My family went to Nokogiryama, which means “Mountains of Saw.” The mountain used to be used as a stone quarry. We took the cable car to the top.

The mountain is 329 meters high. It doesn’t sound very high. Indeed, it is lower than Tokyo Tower. However, the view from there is just spectacular. It commands Tokyo Bay and Miura Peninsula on the west side, Oshima Island southwards, and the rugged coastlines of Boso Peninsula on the east side.

After taking these pictures, we entered Nihonji Temple. Along the path, we were overwhelmed by the vertical quarry walls. The path led us to a huge stone carving called Hyakushaku Kannon. As the name indicates, the relief is about 30 meters high (Hyaku means 100, and shaku is a length of about 30 cm). The Kannon was carved on the remains of a quarry wall. It was astonishing in size, but it perfectly blended into the natural surroundings.

Afterwards, we headed for Jigoku Nozoki (Peep at Hell). It is a natural observation deck sticking out from a quarry cliff. We waited in line more than 30 minutes to reach the edge, but it was worth the wait. I took a glimpse into the “hell,” which was unexpectedly refreshing rather than scary. It was probably because of the calm and peaceful ocean view, the greenery spreading as far as the eye can see, and the fresh, gentle breezes. It was not until I looked right under the cliff that I realized it was really scary.

We caught our breath and started to walk down the long stairs. Along the path, there are reportedly about 1500 stone statues of Buddhist disciples (rakan) enshrined in naturally formed alcoves and caves. They were created between 1779 and 1798. Unfortunately, some of them were heavily damaged due to the anti-Buddhist movement during the Meiji Restoration, and both natural and man-made disasters. The temple has been making efforts to restore these statues.

Once we reached the bottom of the stairs, there was a gentle slope, which was a relief. Actually, my knees were about to give out. Walking further along the winding path, passing by a bamboo grove, a huge Buddhist statue jumped into my view. It is the largest seated Buddhist Statue in Japan, with a height of about 31 m. The plum trees near the statue were starting to bloom. It was so peaceful that I almost forgot that I had to walk back to the top of the mountain to ride the cable car to go home.

Nokogiriyama is an interesting place as a quarry, a scenic mountain, and a Buddhist pilgrimage site. I experienced all three aspects at one time. It was a truly amazing place I want to go back again, but I won’t for the time being, because of the stairs.

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Naritasan Shinshoji Temple

My family visited Naritasan Shinshoji Temple. This temple is so popular that it attracts 3 million visitors from all over Japan at New Year and 10 million visitors through the year. The temple is dog-friendly, so Tiffany enjoyed the visit too. We asked a volunteer guide to show us around the premises. His detailed and clear explanation helped us understand the history and architecture of the temple.

This three-story pagoda was especially impressive.

This pagoda was built in 1712 and repainted recently. It is enshrined with the Five Wisdom Buddhas and ornamented with sculptures of the sixteen arhat saints. It is characterized by its solid board rafters. They are carved with patterns of flowing clouds and water, and are surrounded by sculptures of auspicious animals―dragons, kirin, and baku.

Another building that impressed me was Shakado. It was built in 1858 and used as the Main Hall of Shinshoji Temple.

The exterior walls are covered with reliefs of the 500 arhats, legendary disciples of Buddha. They are very intricate. It is said that it took the sculptor 10 years to complete the work. Every arhat has a different face, and it is believed that you can always find a deceased loved one on one of their faces. On the doors, there is another set of reliefs depicting the story of the Twenty-Four Paragons of Filial Piety.

The Gakudo Hall was built in 1861. It displays votive tablets which were dedicated by devotees during the Edo period. A statue of a famous kabuki actor, Ichikawa Danjuro VII, is situated there.  

The Komyodo Hall was built in 1701. It was originally used as the Main Hall. It enshrines Dainichi Nyorai, Fudo Myo-o, and Aizen Myo-o.

The Nio-mon Gate was rebuilt in 1831. The huge lantern was dedicated by people from the Tsukiji Fish Market in 1968. It weighs 800 kg! What is written on the lantern is Uogashi, which means “fish market.”

After leaving the temple, my family walked along Omotesando Street where traditional eel restaurants were in a row. Narita is famous for its eel. The street was filled with the delicious smell of grilled eel. We bought lunch boxes at a restaurant called Kawatoyo. They were out-of-this-world! I imagined how people in the Edo period had enjoyed eating eel after visiting the temple like we did.

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