Hokokuji Temple, otherwise known as the ‘Take-dera’, translates to ‘Bamboo Shrine’. This temple is well known for its display of beautiful stroll gardens and the 2000 Moso bamboo, Phyllostachys edulis, which are growing vigorously and multiplying every year.
Phyllostachys edulis, Moso bamboo, can grow to a height of a staggering 28 metres (about 92ft), making this bamboo the world’s largest growing and hardiest bamboo. The foliage on this species of bamboo is small and elongated, which contrasts against the thick culms (bamboo canes). This makes it among the smallest foliage of all Phyllostachys varieties. Being able to visit the Hokokuji shine was a humbling moment for me, as I have dreamed of seeing this particular variety of bamboo in its natural environment for many years.
The Hokokuji temple was established in 1334 and became the family temple for the Uesugi and Ashikaga clans in later years. On the west side of the temple grounds are the caves that are still visible today. It is reported that the ashes of the Ashikaga family, Ietoki and Yoshihisa, who both died by the ritual of seppuku, are buried in these caves. Seppuku was a form of suicide that warriors or samurai would perform to die with honour rather than die in the hands of their enemies.
Tengan-Eko was the founding priest who happened to be a representative of the Gozan Bungaku, known as the Zen literary movement. His Buddhist name was Butsujo-Zenji. He is known for his wooden carved seals and his written Buddhist teachings. It is said that he would sit among the Moso bamboo and write poetry.
My appreciation of Phyllostachys edulis ‘Moso’ has greatly increased just from being able to see the staggering height and natural beauty of this plant. This has made my visit to Hokokuji Shrine one of the top highlights of my trip around Japan.
By Bonnie-Marie Hibbs