Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ninja Temple

This weekend I went to the prefecture over to a town called Kanazawa. It is also known as Little Kyoto, as it has many elements that are quite like Kyoto, which is a very traditional-looking city filled with temples and shrines, lots of vegetation, and in general feels like stepping into a long-ago Japan (I'll be visiting Kyoto for a second time in the next coming weeks - and I can't wait!!)

Like Kyoto, there were many exquisite temples - one of them being the famously known "Ninja Temple". It is not so named because ninjas once lived there (unfortunately), but even cooler, a bunch of samurai lived and prayed there and defended their clan Lord long long ago. The temple is appropriately named "Ninja Temple" because it is outfitted with countless traps, hidden exits, concealed staircases, and much more - and it's unfortunate to say that I was unable to take any pictures, as they are forbidden in the temple. 
However, with the magical and wondrous power of the Internet, I can show you all what really went on inside Ninja Temple. If I remember correctly, there are 24 total rooms and 29 staircases within the temple.

The tour began with the offertory box, which is where visitors go to pay (literally, with coin) their respects before worshipping or praying at the shrine. 

The offertory box, however, actually doubles as a pitfall once the top wooden grate is removed - which is precisely what one did in case of an invasion.

The narrow staircase further into the shrine leads to where the Lord would stay - and the stairs could be hoisted up easily to prevent access if necessary.

Pretty cool, I thought - convenient, anyway. Little did I know how many more secrets this temple held.

This is a sliding wall screen that acts as a one-way mirror - you can't see in from this side, but those on the other side can see you, through the wooden paneling.
This looks like a normal floor, nothing to see here. Until you push the door aside...

The door acts as a key - once it is pushed open, you can begin to remove the floorboards...

Which reveals a hidden staircase down below, making for a sweet and stylish escape. Imagine a Lord in danger who needs to stay alive during a clan war - one of his samurai can open up this hidden stairway for him, put the boards back in place, close the door and secure its exit, then go and fight for his leader and defend the temple.

Here's a view looking outside, into the space enclosed by the castle walls, like a mini-courtyard.
If you look closely at the ground, you can see a half-circle - this is a well, which is rumored to lead to Kanazawa Castle. Nobody's checked to be sure, because it's old and that'd be really dangerous, but it would make sense for there to be an escape route to/from the temple that leads to the castle so that an escaped Lord could disappear to deal with business matters without going out in the open - especially in the case of an invasion.

This one is my personal favorite. It looks like a typical door.

The door on the left leads to the outside.

The door on the right, however, reveals a hidden staircase.

When the door from the left is opened, it conceals the right-side. So if an ally were to run into the temple while being pursued, he could come inside from the left, do a u-turn, open the other door and jet up the staircase. Then, when the enemy follows him in, he inadvertently conceals the staircase by opening the door for his unwanted entry. Thus, the ally is safe while the enemy is puzzled as to where he disappeared off to.

Below is another secret pitfall once the boards are removed. 

It also reveals a hidden staircase. The opposite side from which the staircase comes from is near the entrance to the temple - so invading enemies would fall when invading, while the samurai of the temple who knew better could make a quick escape. 

The circle in the wall that shows other parts of the temple beyond it represent the moon with fog coming down in front of it. Meanwhile, the ceiling is designed in such a way that it appears taller than it really is. It was purposely designed low so that enemies could not use their spears or swords here.

Another room, unfortunately not pictured, is one with not one or two, but FIVE different escape exits. It was a room filled with reserved samurai that connected to many different areas of the temple so that in case of trouble, they could separate to the individual areas that needed them most. These exits were concealed by false closets that led to hidden staircases or hallways, a hidden crawl space exit, false walls, and if I remember correctly, false flooring.

Finally, the spookiest room in the temple - the Harakiri room. It has four tatami rooms in it, as in Japanese, the number "four" and "death" are pronounced the same - shi.

Harakiri means "honorable suicide" in Japanese. For example, if the samurai Lord were to die due to inadequate protection, avoid a torturous death from information-seeking enemies, samurai committed a serious offense or brought shame upon themselves, they would be directed to save their honor by committing suicide. This would be done by plunging a short blade into their gut and cutting from left to right, properly disemboweling himself and then, eventually, dying (often being decapitated by an assistant). In this case, however, the suicide was likely a lonely, solitary commitment. For once the door is closed, it cannot be reopened from the inside. 

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the Ninja Temple - its traps and tricks and hidden staircases were a sight to see, and I'm glad I found pictures online to share with ya'll. I'll definitely be paying a visit to Kanazawa again, but I wanted to blog about this now while the information was fresh.

Anyway, thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed the Ninja tour!

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