Tag Archives: temple

A 100-temple Kannon pilgrimage

The 33 temples of the Bandō Sanjūsankasho (“The Bando 33 Kannon Pilgrimage”) form together with the 33 temples of the Saigoku pilgrimage and the 34 temples of the Chichibu Kannon temple pilgrimage, a 100-temple Kannon pilgrimage.
Now free Android apps for all three of these pilgrimages are available from the Android store.

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Of the three pilgrimages, at a mere length of 100 km, the Chichibu 34 Kannon pilgrimage is best suited for the tourist who can only dedicate a limited amount of time and would like to walk the pilgrimage. And as Chichibu is, undeservedly, still largely undiscovered by the majority of the tourists, you have a chance to enjoy a lovely area of Japan that is less than an hour from Tokyo by train.
See also here.

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The Chichibu Pilgrimage App for Android

The pages describing my experience of walking the Chichibu 34 Kannon temple pilgrimage on this blog remain popular and this makes me happy as that means that a lot of people are looking to get more out of their trips to Japan, decided to get out of the big cities and get a taste of the real Japan. I’m therefore happy to announce that I’ve written a free Android App that works as the perfect travel assistant specific for the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temples pilgrimage.

The Henro App is based on my own experience walking the pilgrimage and it is what I would have liked to have with me when I was doing the pilgrimage. Some of the temples are difficult to find. Even though there are some signs and stone markers guiding the pilgrim, especially in the Yokoze area, I found myself walking with both the books in my hand constantly looking at hand-drawn maps that were put together a long time ago and not always accurate or reading descriptions that were a bit confusing at times. I really felt like I wanted to have all the details of a temple and up-to-date maps easily accessible on my phone or tablet and even have the possibility to use GPS to indicate your current location or use for navigation to a temple.
Well, here it is is, a perfect pilgrim’s assistant and I have packed it with loads of details about other tourist attractions in Chichibu as well; so even if you don’t use it to do the pilgrimage, you’ll get plenty out of it when you visit Chichibu and it comes at a price you cannot beat. Available now in both English and Japanese (日本語版). 🙂
Check out the video on YouTube to see what to expect.

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Narita and Naritasan

With departures to Europe leaving Narita airport late morning or early afternoon, this means that a last night in Tokyo always results in getting up very early to catch the first Narita Express trains to be in time at the airport to make the flight. Of course it is not unthinkable in Tokyo that an earthquake or a typhoon knocks out the train traffic for a few hours, so that is why we typically stay the last night in Japan in Narita town rather than Tokyo and lately this has become the last two nights as Narita with Naritasan in its centre is actually a very nice place to visit!
Of course this is not a new idea and loads of tourists are doing this, profiting from the relatively cheap hotels and the convenience of a free shuttle bus to the airport that most, if not all, Narita hotels provide.

Narita town is as nice as any Japanese town but with some very good restaurants, especially the unagi restaurants are famous. At the heart of Narita town lies the big temple complex of Naritasan which makes a visit to Narita worthwhile from a touristic point of view too.

Naritsan pamflet
Naritsan pamphlet

Naritsan pamphlet

One thing the pamphlet only hints at is the unique chance Naritasan offers to join the devotees and visitors in the Goma ritual. Normally if you want to join in at a Buddhist temple in the morning ceremony, you need to get up pretty early. I would still recommend that you do this to give extra substance to your visit to Japan, but the great thing with the Goma ritual is that it is held every hour from early morning to late afternoon. I see so many tourists watch the ritual from beyond the glass wall, but it is just a matter of taking your shoes off, putting them in a plastic bag and sitting down inside to be part of it. When they hit that enormous taiko drum, you’ll jump like everybody else!
And when the ceremony is done, make sure to hand your wallet or camera or anything you would like to be blessed to the monks who will hold it in the smoke of the ritual for a second.

