Skip to main content

Nihon-ji Daibutsu at Nokogiriyama

It was Friday the 13th, and I was peering into hell. If you can think of a better way to celebrate a day of bad luck, ill omens and ominous portents, let me know. (Mind you, Blukats stood on a volcano ...)

Here I am, doing my thing:

Jigoku Nozoki on Nokogiriyama. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

That piece of rock is called Jigoku Nozoki  (地獄のぞき) or "view of hell", and you'll find it on a mountain called Nokogiriyama (鋸山) or "saw mountain" in the Bōsō Peninsula (房総半島 Bōsō-hantō) in southern Chiba.

Nokogiriyama is famous for that rock as well as a temple complex called Nihon-ji (日本寺), which in turn is known as the home of Japan's largest stone-carved Daibutsu, but that's not why I went there. No, I toddled off to photograph the 1500 rakan carved by the same artist who created the giant Buddha statue.

It was a great excursion with a lovely walk in a quiet forest, far from Tokyo's madding crowds and … the ocean! I could see a gorgeous blue ocean!

The view from the ropeway station on Nokogiriyama

Nihon-ji's Daibutsu

Nihon-ji was founded in the Nara period in 725 by order of Emperor Shōmu, and is the Kantō region's only chokugansho (勅願所), or temple built by order of the emperor.

It belonged to various different Buddhist sects throughout the centuries, but finally converted to Sōtō Zen during the regime of Tokugawa Iemitsu. It remains one of the oldest seminaries for Buddhist priests in Japan.

I suspect most people simply visit the Daibutsu, but I dragged travelling companion Cecilia off to the temple itself. Access to the modern main buildings was denied – and I can't complain, since it's an active training temple that requires silence and solitude – but we could visit a few of the original buildings tucked away in the forest.

The temple's most famous hallmark is the Daibutsu, which is carved into a rock wall and stands 31,05 m tall. Master craftsman Ōno Jingorō Eirei (大野甚五郎英令) and his 27 apprentices completed it in 1783, but it was ravaged by erosion until it was restored in 1966. I've read that it's a unique statue not only due to its size, but also because it's an effigy of Yakushi Nyorai (薬師如来), the Buddha of medicine and healing.

The Daibutsu at Nihon-ji in Chiba


Yakushi traditionally holds a jar of medicine in his left hand, which you can see in this photo:

If you look closely, you'll see that the original stone carving has been
repaired by concrete.

The Daibutsu is so big that you can clearly see it on Google Maps. Compare it to the parking lot towards the bottom right of the map, and you'll see how big it is.


Rakan

Rakan (arhat in Sanskrit) is a Buddhist term for "worthy one", and is used as an epithet of the Buddha himself as well as his enlightened disciples. You see a collection of rakan at many temples, each statue with his¹ own unique facial features.

I'm an avid rakan hunter, and that's the main reason why I wanted to visit this temple. I was not disappointed: it's a big collection that's displayed next to a footpath that meanders through a thick forest on Nokogiriyama's slopes. Most are in groups in natural caves caused by erosion; a few are displayed by their lonesome self on precarious ledges. Some statues are clearly very old; others are modern additions.

Rakan at Nihon-ji
 


He's holding a scroll. A scholar!

The original statues were also carved by Ōno and his apprentices from stone brought from the Izu Peninsula. They devoted their lives to this work, which began in 1779 and ended in 1798. Unfortunately many of their original statues were destroyed by an anti-Buddhist movement during the Meiji era, but the temple recently started a project to repair as many as possible.

Nokogiriyama

Nokogiriyama is designated by Chiba prefecture as a "place of extraordinary beauty", and I can't quibble with that. The mountain, which really does have a saw-toothed appearance, has three famous peaks named after three of Buddha's followers: Ruri, Nichiren and Gatsurin.

Yikes!

I read that in the temple's pamphlet, and true to my information junkie nature, I tried to find out more. "Ruri? Who's Ruri?"³ My attempt yet again confirmed the danger of the internet: every article, every blog, every story simply repeats the pamphlet's words without attempting any further research. I cannot tell you how often I come across mindless regurgitation of information.

