|Nôkyô (Stamp)||by Hiroshi Kushima|
(translated by David C. Moreton)
After worshipping at the Main Hall and Daishi Hall, it is customary to go to the stamp office and receive the temple stamp. The word nôkyô is made of two words, 'no' (osameru: to present) and 'kyo' (kyo: sutra), thus when worshipping one 'presents a copy of the sutras' at the temple. Then as a sign that the temple has received such, one receives the red stamp in the stamp book, white vest or scroll. However, in the present day instead of 'presenting one's sutras'f, it is more frequent to leave onefs nameslip. In front of each Hall, one can usually see two boxes, one for sutra copies and one for nameslips.
In the stamp book, with the word Hônô (same as nô), Sanskrit representing the deity, the main deity's name and the temple's name are written in black ink. As well, the temple number etc are written using a wooden stamp with red ink. No date is included for the sites of the Shikoku pilgrimage. In some cases, the residing priest or other official priests will write it, however, most of the time, hired help called nokyosho gaki (those who write in the stamp book) do the job and the attitude of such people is various. They do this procedure quickly with an experienced hand for each person that visits.
Unlike buying a protective amulet, these are 'handmade' and one feels gratitude for their efforts.
The temple stamps costs money. It is unlike a donation where one decides the amount, but it is a rate set by the Shikoku 88-temple Sacred Site Association. Not only the stamp book, but one can get a scroll or vest stamped as well. The stamp office times are as follows:
Price Hours Stamp book 300yen 7:00AM- 5:00PM Vest 200yen Scroll 500yen
The stamp office is, in principle, open all year round. I used time off during the end of the year to walk the route and the offices were open during the above times, even on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. When I arrived at Kongofukuji of Ashizuri cape for the temple bell toll on New Year's Eve, the stamp office was open all night. However, this is an unusual case. Also, at Temple 51 Ishiteji the office was open until 6pm. This could be because it is in a sightseeing area close to Dogo Hot Spring.
[Addition November 10, 2001]
When I walked the route in the summer of 2001, I received a confirmation by a phone call to Temple 51, Ishiteji that it, like the other temples, follow a standard of closing the stamp office at 5:00pm. However, 'there is some room in the case of special circumstances.'
After worshipping at the Daishi Hall and Main Hall, one goes to the stamp office. As I have said before, receiving the red stamp in onefs stamp book shows that one has completed 'worshipping', thus in the strictest sense it is against the rules to go to the stamp office before doing so. In such a case, the pilgrimage becomes not different than a stamp relay.
However, I must confess that there were times when I went to the stamp office before offering my prayers at the temple. I arrived just before the closing time of 5pm, so I went to the office first. Lighting a candle, placing an incense stick and saying the Hannya Shingyo at both the Daishi Hall and Main Hall takes at least 5 minutes by which time the stamp office would close.
As well, when one encounters a pilgrim group, I think it is forgivable to go to the stamp office first. Pilgrims traveling in a group give their books to their guide who takes them to the stamp office while they worship at the temple. Thus, if one goes to the office after one of these groups, one must be prepared to wait a long time.
However, in the chat room someone asked, 'It is proper to open the stamp book and present it?' At one temple, there is a paper at the stamp office which says, gPlease open your booksh and one priest asks that the pilgrim present the book open.
From what I have seen and heard from my own experience and others presenting the stamp book open cannot be said to be proper as a general rule, however, it is convenient for both parties to do so.
When one repeats the pilgrimage as well as when one returns to worship at the temple one finished at as part of a kugiri pilgrimage, one receives the red kasanein (repeat stamp). Thus for those who completed the pilgrimage numerous times, the stamp book become entirely red.
Wooden Block Stamp
There seems to be many who at the stamp office of Temple 4, Dainichi received a black 'wood block' stamp instead of receiving a black 'hand-written' stamp. There are some who perhaps think that because it is not handwritten, that the temple people are being lazy. When I visited this temple in 1996, I was disappointed. However, originally the 'stamps' of the 88 temples were completed by using a 'wood block' and I have no idea why the temple stamps have been changed to be handwritten.
However, recently even at Dainichiji the valuable wooden stamp has disappeared. When my wife and I went there in January 2000 we received a hand-written 'stamp' just like at the other temples. I was looking forward to receiving the ewooden blockf stamp like on my previous visit however; once again, I was disappointed. According to someone in the stamp office, "Amongst the 88 temples, we were the only one to maintain the traditional way of stamping the stamp books, however, there were some who said that there is little gratitude for the 'wooden block' stamp amongst worshippers who did not know the history of stamps. With the passing away of the former abbot, we decided to 'hand-write' stamps." What an unfortunate decision.
Aizeninfs Brush Stamp
Another example of an unusual stamp is the 'brush' stamp of Aizenin, the inner sanctuary of Temple 3. It seems that it is the only such stamp in Shikoku where they use a brush instead of a pen. I found this out by looking at uKumovsanfs Homepage and in January 2000 on my second pilgrimage I went to this temple and received their stamp.
It was January 2nd when I went, a day part of the New Year Holiday when many people also visited the temple. I asked for the temple stamp and the elderly abbot took time out to change his attire and kindly wrote the stamp. As osettai, I received matches and tissue paper. However, it is unfortunate that I was unable to watch the abbot use the brush as he wrote it in the shadows of his workplace.
Pilgrims light a candle, place an incense stick and recite the sutras at the Daishi Hall and Main Hall however, the main deity is placed at the back of the Main Hall and in many cases, one cannot view the Daishi statue. As well, there is often little chance to be able to talk with the residing priest. Thus, the stamp office becomes an important connection point with the temple and pilgrims.
This is especially so for walking pilgrims who are restricted in the distance they can travel because of the fixed times, 7am to 5pm of the stamp office. However, when one considers the sites at points and the path as a line, the significance of the 'line' tends to grow larger than the 'points.' I think that one should at least treasure the 'point', in other words, the time spent in human relations at the temple stamp office.
From my experiences and what I said about Aizenin and like Bekkaku No. 6 Ryukoin where the priest took time to change his attire, or where it wasn't necessary to go as far as putting on the sash at Bekkaku No.14 Jofukuji there have been those who sit in the office watching TV or smoking. As well, as soon as the person has returned my stamp book, the reception window is closed quickly and loudly.
As a pilgrim one cannot mad at each incident. Make an effort to participate in communication by doing such things as asking the direction to the next sacred site.
(translated by David C. Moreton)
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