kawagoe: kita-in, remains of the edo castle, & 500 statues of rakan   4 comments

Saturday, July 8:  After leaving the Kawagoe City Museum, I stop briefly at the Honmaru Goten (primary hall) of Kawagoe Castle.  It’s not open to the public, so there isn’t much to see except the facade. As Kawagoe was considered by the Tokugawa Shogunate to be an important place for protecting the northern region, the Shogun dispatched his trusted chief vassal to Kawagoe Castle for greater protection. Only the primary hall remains to this day.

Honmaru Goten of Kawagoe Castle

I continue to walk quite a distance through the baking streets until I reach Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Temple.  There’s not much to see here except an angry-looking fellow, so I surreptitiously walk past to Kita-in Temple.

Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Temple

stone lanterns at Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Temple

Founded as Muryoju Temple by the monk Ennin during the Heian period (794 to 1185), Kita-in Temple has ties to the Tokugawa Shogunate.  Muryoju is another name for the Amitabha Buddha (Buddha of Unending Life), which is the main object of worship at the temple.

Burned down during fighting in 1205, the temple was rebuilt in 1298 by the monk Sonkai.  Emperor Gofushimi made it head of the Tendai Sect temple in east Japan in 1300.


Kita-in pagoda

Kita-in became the main temple of the three-temple complex after Tenkai became the head monk in 1599. Previously, Nakain Temple had been the most influential. Under Tenkai’s influence and his friendship with the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, Kita-in flourished.  The Chinese characters used to write Kita-in were changed from those meaning North Temple, which has a dark image, to those meaning Temple of Much Happiness.

Main Hall at Kita-in

Main Hall at Kita-in

inside the Main Hall at Kita-in

small shrine at Kita-in

Small building on the temple grounds

ema at Kita-in


On January 3, the first Darumaichi (Good Luck Market) of the year is held along with Buddhist fire rites to pray for good luck, protection from misfortune, family safety and traffic safety.

Main Hall at Kita-in

pagoda at Kita-in

pagoda at Kita-in

pagoda at Kita-in

pagoda at Kita-in

small shrine at Kita-in

To help rebuild Kita-in, Shogun Iemitsu ordered several buildings to be moved from Edo Castle  (now the site of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo) to Kawagoe. These buildings, which house Kita-in’s museum, today are protected as Important Cultural Properties.  They are all that remain of the buildings of Edo Castle because of the damage Tokyo suffered during the Great Earthquake of 1923 and World War II.

inside the remains of Edo Castle

a chest in the Edo Castle remains

inside looking out – Edo Castle Remains

Kita-in has several gardens both inside and outside the museum area.  Planted with plum, cherry, and maple trees, plus a variety of flowers, particularly hydrangeas and azaleas, the gardens change throughout the year.

garden at Edo Castle remains

garden at Edo Castle remains

Edo Castle remains


Edo Castle remains


Edo Castle remains


painted door in Edo Castle remains

Festival cart

Edo Castle remains

walkway at Edo Castle remains

The famous statues known as the “500 Statues of Rakan” actually consist of 540 statues representing the disciples of Buddha. They were carved between 1782 and 1825 with no two statues alike.  It is said that if you feel among the statues in the dead of night, you will find one that is warm.  Mark it, come back during the day, and you will see it is the statue most resembling yourself.

The English-speaking ticket-taker at the 500 Statues of Rakan asks for my birth year.  He tells me I was born in the Year of the Sheep.  Sometimes it’s also called the year of the Goat or the Ram.  The kind man tells me I should look for the Rakan holding a sheep, and when I find it, I should rub it for good luck.

500 Statues of Rakan

500 Statues of Rakan

500 Statues of Rakan


I spend quite some time looking for the Rakan with the sheep, but, when I can’t find it, I ask the ticket-taker to show me where it is.  He takes me right to it.  I do as he suggested and rub the head for good luck!  He looks like a jolly fellow. 🙂

Rakan with sheep

Temple in the Kurazukuri Zone

Temple in the Kurazukuri Zone

Temple in the Kurazukuri Zone


I don’t stay long at the temple, because I want to return to one of the shops for some pretty ceramic cups I had seen earlier. Even if I don’t buy anything, I’d love to dip into the shop for a blast of cool air. I continue down the street until I find the shop, passing some deer street art on the way.

street art in Kawagoe

I find the shop, where I linger and cool off for a bit, and then I buy two pretty cups.  The shopkeeper wraps them carefully in bubble wrap.  I intend at this point to still look for the bell tower, but after asking the shopkeeper about the bus back to the station, she walks out to the sidewalk with me, pointing out the bus stop.  I see the bus is just pulling up to the stop.  At the spur of the moment, I decide I’ll run for the bus and jump on.  I’m too hot and exhausted to walk around Kawagoe any more.  Oh, how I hate the summer heat!

It’s about 10 minutes to the train station, and another 1 1/2 hours to get back to Fuchinobe, but I’m relieved to be sitting on the cool train for a good long while. When I get home, I stop at Chiyoda sushi and buy some take-out sushi.  I don’t want to eat anything hot tonight, so sushi will be the perfect refreshing end to the day.

Later, when I write to my Instagram friend Yukie about my HOT day in Kawagoe, she says, “Omg Cathy… Kawagoe is famous for its hot weather during the summer! It’s one of the places where the temperature goes the highest in Japan sometimes…”

I write her back, “Oh gosh! I wish I had known.  I almost felt like I was going to faint at times.  I had to keep stopping into shops for the AC and drinking lots of water!”

At the same time I send her these messages, I also send her my wish list of all the places I still want to see before I leave Japan and ask if she’d like to join me for an outing.  She suggests we meet on Sunday, July 16 to see an exhibit by Yoshida Hiroshi at the Sampo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art.  I tell her I may also want to see Kabukicho, so she’d be welcome to come along if she’d like. I’m so excited to finally be able to meet her!

Total steps today: 17,143 (7.26 miles).

Most of the information about Kita-in Temple is from a pamphlet prepared by the Kawagoe-Salem Friendship Society, a grassroots group formed in 1986 to promote international understanding and goodwill especially between the two sister cities Kawagoe and Salem, Oregon, USA.


4 responses to “kawagoe: kita-in, remains of the edo castle, & 500 statues of rakan

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  1. So much fascinating history and I love the beautiful colours of your photos, Cathy.

    • Thanks so much, Carol. It was a great place to visit; I was just sorry it was so miserably hot. I really felt like I was going to faint from the heat the whole day! I wish I could have gone back in the fall. 🙂

  2. 540 individual statues is quite a feat!

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