Anyway.  Ruri (瑠璃) is one of the 33 forms of Kannon in Japan; Gatsurin is the Japanese name for Zen master Yuelin Shiguan (月林師觀); and Nichiren (日蓮) is, of course, the famous Kamakura monk who devoted his life to the Lotus Sutra.

The footpaths

There are several footpaths on the mountain, but we walked from Hamakanaya Station to the Nokogiriyama Ropeway, which took us two-thirds up the mountain. Then we walked past the giant Kannon statue, up to the view of hell, down the rakan footpath, via the Daibutsu, through the temple, on towards Hota Station.

The paths on Nokogiriyama

It's not a difficult walk, but you do have to climb lots of stairs and it can get hot, sticky and humid in late summer. Ambling from the mountain to Hota Station through a sleepy rural town was another highlight of the trip. I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent signage everywhere:  it's not possible to get lost, and you don't have to use Google Maps.

Footpath on Nokogiriyama

The signage is all in Japanese, of course, so there's some work for the
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (link). Heh. Not that many Olympics visitors would venture this far south.

How to get there

It's a full day's excursion, and you need to allow at least three hours at the mountain temple complex if you want to see everything.

You can take an express train, but Cecilia and I are both rural train lovers, so we took the Sobu Line from Akihabara to Chiba, and then the Uchibō Line to Hamakanaya Station (浜金谷駅). It takes about two hours and costs ¥1890. Then we walked over the mountain and returned via Hota Station (保田駅), which is the next station on the Uchibō Line.

The ropeway was ¥500 for a one-way ticket, and entrance into the temple complex is ¥600 per person.

Nokogiriyama Ropeway Station

Going up, going down

Warning

If you use local trains, remember that there's only one Uchibō Line train per hour, and if you miss one, there isn't exactly a Starbucks where you can wait for the next one. No worries, as Cecilia would say: get a soft drink from a vending machine and plonk yourself down on the beach. Just be careful to tsunami.

The start of the walk: Hamakanaya Station

The end of the walk: Hota Station

Notes

1) Yes. It's always a man. Women, base creatures that we are, cannot reach enlightenment.

2) This anti-Buddhist movement is known as  haibutsu kishaku (廃仏毀釈). Read about it here.

3) I was interested in finding out more because "Ruri Sumida" is the Japanese name I've given myself. Ruri is lapis lazuli (for my eyes) and Sumida is the river that dominates my beloved shitamachi. My blog's name, Rurousha, conveniently also starts with Ru.

Hamakanaya Station with Nokogiriyama in the background

Weather-beaten shrine along the way


Boats! Ocean!

Another small shrine along the way

Bōsō Peninsula is famous for its loquats (biwa in Japanese).

It's not that high: only 329 m.

You have to watch out for tonbi or black kites.
They swoop down to grab food from your hand.
(That's known as redistribution of wealth in South Africa.)

Here we go!

Above: gorgeous view. Below: rakan.

 




Another scholar with scrolls

He's holding his own head? Friday 13th didn't go well for him.

The government of India offered this tree to Nihon-ji in May 1989.
It was grown from a branch of the sacred Bodhi Tree under which
Buddha achieved enlightenment.  

Tiny Jizō statues under the Bodhi Tree



Daikokuten Temple at Nihon-ji

Ema at Daikokuten Temple

Kenkon Inari

Two of the cutest kitsune (foxes) I've yet seen: mama is smiling beatifically,
and junior is playing hidey-hole.

Mama

Junior. Aww!

Cicada exoskeleton

Nihon-ji is very, very old.

Temple carved from stone at Nihon-ji

Nihon-ji's beautiful main gate

The royal chrysanthemum that indicates the temple's status

Happy country bumpkin ambling along a rural road

Kiken (きけん) means danger, but there was no electricity in this wire.
We touched it. (We're tough southern barbarians.)

