Archive for the ‘Kawagoe’ Category

miyajima: daishō-in temple & return to hiroshima   13 comments

Wednesday, August 2:  After visiting the O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shinto Shrine at somewhat low tide, I take a break to walk uphill toward Daishō-in, a historic Japanese temple complex on Mount Misen, the holy mountain on Miyajima.  Including Mt. Misen, Daishō-in is within the World Heritage area of Itsukushima Shrine.

Mt. Misen sits in the middle of Miyajima Island.  The mountain was opened as an ascetic holy mountain site by Kobo Daishi in the autumn of 806 when he underwent ascetic practice for 100 days in the mountain. The fire lit by Kobo Daishi is said to have been burning for 1200 years.  The fire was used to light the Flame of Peace in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Daishō-in Temple is one of the most prestigious Shingon Temples in the western part of Japan. The Shingon, or “True Word,” branch of esoteric Buddhism, was introduced to Japan from China in the 9th century. Shingon involves trying to reach the eternal wisdom of the Buddha that wasn’t expressed in his public teaching. The sect believes that this wisdom may be realized through rituals using body, speech, and mind, such as the use of symbolic gestures (mudras), mystical syllables (dharani), and mental concentration (yoga). The whole is intended to arouse a sense of the pervading spiritual presence of the Buddha that resides in all living things, according to Encyclopedia Britannica: Shingon.

In the 12th century, Emperor Toba founded his prayer hall in Daishō-in. The temple had close links with the Imperial Family until the 19th century. Emperor Meiji stayed in the temple in 1885 (Welcome to Miyajima: Daishō-in).

Though I love the bright vermilion of many Japanese temples, I have a fondness for the wooden structures that look ancient and weathered and seem to blend in with nature.

The Niomon Gate serves as the official gateway into the temple. A pair of guardian king statues stand by the gate. Nio kings are believed to ward off evil, and are determined to preserve Buddhist philosophy on earth.

Niomon Gate of Daishō-in

Kukai, posthumously known as Kobo Daishi, is the founder of the Shingon sect. In 804, at age 31, he went to Tang, China, where he mastered profound esoteric teachings.  He is also well-known as one of the three greatest calligraphers in Japan.

Niomon Gate

lantern at Daishō-in

Lining the steps to the temple are the statues of 500 Rakan statues.  These represent Shaka Nyorai’s disciples. These images all have unique facial expressions. Besides the Rakan statues listed on the map below, there are other statues spread sporadically throughout the temple complex.

map of Rakan statues at Daishō-in


There are so many interesting things to see at this temple complex, even if I don’t know what many of them are.

water pavilion at Daishō-in


Shimo Daishi-do Hall at Daishō-in

Along the temple steps is a row of spinning metal wheels that are inscribed with sutra (Buddhist scriptures). Turning the inscriptions as one walks up is believed to have the same effect as reading them. So, without any knowledge of Japanese, a visitor can be blessed with enormous fortune by turning the wheels ( Daishō-in).

stairs and prayer wheels

The bell in the belfry was once rung to tell the time in the morning, afternoon and evening in the past. Now it is rung to start the time for worship.


Kannon-do Hall was established  to enshrine the image of Kannon Bosatsu, the Deity of Mercy.

Kannon-do Hall

A mandala using colored sand depicts the divine figure of Kannon Bosatsu, the symbol of mercy. The mandala was made by Buddhist priests from Tibet.

Kannon-do Hall

Bosatsu, or Bodhisattvas, are the ones who are undergoing ascetic training to attain enlightenment; they are committed to NOT becoming Nyorai (the highest deities of Buddhism who have attained enlightenment) unless all sufferers on earth are saved.  To show their determination, Bosatsu images hold various objects.

Kannon-do Hall

Maniden Hall is the main prayer hall where Sanki Daigongen, or the Three Awesome Deities of Mt. Misen, are enshrined.

steps to Maniden Hall

Worshipers pray at Maniden Hall for good health, longevity, and contentment in their daily lives.

