Little Tokyo Character (2011)

Detail of a stone marker outside the alleyway leading from First Street to the Koyasan Buddhist Temple in the Little Tokyo National Historic Landmark District of Downtown Los Angeles.

The symbols at the top of the marker represent the Koyasan branch of the Shingon school of Buddhism, to which the temple belongs. The character beneath the symbols is the first of three characters that spell Koya-san, the name of the mountains south of Osaka, Japan where the eponymous Koyasan Shingon headquarters are located.

Shingon is the Japanese translation of the Sanskrit word mantra. Although “mantra” has been borrowed into English to mean a slogan or watchword, in Buddhism it retains its original meaning of a special syllable, word, or phrase that promotes transformation. Reciting mantras is an essential element of both Buddhist and Hindu practice.

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