Happy tetsuko (female train freak) standing right next to the tracks

Err. I think the ocean is thataway?

Sign pointing towards Hota Station

See? There it is!

Selfie! :)

You have no idea how close I came to stealing that!

Rural art

Rural food

The end of the journey at Hota Station

Popular posts from this blog

Higanbana, a flower of loss and longing

I love this flower. I love all flowers, but this one, ah, this one comes packaged with the most wonderful stories. Its scientific name is Lycoris radiata; in English it's red spider lily; in Japanese it has several names including higanbana (ヒガンバナ), in other words, autumn equinox flower.


It's also referred to as manjusaka (曼珠沙華), based on an old Chinese legend about two elves: Manju guarded the flowers and Saka the leaves, but they could never meet, because the plant never bears flowers and leaves at the same time. They were curious about each other, so they defied the gods' instructions and arranged a meeting. I assume it was not via Twitter. The gods promptly punished them, as gods are wont to do, and separated them for all eternity.
To this day, the red lily is associated with loss, longing, abandonment and lost memories in hanakotoba(花言葉), the language of flowers. It's believed that if you meet a person you'll never see again, these flowers will grow along your…

This is what my language sounds like

A while ago I promised I would do a post about Afrikaans songs. Oh dear. It's more work than I thought it would be, and it's aggravated by the fact that I've lost touch with contemporary culture in South Africa. (Please don't ask me about Die Antwoord. I don't get it. I don't want to get it.) So for now, while I continue my research, I've selected two golden oldies that are very natsukashii (that's a Japanese word for "dear" or "missed") to me. You'll notice the central themes that unite these songs: an abiding love for Africa, as well as loss and longing.
Quick recap: Afrikaans, my mother tongue, is a South African language developed from 17th century Dutch. It has adopted words from Malay, Khoisan and Bantu languages, but 90% of its vocabulary is of Dutch origin. Yes, I understand Dutch (with a bit of effort) and Flemish (easily). Afrikaans has about 6 million native speakers.
Tomorrow we return our focus to Japan. Tonight, son…

Happy birthday, Mum!

Here's an August flower for you.  Not your beloved cherry blossoms, but your favourite colour. I miss you.


The ultimate guide to Kanda Myojin

I'm floundering. I don't know how to start a post about Kanda Myōjin (神田明神), because how do you choose a highlight from this collection below?
The decapitated head of a rebellious samurai who's still haunting Ōtemachi is buried in the vicinity, and his deified spirit is enshrined here.It's been called the world's geekiest shrine thanks to its proximity to otaku heaven Akihabara. The shrine has a Facebook, Twitter and LINE account.You can see some extremely generously endowed young ladies on the shrine's ema.It has a horse. A real horse. A tiny living breathing pony.Birds protect it against fire.
See my problem? Where do I start the ultimate guide to the ultimate shrine?




Why Kanda Myōjin?
Let's be boring and kick off with my own connection with Kanda Myōjin, which is very simple: I've always lived within walking distance of the shrine. My first four years in Tokyo were spent in Kanda, blissfully close to the book district Jinbōchō, and I frequently passed …

Hiking along the Mitake Valley in Okutama

I'm lying. Exaggerating. It's not hiking; it's walking.

As a matter of fact, the Mitake Valley Riverside Trail has given me a new definition of walking vs hiking: if you encounter vending machines along the way, it's walking, not hiking.
I've done several hikes in Okutama, but I'm going to start with this walk because anybody can do it. It's exceptionally beautiful, truly pleasant and very easy. You don't need to be an experienced hiker, you don't need hiking boots, you don't need energy drinks – or Scotch – to keep going.

It starts at Ikusabata Station on the Ōme Line, follows the Tama River and ends about 5 km upstream. It took me about two hours of slow walking, many photos, frequent diversions and arbitrary stops to enjoy the autumn colours.
Let's do this section by section. Warning: this post is photo-heavy!
Ikusabata to Sawai

It takes 90 minutes from Tokyo Station. Take the Chūō Line to Ōme, transfer to the Ōme Line and get off at Ikusab…

The Princess Who Loved Insects (updated)

My blog gets so many search keyword hits about this particular topic that I've decided to update an old post about the Japenese story The Princess Who Loved Insects(虫めづる姫君Mushi Mezuru Himegimi).

