Otagi Nenbutsu Ji – A little stone man stands nestled in a forest. He is no taller than your knee. The little man has a green hat. His green hat is made of moss and grass. The stone man is happy and smiling. He is happy because he is surrounded by his many friends. There are hundreds of them hidden in the leafy woods of Arashiyama. You can find this small gentleman and his little friends in Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji, Kyoto, Japan.
One of our main reasons for visiting Arashiyama was not for the bamboo forest or the Togetsu-kyo Bridge. We wanted to find the temple with, as insidekyoto.com describes ‘a collection of 1200 unique and whimsical statues’.
The little men are in fact ‘rakan’ who represent Buddha’s disciples. Whilst they may look old due to their hats of moss they were only added to the temple in the 80ies. A priest named Kocho Nishimura took over the running of the temple in the mid 50ies after a devastating typhoon had caused significant damage to the buildings in 1950. Kocho Nishimura also happened to be skilful sculptor. He decided to let vistors to Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji carve their own rakan statue. Under his guidance, between 1981 and 1991, over 1200 individual statues were added to the temple.
No statue is the same due to them all having been created by different amateur artists. We particularly liked the two little men drinking Sake!
The temple is a little walk from Arashiyama station. We were soaked by the time we arrived there. The heavens had opened and poured many buckets of surprisingly cold rain on us. The joys of travelling in Japan during the monsoon season. Little did we know that two days later we would experience the force of typhoon winds swept across from the Pacific Ocean.
Regardless of the rain, the walk from the centre of Arashiyama is quite picturesque. We walked through the famous bamboo groves on our way. The groves were very busy however and after living in China and hiking through Bamboo groves, Arashiyamas bamboo path was slightly underwhelming.
After leaving the tourists behind you in the shade of the giant bamboos you follow a path through a residential area of Arashiyama. We glimpsed a taste of modern Japanese life coexisting in delicate harmony with the traditions of this ancient place. Newer architecture blended harmoniously with older buildings. We also saw locals creating beautiful lanterns out of paper on our journey.
Just before you arrive at the temple you walk along a quiet road. This street is lined with stunning wooden architecture.
The obligatory Torii gate was also standing proudly to welcome visitors. The photo below was taken on our way back to the centre after the sun finally decided to make an appearance.
As we reached Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji we brought our tickets for 300 Yen and entered. We barely saw any other tourists. We were visiting in the height of the summer holidays, yet this temple was almost empty!
Whilst the site is not huge we spent a good while here taking in our surroundings. We also took many photos with and of the little men of course. Alex and I both felt as if we had discovered a secret temple. This was one of our highlights of our visit to Japan.
It has such a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere surrounded by 1000s of smiling stone statues.
Alex also spotted a miniature frog, sitting silently on an emerald green leaf.
There is a bus or you can get a taxi to take you. If you decide to walk it is well worth the small trek from the centre of Arashiyama to reach this magical place.
How to do it yourself
Address: 2-5 Sagatoriimoto Fukatanicho, Ukyo-ku 右京区嵯峨鳥居本深谷町2-5
Opening hours: 8am – 5pm (Gate is closed at 4:45pm)
Admission: 300 yen
Official website: www.otagiji.com
Would you like to visit this secret temple deep in the heart of Japan?