The Enchanting Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple (愛宕念仏寺)

The Enchanting Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple (愛宕念仏寺)

Otagi Nenbutsuji is a Buddhist temple of the Tendai-shu sect. According to Wikipedia, Tendai-shu is is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism, a descendant of the Chinese Tiantai or Lotus Sutra school. The school is characterised by its openness to other cultures and aim to universalise Buddhism through adaptation. The Tadai Buddhism is eclectic in nature and includes elements of Zen, Mikkyō, Vinaya and Shinto. Fundamentally, Tedai philosophy believes that all schools of Buddhisms can be universalised and unified under one doctrine. The root of this idealogy lies in the idea that the ability to become enlightened is innate to all things. When imperial capital moved to Kyoto in the 8th century, Tadai school of Buddhism became the dominant religion in Japan – especially respected and powerful among the noble and military class. If you enjoy reading about history and cultures I’d highly recommend more in-depth research on the topic. It’s incredibly interesting.

But back to the temple itself, Otagi Nenbutsuji is not a huge temple but it is more enchanting then many bigger complexes of the sort. It’s mostly known for it’s 1200 statues of stone raken created by amateur followers of Tendai-shu  between 1981 and 1991. Raken are statues of the Buddhist disciples. At this particular temple they are especially diverse and created with humour and imagination. They exhibit such wide range of expression, personality, mood and gesture so human you feel like you can recognise every single one of them; all the personalities encountered at least once… This effect is reinforced by the idea that each statue was created by a different individual under guidance of a professional sculptor. I could look at the statues for hours admiring their distinct and unique personalities. Many of the sculptures are covered in ferns and moss which adds to their charm and makes them appear a lot older then they actually are. This element of the temple makes it one of the most unique in the Kyoto area.

Despite all this, the temple is not very busy. During my visit I encountered only two other visitors; a foreign couple was just leaving the place and an older Japanese man with a camera taking photos of every single raken around. The atmosphere is amazing and it’s a wonderful, peaceful get-away from the many other famous sights in Kyoto. The reason for the very few visitors might be the location of the temple. It’s not easily accessible by public transport. The train stops a couple of kilometres away from it. The one and only bus that stops very close by only goes a few times a day. Of course, you can take a taxi but I’d wholeheartedly recommend walking to the place. Start in Arashiyama early in the morning by walking through the bamboo grove and the small, traditional streets filled with beautiful Meiji architecture as well small stalls selling traditional Japanese goods and souvenirs. The whole journey is again, very quiet and magical, unlike the blaring main streets of Arashiyama. On your way there you can visit many temples, smaller shrines and artisans as well as a cute museum of traditional Japanese dolls. It’s a long walk but totally worth it if you have the time. Personally, I don’t like hectic, jam-packed travelling. I like to take my time and bask in the atmosphere and beauty of the places I visit. I’d rather see less “famous spots” and take my time then run and stress out while on holiday. But everyone has their own preferred style of travel and their own set of priorities. How you get to the temple is your own choice; either way Otagi Nenbutsuji is, in my opinion, a must see in Kyoto.

Shrine Website:

Google Maps: location

Address: Japan, 〒616-8439 Kyoto Prefecture,

Kyoto, Ukyo Ward,

Sagatoriimoto Fukatanicho, 2−5

Phone Number: +81 75-865-1231

(all photos belong and were created by me. pixel art: doubt-abandoned)

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