Professor Emerita, Tokyo Keizai University

Ishimaru Akiko

I first met my respected friend Yamamoto Yuki in Kyoto at Chion-in about 30 years ago. In addition to serving at Chion-in, he had his own temple in Toyama Prefecture, so he was very busy.

Soon after, he was sent to the Jodoshu North American Buddhist Mission, after which he returned to Toyama to concentrate on serving his own temple. That was about 20 years ago.

One day, after he had settled down in Toyama, I received an invitation from Rev. Yamamoto. He told me that nearby was an ancient temple, Jōrenji, that he would like to show me. I think this was the first time I heard about his vision for the Abode of Harmony, which was still in its early stages.

He drove me to old Jōrenji for a visit. My first impression was of a timeworn, somber temple, with decaying eaves, overgrown by weeds and bushes. I’ll never forget the view of the front garden and the garden in the rear.

I remember how he said repeatedly, “I want this to be a place where everyone can feel liberated and comforted.” I don’t think anyone but Rev. Yamamoto imagined that this dilapidated old temple could be reborn as the Abode of Harmony that we see before us today.

If you polish it, it becomes a jewel, as the saying has it. I admire, and am overwhelmed by, the priest’s discerning eye, which is able discover such a buried diamond in the rough.

It is also a measure of his foresight that he commissioned promising graduate students from the Tokyo University of the Arts to produce the paintings on the ceilings, walls, and screens, as well as the wooden sculpture of Bashō. The paintings, mostly of plants and flowers, are without exception gentle and beautiful, even lucid. From the sculpture, Bashō’s image is palpably brought back to life in the eyes of the viewer.

When I first visited Jōrenji, I learned there was a locally popular soba shop just a few doors down from the temple. After a restful and restorative visit to the Abode of Harmony, one is able to enjoy soba, while looking out on the beautiful rural landscape of Toyama. The Abode of Harmony is certainly located in a place that takes full advantage of its terrain.

I will also never forget the lovely views of the Toyama Plain from Rev. Yamamoto’s car. Among the lush green fields of the plain, each farmhouse is ringed with a windbreak of trees, with a pastoral beauty that reminds one of a painting. After returning to Tokyo, friends told me that the Toyama Plain is celebrated for its beauty.

Rev. Yamamoto’s vision is for people to visit and spend a restorative moment here, not just local and Japanese people, but people from all countries living on Earth, beyond race and nationality. I cannot help but pray that his hopes are realized, and this place becomes an Abode of Harmony that brings people healing and peace of heart far into the distant future.