One does not associate vegetarian fare with Japan. Yet, should you have meal in a temple complex that is what you will get: simple and delicious vegetarian food surrounded by gardens that are hundreds of years old or even a thousand years plus.
On a warm spring day at Hasedera Temple 長谷寺 in Kamakura 鎌倉 that was my fare. Perhaps it was the first time that I had had something to eat in a temple in Japan. Hasedera is one of the great temples of Kamakura and houses the famous wooden statue of Kannon and is part of the pilgrimage circuit to Goddess Benzaiten.
Kannon of Japan is known as Guanyin in China and Avalokitesvara in Nepal, all in the Buddhist tradition. But here is the thing, svara in the name Avalokitesvara shows a strong connection to the Hindu tradition of Shiva.
Benzaiten is one of the seven lucky gods of Japan and is known in this part of the world at Saraswoti. In Japan she holds the Biwa (lute) instead of the Veena from this part of the world. To add to the complexity she has also been integrated into the Shinto tradition.
One of my favourite teas is Tieguanin 鐵觀音 originating from Anxi 安溪縣 in Fujian province 福建 of China. That tea is named after Guanyin or Kannon or Avalokitesvara. Depending on the processing this tea is either flowery with a delicate aroma. Or if it has been roasted, it will have a strong nutty taste.
So it was entirely appropriate that I should be having a simple vegetarian lunch at a temple dedicated to Kannon / Guanyin to whom Tieguanin tea is dedicated in the tradition established by the person who grew up around my ancestral village in Lumbini, Nepal more than 2500 years ago.
Image: Vegetarian food at the restaurant in Hasedera Temple complex and the surrounding garden. (May 2013)