It is so easy to come back from a trip to Japan and have only stood at the window glimpsing in. Like a visit to an onsen, joining in at a temple ceremony should be high up on your lists of things to do for a successful trip to Japan. It is not difficult to join in and I can assure you that it gives a great feeling of satisfaction. Typically there are no thresholds other than our own hesitation and insecurity and I haven’t seen the tourist guide yet that explains any of this, they’re always just going on about who build this and when, but leave out so much practical information. We had a great experience at Zenkō-ji temple in Nagano and lots of other places but with so many foreign tourists and visitors at these places, I’m always the only foreigner joining in, and I’m telling you, you guys are missing out! 😀

nomaku sanmanda bazaradan senda makaroshada sowataya un tarata kanman Homage to the all-pervading Vajras! O Violent One of great wrath! Destroy! un tarata kan man
nomaku sanmanda bazaradan senda makaroshada sowataya un tarata kanman
Homage to the all-pervading Vajras! O Violent One of great wrath! Destroy! un tarata kan man

Make sure to pick up one of the business card sized note that contains the mantra to the Fudo Myo-o deity that is chanted during the Goma ritual, see above for the text in Roman characters and translation.

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Copying sutra at Taiyo-ji temple

As part of a temple stay (shukubo) at Taiyo-ji temple, you get the chance to copy sutra. No calligraphy experience or knowledge of kanji is required (I know, I’m really bad at calligraphy and being left-handed doesn’t help either as all the stroke directions of a kanji are defined by right-handed people — I push the brush where they would pull it and v.v.) 🙂 The habit of hand copying sutra is considered a merit and is a devotional practice.
The monk speaks English and Taiyo-ji temple is very accommodating for tourists from everywhere wanting to get the shukubo experience.

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Zazen at Taiyo-ji temple

We visited Taiyo-ji temple in Chichibu for our second temple stay (shukubo) there a few days ago and my wife took this video of me doing zazen in the very beautiful zazen hall of the temple. The unique experience of this remote, mountain top temple makes me feel one with nature and at peace.
The monk speaks English and Taiyo-ji temple is very accommodating for tourists from everywhere wanting to get the shukubo experience.

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Zenkō-ji, Nagano

Before going to Seni Onsen Iwanoyu, we had a stay in a ryokan close to Zenkō-ji temple in Nagano.

That's me, walking towards the main building of Zenko-ji

We bought tickets to the inner sanctum (read the Wikipedia article about the treasures) and made our way to the tunnel in search of the Key to the Western Paradise of the Amida Buddha. The tunnel is pitch dark, as dark as a darkroom. What you do is to keep your right hand onto the cold wall and grope for the key. Of course, as it is busy, people keep bumping into each other so it is quite funny. For some reason my wife assumed that the ceiling would get low and crouched down. I’m standing about 40cm taller than her and the idea hadn’t occurred to me so we would had made quite the hilarious sight making our way through the tunnel together if only somebody had been able to see in there.

The next morning we went to the morning ceremony but as we got there early, we got to talk to one of the people working at the temple and as we still had time, he explained a lot and showed us around and showed us some other sights inside the other temple buildings. Then he led us to the building from which the 80 years old priest who would conduct the ceremony would come. This was very lucky as only local people were gathering here and it became clear that these people met up every morning: some were walking the dog, others were on their way to work. The priest emerged and everybody, including me, knelt down to receive a blessing from him which was a touch on the back of the head. We then made our way to the main temple again and where the ceremony was about to start. Very recommended!
After the ceremony was over, everybody made their way through the tunnel again and as it was even busier than the day before, it was even more fun. 🙂

Some thoughts:

  • No other non-Japanese tourists that I noticed went to the morning ceremony, why not? It really is a great opportunity to see the temple in action, it is not just an old building with some statues.
  • If you do decide to visit the morning ceremony, hold on to the ticket you bought to the inner sanctum, it will give you access to the tatami area the next morning.
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Temple stay at Taiyoji temple

KODAK TMax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.kODAK tmax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds. Fuji Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds. Kodak Portra 400 Kodak Portra 400 kODAK tmax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds. kODAK tmax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds. kODAK tmax 400 at EI 1600, developed in HC-110 dilution b for 7:30 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

The shukubo

One of the most rewarding things we did this trip to Japan was a temple stay (shukubo) at Taiyoji temple (Taiyo-ji). Deutsch hier. Français ici. We had done a temple stay at Koyasan before but this was a much more satisfying experience. Not that we didn’t enjoy our stay at the temple on Mt Koya, on the contrary, but there is a reason why the Taiyoji shukubo is considered the best of all shukubo experiences in Japan.