It's contained in Tales of the Riverside Middle Counselor (堤中納言物語Tsutsumi Chūnagon Monogatari), a collection of short stories written in the late Heian period. It focuses on the adventures of a young girl who refuses to make herself beautiful and play the courtship game. She doesn't blacken her teeth and pluck her eyebrows (as refined ladies did in those days); instead, she spends her time outdoors, playing with bugs and caterpillars.


I refer to her as Ms Mushi (Ms Insect).  A girl this tough is definitely not a prim prissy Miss, she's a ballsy Ms. She's my favourite Japanese heroine. She's strong, she's rebellious, she refuses to pretend, she ignores society's stupid rules that fetter women. You go, girl! Long live caterpillar eyebrows!

Donald Keene mentions in hi…

The princess who loved insects

Edit added 8 May 2013: This post receives so many keyword search hits for "The Princess Who Loved Insects" that I've published an updated post (with extra information) that focuses on the book. Click here to read it.)

Blogging has been an interesting experiment. I initially started two blogs, Rurousha for personal musings and Sanpokatagata for factual stories accompanied by photos. I've now decided I'll do all stories on this blog, regardless of the content, and turn Sanpo into a supplementary photo blog. I'm not sure it's a good idea, since I'm not a good photographer at all, but let's see how it goes.
It occurred to me that "nomad" is not the ideal name for my blog. I don't wander anymore; I want to live in Japan forever and ever amen till death do us part. Then I remembered that I've already stayed in six different apartments in Tokyo and although most of my income is derived from one company, I've been based in three diff…

Edo wind chimes: air con for your soul

Have you noticed that Japan has a thing about bells?
Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link).
From which one could correctly deduce that peace is ever transient.
Now, before I get sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells, yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin(風鈴).

I would not to mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go:
The oldest wind chimes found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits.
C…

Yotsuya Kaidan, Japan's favourite ghost story

Kaidan! Ghost stories! You ready?
August is the month of Obon (お盆), a Buddhist festival that honours ancestral spirits, who are believed to return to their birthplaces in this week.  Since otherworldly beings are wandering about, it's also the perfect time for ghost stories or kaidan.
Kaidan (怪談) consists of two kanji: 怪 (kai) meaning "strange, mysterious or bewitching apparition" and 談 (dan) meaning"talk"or "recited narrative". It's a slightly old-fashioned word that conjures up tales from the Edo era, and we're going to start our August Kaidan Series with an old Edo tale of murder, betrayal and revenge that remains the most famous ghost story in Japan.
It's called Yotsuya Kadain (四谷怪談), and it proves that "heavenhas norage like love to hatred turned, norhellafury like a woman scorned".¹ It's roughly based on a real event: a woman called Oiwa² married a man called Tamiya Iuzaemon, but after their divorce, various misfortunes be…

Bush clover, the flower of autumn

It's a modest plant, easy to overlook, yet it used to be Japan's most beloved flower.

Bush clover (ハギ, hagi) is mentioned in 141* poems in the Manyōshū (万葉集, Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), Japan's first anthology of poetry, compiled in the 8th century. That far exceeds the 119 poems about the second-most popular flower, plum blossoms. The latter was revered as an exotic import from China; the former was praised for its rustic simplicity.

Bush clover grows about 3 m in height and has long, slender branches that droop across paths. The branches represent feminine elegance, but it's also a symbol of vigour thanks to its ability to produce young shoots from old stock. It flowers in September, when summer's heat lingers, but it's believed that if you can see dew drops on the plant's small green leaves, you know that autumn is near.

Nowadays the flower attracts little attention. There aren't any good bush clover viewing spots in Tokyo that I know of, apart…