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 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 (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!|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
|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|
|Two of the cutest kitsune (foxes) I've yet seen: mama is smiling beatifically,|
and junior is playing hidey-hole.
|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!|
|You have no idea how close I came to stealing that!|
|The end of the journey at Hota Station|