Imagine an isolated temple on the top of a mountain in a glorious area of Japan and only 2 hours away from Tokyo. This is not the endless urban area of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or Hiroshima anymore, this is not the well-trodden route most tourists in Japan stick to for even repeat visits, but this is the Japan I would like all tourists to Japan to enjoy.

As part of the shukubo we copied the sutra in calligraphy, participated in all Buddhist services, chanted the sutras and enjoyed a morning zazen session. The shojin ryori, the vegetarian food served in Buddhist temples was delicious and at the end of the day the rotenburo (outdoor bath) waited.
After each service there was a Q&A session about anything Buddhism related. The zazen hall was very beautiful but maybe we were lucky as it was a fabulous morning and meditating in front of an open window with such a beautiful view was difficult as the peaceful mountain was distracting (loved it!)

Staying longer

If you would like to stay at Taiyo-ji temple longer than just one night and are willing to help out with the cooking and serving of the shojin ryori, cleaning, etc., this is perfectly possible and you wouldn’t need to pay full price. Had I known this, I would have stayed for a week, what a chance to learn to cook the shojin ryori!
Contact the temple to get the details.

How to get to Taiyoji

We took the train from tiny Ohanabatake station in the middle of Chichibu to Mitsumineguchi station and continued by bus in the direction to Nagatsugawa via Kawamata and alighted at the bus stop serving Taiyoji temple.  From there we walked the rest of the way by turning to the right over the bridge over the Arakawa River from the bus stop and following the tarmac road leading up for the mountain. From time to time, wooden signs indicated the way.  After about 4km, we arrived at the fishing spot with a tiny soba/udon restaurant and followed the sign for the temple leading up for a steep and ancient pilgrim’s path lined with Ojizō-sama statues which brought us directly to the temple.

Alternatively, get a taxi from Mitsumineguchi station or call ahead to Taiyoji and somebody will come and pick you up from Mitsumineguchi station.

Other

Contact Taiyoji via their contact form, the monk does speak English and there is no need to have any prior calligraphy or zazen experience.
Click here to see the location on Google Maps.

I created a book of our temple stay experience and put it online, I am sure you will recognise your stay at Taiyo-ji Temple in my photos!

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From Chichibu to Koma Shrine

The other day we took the train to Chichibu in Saitama province, arriving at the Seibu-Chichibu station. Chichibu is famous for its winter festival and the pilgrimage of the 34 Buddhist temples dedicated to Kannon. Pick up a tourist leaflet/map at the station to find your way around. From the Seibu-Chichibu station it was a short walk to temple #13 and temple #15.

We got a very nice reception at the gorgeous Jigenji Temple (temple #13) where the woman taking care of the temple served us tea and some dedicated candy. This temple is dedicated to illnesses of the eye and the sutra storehouse on the right-hand side of the precinct contains a hexagonal Rindo and images of the 13 holy priests enshrined there. Turn the Rindo twice while reciting your sutras to get relieve on eye related issues.
Shorinji Temple (temple #15) is a short walk away and was built in the last year of the Meiji period and features some rare architecture.

We continued to Jorakuji Temple (temple #11) which is not very remarkable but it gives access to a tiny Shinto shrine up on the hill with an amazing series of red toriis leading up to the shrine.

FUJICHROME Velvia 50

FUJICHROME Velvia 50FUJICHROME Velvia 50

We continued to the Chichibu Shrine which is beautiful and was very tranquil the day we visited. This is the scene of the 3rd largest Shinto festival every December 3. The omikuji (the random fortunes) are washed in the tiny stream running over the area of the temple complex to reveal their meaning.

FUJICHROME Velvia 50

FUJICHROME Velvia 50

From the shrine it is a 10 minute walk back to the Seibu-Chichibu station but it is worth paying attention to the architecture of the old houses on the way. Too often old shops and restaurants have made way for non-distinct and boring modern buildings, Chichibu seems to have more than average share of quaint old buildings.