Maniden Hall

Commemorating the current (77th) head priest’s succession, 1,000 Fudo myo-o, or Immovable King, images were donated by worshipers.

one thousand Fudo myo-o, or Immovable King, images

figures at Daishō-in

In the dimly lit Henjokutsu Cave are the sand and the principal Buddhist icons of the 88 temples of the prestigious pilgrimage route on Shikoku. Worshipers believe that they are given the same blessings as people who make the pilgrimage to all the temples on the route (Welcome to Miyajima: Daishō-in).

It is my dream to one day do the Pilgrimage to the 88 Sacred Places of Shikoku.

representations of 88 temples of Shikoku in Henjokutsu Cave

pond at Daishō-in

figure at Daishō-in

After leaving Daishō-in, I visit Itsukushima Shinto Shrine and the O-torii Gate once again, as I make my way back to the ferry.  This time the tide is higher (miyajima: itsukushima-jinja & the floating o-torii gate).  Then I return by ferry and train to Hiroshima.  At my hotel, I ask for a recommendation for a good okonomiyaki restaurant.  Hiroshima is famous for oysters and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes: batter, cabbage, vegetables and seafood or meat cooked on a griddle).  The local version, Hiroshima-yaki, features individual layers, and noodles as the key ingredient (Lonely Planet Japan).

The place recommended by the hotel is open air with no air-conditioning.  It is much too hot for me to eat in there.  I’ve been sweating all day and look forward to cooling off during dinner.  So I walk back up the same street and find the perfect (air-conditioned) restaurant.

diner for Hiroshima-yaki

Here I’m greeted by a very friendly waitress who speaks some English.  A baseball game is on the TV in the background, and she keeps cheering for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, the local baseball team.

diner for Hiroshima-yaki

It’s quite a process watching the chef whip up the Hiroshima-yaki.  I’m able to order mine with just shrimp.  I never want squid in these pancakes, even though squid seems to be the most common ingredient.

I have to say this pancake is one of the most delectable things I’ve eaten in Japan. Even though it’s huge, and filling, I have to eat every last bite. 🙂

After dinner, I stroll along the river in Hiroshima.

I see one last view of the Hiroshima A-bomb dome.

Hiroshima A-bomb dome

Hiroshima A-bomb dome

paper cranes for peace

Tomorrow morning, I’ll leave for Nara, where I’ll spend two nights. 🙂

Total steps today: 21,442 (9.09 miles)


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.


kawagoe: an edo-era town   4 comments

Saturday, July 8:  I arrive at Kawagoe Station after taking the Yokohama Line to the Hachiko line to the Kawagoe Line, a train trip of about one and half hours north of where I live near Sagamihara that meanders through mostly small towns and rural areas.  I disembark in Kawagoe only to have to take a taxi ride for about $12 to the Kurazukuri Zone of Kawagoe, also known as the Old storehouse zone.

Kawagoe enjoyed political and military importance during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) as it offered northern protection for Edo Castle.  Today, the preserved main street of Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street is a long row of preserved buildings from that period, modernized and converted to cute what-not and souvenir shops, as well as old-time sweet shops.  The streets of Koedo (Little Edo) offer a glimpse back into a bygone era.

Today is particularly hot, humid, and frankly, miserable. I feel discomfort immediately upon leaving the station.  At noon, the taxi drops me, as requested, at the Yamazaki Museum of Art, at the southern end of the Old storehouse zone. I hurry in to escape the heat.  Sadly, I’m told no photography is permitted except in one room.  This museum contains mainly works by Hashimoto Gaho, born on July 27, 1835.  His works were family heirlooms bequeathed to the museum by Yamazaki Yutaka (1830-1912).

Here are two items at the museum.  Sadly, I don’t even know what they are!

I go back out into the heat to walk down Kura no Machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street, where traditional architecture can be enjoyed; it is designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings. On this hot Saturday in July, the street is packed with tourists.

