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Question96 What was the young Benkei like?

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Musashibō Benkei is a historical figure that appears in numerous Noh plays such as Ataka, Funabenkei, and Hashibenkei, and legends surrounding Benkei remain at the Shoshazan Engyō-ji temple in Himeji.

An excessively mischievous prankster, Benkei was banished from Mount Hiei where he was taken in by the Engyō-ji temple. One of his fellow monks drew on his face as a prank, and the two got into a big fight. Just as he seemed to have the entire world before him, the entire mountain caught fire from the flame of a discarded torch. Benkei left for the capital where he would meet Yoshitsune.

At Engyō-ji there is a rock sculpture called The Mirror Well of Benkei, which shows his face with writing on it (a rectangular rock sculpture 3 meters tall by 2 meters wide. It is fairly large to be called a “well”), and rocks used in place of balls in the game Otedama, in Benkei’s Otedama Rock (a large rock too big to actually hold). Both of these works depict the splendid image of Benkei.

Shoshazan Engyō-ji temple is located in the northwest of Himeji, and is a Tendai Buddhist temple founded in 966 by Shōkū Shōnin. The temple courtyard is a national historical relic, and many of the structures and Buddhist statues are national important cultural properties. Shoshazan Engyō-ji appears in the film The Last Samurai, making it known overseas also.

(Apr. 26, 2011)


illustration : Hiroko Sakaki
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