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On the way to Chichibu we had passed Koma station, Koma is of course the home of the Koma Shrine with its strong links to Korea as it enshrines Koma no kokishi Jakko, a Korean who settled in early Japan. Koma station, by the way, is not the best way to access the shrine as it is a few kilometre walk along a moderately busy road. The better access is via Komagawa JR station from which it is a 15 minute walk.

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I did enjoy this shrine a lot, the way it was almost inserted into the mountain slope with large trees almost embracing it.

FUJICHROME Velvia 50

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Behind the shrine was a thatched roof shed with a Korean pottery exhibition, access was free.


A few hundred meters behind the shrine, away from Komagawa station is the Shoden-in temple nested on top of a mountain. The access is quite magical with beautiful gardens in the lower areas and a fabulous gate.

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Once you continue up the stairs, you discover that access is 300 yen for the inner area. After having paid, you step onto a large area over which the temple looms from the plateau above. All of a sudden it starts to look brand new and even the gardens all of a sudden are mere attempts to aspire to something profound and the view from the platform at the top was rather plain and didn’t give me the glimpses of the temple buildings I had encountered in other places.

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I would certainly recommend a visit to this temple but wouldn’t visit the upper parts anymore but admire it from below.

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A sacred mountain in the Tokyo area

Takaosan (Mount Takao) is a sacred mountain less than an hour away from Shinjuku. The Yakuoin temple and Shinto shrines on Takaosan are dedicated to good fortune. I guess that you can imagine what that means for a visit on a weekend in these difficult times.

We visited twice; the first time we had little time to spend and went up by cable car; the second time I went alone and hiked through the woods over the trails to the top of the mountain which was preferable. Both visits the fog in the distance covered the view of Mt Fuji. The Yakuoin  temple and shrine areas are beautiful but packed with visitors even during the week.

Adox CHS 25 ART stand developed: Pre-soaked for 5 minutes followed by APH 09 developer in a 1+120 dilution, 1gr borax, agitated for the 1st minute and then left to stand for 1 hour.

I hiked up the Inariyama trail and passed all the other hikers by going my own speed, most of the other hikers were dressed like they were attempting an ascent of Mt Everest and I felt slightly foolish in just my jeans and hiking boots. Still, it is an easy hike and other than a pair of good shoes, some insect repellent, rain clothes (just in case) and enough to drink, I don’t think you need anything special for these hikes.

The first time we visited we walked down over the paved trail #1 which was easy but a bit difficult on the knees. The second time I visited, I went left and right over the different trails to include visits to the Miyama bridge and the Jataki waterfall. At the latter a Shinto ascetic ceremony was taking place and nobody needed a spectator, so I moved on. It looked like the waterfall was closed off if no ceremony was taking place, so I would not really recommend coming down the mountain via the Jataki waterfall trail as it is a really long trail that brings you back halfway between Takaoguchi Keio and Takao JR station.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

Even though the Yakuoin temple and shrine complex are very beautiful and contain some excellent examples of woodcarving, I didn’t feel a connection with the place. I was sort of left in no man’s land. The place was very busy and business like and there was no intimacy. While I visited, a group of 30 or 40 pilgrims, who had taken the cable car up for the mountain, arrived at the temple complex and were admitted to one of the secondary buildings while waiting to be admitted to the actual temple for a Buddhist ceremony. They all looked like top level executives of a very large company, but it looked like they didn’t really want to be there: Just before entering the temple complex, a few of them separated themselves from the group to make already group reservations in the restaurant they passed, to smoke a quick cigarette and to make phone calls. I’m sure they did the right thing but somehow it is not what I associate with a Buddhist pilgrimage where one tries to take distance from the worries of our day to day life and focus on the spiritual.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

Adox CHS 25 ART stand developed: Pre-soaked for 5 minutes followed by APH 09 developer in a 1+120 dilution, 1gr borax, agitated for the 1st minute and then left to stand for 1 hour.

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