We were pressed for time so we didn’t get to visit a lot of places in Brickfields, but if you’re ever here, do visit the other religious abodes around the area as well, such as  St Mary of Theotokos (A Syrian Orthodox church), Sri Kandaswamy Kovil (Hindu temple), Church of Our Lady of Fatima (Catholic church) and Sam Kow Tong Temple (Chinese Buddhist temple).

BUDDHIST MAHA VIHARA TEMPLE 

123, Jalan Berhala, Brickfields, 50470 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

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Walked to the Little India neighbourhood nearby and got a Henna tattoo for RM15!

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Travel Blog: Zenkoji, Nagano’s Ancient Buddhist Temple

Many towns and cities in Japan grew around castles or temples during the feudal era. Nagano is one of the latter, flourishing around an ancient 7th century Buddhist temple called Zenkoji, also considered one of Japan’s three most sacred sites.

Legend has it that the first Buddha statue brought into Japan is enshrined within the temple, hidden even to its chief priest. The last known record of someone having seen the Hibitsu (secret Buddha) was said to be a monk in the 17th century, who did so on the emperor’s command.  While the original remains tightly guarded, a copy is shown to the public every six years (next display 2021) and draws millions of pilgrims to the city to witness the ceremony.

Credit: Japan National Tourism Organisation

Lining the square in front of the temple are various shops selling souvenirs and food items.The pavement leading up to the temple is paved with 7,777 flagstones, which make for a picturesque photo.  Visitors will also find shukubo (temple lodgings), catering to devotees who wish to stay overnight and join the morning service, where the priests chant prayers and dole out blessings.

Before entering the temple grounds, we had to pass through a massive niomon (Guardian Gate), flanked by two large and fierce looking deities on each side.

There were a lot of woven slippers hanging from the gate with words written on them, but I’m not sure what these are for.

Entering the temple grounds, we were greeted by the sight of Buddhist statues lining one side of the compound…

..and the impressive-looking main shrine. Measuring over 40metres in height, it is one of the largest wooden buildings in Japan. The building itself dates back to the 18th century, as previous versions were destroyed in fires/earthquakes. As such, it is a good example of architecture from the Edo Era.

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Ian Cochrane, Flickr 

Was told I couldn’t take pictures in the main hall, so here’s one from Flickr.

Upon entering, we were greeted by a wooden statue of Binzuru, said to be one of Buddha’s most intelligent disciples.  Binzuru was one of the original four Arhats in Buddhism (before they expanded to the current 18) and is said to have psychic powers. The belief is that rubbing the statue corresponding to a sick part of your body will help cure it – hence the worn out features.

One of the most unforgettable experiences at Zenkoji was the walk through a pitch black corridor underneath the main altar. We descended via a narrow staircase into a musty passageway. It was so dark I tried waving my fingers two inches from my eyes and I couldn’t see them! The only way to make it through is to move slowly while touching the smooth wooden walls. Our guide told us to keep our hands at hip height and try to locate a key hanging from the wall, which touches the ‘Hibitsu’ – so touching it meant it’s as good as touching the secret Buddha statue itself and will earn you major merit points. It felt like a long walk because we had to take each step with caution and there was no indication as to when the corridor was going to end – but when we finally emerged into light again I felt a wave of relief. The walk in darkness is also supposed to symbolise your ‘rebirth’, in line with Buddhist belief.

  Back outside, side view of building. 

Cows are a symbol of the temple, so you’ll find many bovine souvenirs on sale!

GETTING TO ZENKOJI 

From JR Nagano Station, take a 10-minute bus (100 yen), or take a train from Nagaden Nagano Station (next to JR) and alight at Zenkojishita Station for a further 5-10 minutes walk to reach the temple.