Otagi Nenbutsu Temple
Ever get that feeling you’re being watched? Most of the time it’s just in your head, although you could be forgiven for feeling a little observed upon entering Otagi Nenbutsu Temple – also known as the temple of the 1200 Buddhas.
In the outskirts of Kyoto, tucked away deep in the woods just north of the famed bamboo forest of Arashiyama, lies the eerie temple. A strange feeling invokes you as you make your way through the rarely visited temple grounds, 1200 hand carved Buddhas seem to plot amongst themselves as they watch your every move. Silently, they watch. And wait.
Or perhaps you’re just being paranoid. Chill out and place a coin on one of the statue heads for good luck. There. Feel better? Now take a seat and listen to this temple’s rather unfortunate history, and how it came to be home to these 1200 unique statues.
Otagi Nenbutsu Temple has not always stood where it does today – it was originally built in 770 in the Higashiyama area, but was destroyed in a great flood when the close by Kamogawa River began to spill over its banks. Eventually the temple was rebuilt in a new location north east of Kyoto in the early Heian period (794-1185).
This unfortunate flooding only seemed to be the beginning of the temple’s woes. As the hand of time moved on by, Otagi Nenbutsu was cast into a shadow of neglect and was left to basically rot in its new location. Today only the temple gate, the main hall, and the Jizo Hall remain standing amongst the dilapidation.
In 1922, measures were taken in to attempt to preserve what was left of the temple. The remaining buildings were taken apart and reassembled in their current location as it was deemed a safer spot. Despite these preventative measures, man cannot stop nature and its destructive prowess – the temple was heavily damaged during a major typhoon in 1950.
The temple’s fortunes began to change after the great typhoon disaster though. Enter Kocho Nishimura, a new head priest appointed in 1955 and given the task of restoring Otagi Nenbutsu. Nishimura was a talented sculptor, and decided to use his skills to help restore some glory to the temple.
Nishimura specialized in the sculpting of Buddha statues, and so he decided to teach willing temple visitors to make their own little Buddha disciples. As the years went on, the temple grounds began to fill with dozens, then hundreds, of little Buddha statues, all hand carved by different people – yet all under the masterful tutelage of Nishimura.
This is the reason that each little statue has its own distinctive features, they are all subtle representations of their creators. One could spend hours lost gazing at each and every one of the 1200 various moss covered expressions.
Get lost amongst the sea of faces and try to imagine what each sculptor was thinking as they created each distinctive feature, and once you’re done, head over to the highest point of the temple grounds. Here the great golden statue of Senju Kannon – the Goddess of Mercy – awaits you. Stay a while, and bask in the decorated history of a Otagi Nenbutsu Temple – the perfect destination for those looking to experience a slice of Kyoto’s past not typically found on most guidebooks.
Otagi Nenbutsu Temple
Japan, 〒616-8439 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Sagatoriimoto Fukatanicho, ２−５