a weekend in hakone: the magical choanji temple   2 comments

Sunday, May 28: My hotel, Hakone Onsen Sanso Nakamura, doesn’t have a restaurant or any breakfast offerings.  Luckily I thought of that as Lee and I stopped at the Family Mart during our walk back from dinner last night.  There I bought some milk tea, orange juice, and a doughnut for my breakfast. I have these this morning with some trepidation since I was unable to refrigerate the drinks overnight.

My room also has a shared bathroom and no shower; I must use the onsen downstairs to get ready for my day.  I’m happy this morning to have the onsen to myself; I shower thoroughly, as one is supposed to do before getting into an onsen, and soak in the small public bath for a bit.  The water in this onsen is really hot, so I can’t take too much of it.

Before long, I’m ready to go.  I have a lot of places on my list to visit today before I catch the Romancecar back to Machida at 3:20.  I intended to visit two places in my hotel’s neighborhood last night, but instead, I’ll try to squeeze them in this morning before continuing on the circuit around Hakone.  It may be too ambitious, but I’ll just have to cut things out if I feel too rushed.  I don’t want to lug my backpack with me all day, so I ask if I can have it sent back to the train station; the hotel owner, a woman with a smidgen of English, tells me my bag will be at the station after 1:00.  That works perfectly with my schedule. 🙂

My first stop is Choanji Temple. I have it almost entirely to myself!  This is highly unusual in Japan, where everything that remotely resembles a tourist attraction is packed on weekends.

the entry to Choanji Temple

Choanji is a temple of the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism; it was established in 1356 in a quiet area at the base of a hill.  The Sōtō school emphasizes Shikantaza, (which means “nothing but precisely sitting”) –meditation with no objects, anchors, or content. The meditator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference (Wikipedia: Sōtō).

This atmospheric temple has a circuit of pleasant walking trails which wind through its wooded grounds and cemetery.

The “temizuya” water pavilion

The “temizuya” water pavilion

What makes Choanji particularly charming and quirky are its over two hundred statues of rakan (disciples of Buddha) scattered around the temple grounds. According to japan-guide.com, “the statues began appearing in the 1980s and have been accruing ever since. Each statue has a unique face and shape, some contemplative and serious, others casual and humorous, and many show a modern edge in their artistic style and expressiveness compared to other collections of rakan statues.”

statue of rakan, a disciple of Buddha

pond near the entrance to Choanji Temple

pond at Choanji Temple

I thoroughly enjoy walking through this magical place and discovering all the rakan characters with their telling expressions.  The setting is fabulous, with its abundance of green foliage, its setting on the hillside, its various shrines, its towering pines and moss-covered rocks, and its meandering steps and pathways.

rakan

rakan

rakan

rakan

at Choanji Temple

Choanji Temple

stone pagoda

rakan

pavilion

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

steps to the shrine

rakan at Choanji

steps to the shrine

shrine at Choanji

more steps

rakan

pathway through Choanji

rakan at Choanji

Choanji

rakan at Choanji

more rakan

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

more steps

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

rakan at Choanji

more rakan

glaring fellow

rakan at Choanji

I’m sad to leave this place behind, but I have a tight schedule.  I spend too much time trying to figure out how to get a bus to the Hakone Botanical Garden of Wetlands, with several bus drivers telling me that I’m at the wrong stop and need to go elsewhere.  I finally give up and end up walking there, quite a long haul.  🙂

2 responses to “a weekend in hakone: the magical choanji temple

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  1. I’m not surprised you loved this place, Cathy. Your photos are beautiful.

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