When you reach a Buddhist temple in Japan you will be received by fiery faces and imposing muscular bodies. I am not talking about the monks who inhabit the temple but about the Nio, a pair of scary looking gate keepers who guard Buddhist knowledge and tradition.
They are not the only ones; gods, demi gods, demons and warriors stomp their feet, slash the air with blades and show their teeth in temples across the country. They are the Kami.
Gods of the Wind and Thunder, Heavenly Kings guardians of the cardinal points, colourful demons with sharp fangs... they all pose with warrior stances ,welding an array of weapons and symbolic objects in their hands.
Memories of my playing with Masters of the Universe dolls and reading superheroes comics come to my mind when I look at these phenomenal sculptures.
During my adventures as a pilgrim in Japan I grew fond of Fudō Myō-ō. He is a god of ferocious appearance who carries a sword and a rope; he uses the sword to fight ignorance and the rope to keep the mind at bay. As a yogi I felt compelled to dedicate my candles and incense sticks to him.
The same as Buddhism, Fudō Myō-ō and other deities have their origins in India and its gods. They have terrifying expressions, but like the Hindu goddess Kali, they don't stand for evil. They adopt angry faces and tense the muscles in their brawny bodies to fence off evil spirits and negative forces from entering the sacred ground. Demons who escorted Buddha in his travels are now protecting you as you enter the temple. So be nice to them and bow your head with due respect for these friendly monsters.
(These images were taken in a variety of devices during different trips to Japan hence the variable quality)
The Nio couple: Agyo has a open mouth. This is said to represent birth.
The Nio couple: Ungyo keeps his shut mouth which is said to represent death
From rustic to new, they stay dutiful through time.
Raijin and Fujin are the gods of weather. Fujin carries the bag of winds...
... Raijin is the master of thunder. Japan knows too well the power of nature so these gods are equally feared and respected.
And there are Four Heavenly Kings who protect the cardinal points. This is Koumokuten and he protects the southern cardinal direction.
Tamonten protects the north.
Jikokuten protects the east...
... and Kōmokuten protects the west.
The Heavenly Kings are supported in their tasks by four demons.
Bidara in the South
Umarokya in the north
Abatsumara in the east
Kendara in the west
Fudō-myōō, is a god in its own right and is the main deity in some temples. Known as Acala in Sanskrit his origins may trace back to Hindu god Shiva, the original yogi.