Kura no Machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

Japanese homes once had strong buildings called “Kura” for on-property storage of household tools.  Since these buildings were fire-resistant, they developed into residential buildings and stores in Kawagoe.  This zone is considered a culturally significant area where the atmosphere of a town 100 years ago can be experienced.

creatures in the Old Town

displays in the Old Town

I stop into a small temple, Choki-in Temple.

Choki-in Temple

Jizo statues at Choki-in Temple

Choki-in Temple

Choki-in has a Gandhara-style statue of the fasting Buddha.  The story behind this statue is that Prince Siddhartha Gautama renounced his privileged life and traveled around trying to extinguish mind and body to become enlightened.  Siddhartha questioned many holy men as he traveled across northern India; these yogis forced themselves to do extreme penance “such as gazing into the sun until their eyes dissolved away, sitting or standing in rigid positions until their limbs became immobile, or starving to the point of death” (Asian Art: Fasting Buddha).

Over about a five-year period, Siddhartha tried fasting to a point where he became weak and ill, although his spirituality evolved; eventually, after a milkmaid offered him a bowl of milk, he drank it, then ate some food and began to feel strong again.  He then adopted the “middle way,” eating what was needed but no more, and focusing on calm meditation.  Eventually, he gained what he called ‘enlightenment.’ Following this experience, he was called Buddha, meaning “The Enlightened One.”

Fasting Buddha statue at Choki-in Temple

Choki-in also has a pleasant lotus garden, a quiet cemetery, and some small shrines.

lotus blossoms at Choki-in Temple

cemetery at Choki-in Temple

torii at Choki-in Temple

shrine at Choki-in Temple

small shrine at Choki-in Temple

water purification at Choki-in Temple

roof of the gate at Choki-in Temple

door at Choki-in Temple

gate at Choki-in Temple

I continue to walk down  Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street, looking especially for a place to have some lunch, but all I see are shops selling sweets or souvenirs.  The few restaurants I do see have lines in front of them.  I pop into an adorable two-story shop selling all kinds of enticing goodies.  I linger in here for quite some time, enjoying the air-conditioning and the goods for sale.

a cute shop on Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

a cute shop on Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

a cute shop on Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

Painting of Old Edo

a cute shop on Kura no machi (Old Town) Ichibangai Street

I decide to follow the map, leaving the Old storehouse zone, and head for the Kawagoe City Museum, which is quite a distance away.  Along the way, I stop at a coffee shop which happens to sell sandwiches; there I sit upstairs in the air-conditioning for a bit while I enjoy lunch, cool air, and a cold drink.

It’s so hot today I feel like I’m going to faint while I’m walking outside.  I have to keep drinking water, as I feel dehydrated within minutes outdoors.  I figure I will make it to the museum, and then I will wander around inside until I stop sweating and don’t feel faint any more.  By the time I arrive at the museum, it’s 1:30 p.m.


Kawagoe City Museum

The Kawagoe City Museum was built to provide life-long education for the citizens of Kawagoe and people from other regions who want to learn about the history and culture of Kawagoe. Kawagoe began to deepen the connection with Edo (present day Tokyo) from about the 17th century.  The museum examines the cultural heritage of the Edo culture on Kawagoe.

One part of the museum is dedicated to the Primitive and Ancient Times, where displays show the people from the primitive society to the society just before the feudal one (from 30 BC to the 11th century) through relics found or excavated within the city.

The Primitive and Ancient Times

One section of the museum is devoted to the Early Modern Times.  During this period, some leading feudal lords who supported shoguns of the Edo era became the lords of Kawagoe Castle. Therefore, Kawagoe was an important castle town for the Edo shogunate. For that reason, political, economic, and cultural ties were promoted between Edo and Kawagoe.  The model of the castle town, armor of the lords, and tools and instruments of civilians and merchants are displayed in this section.

To the south of Kawagoe spreads the Musashino Plateau, which used to be covered in forests and fields. It had been so difficult to get water there that the area had long remained undeveloped and uninhabited. In the middle of the 17th century, the then Lord of Kawagoe began to develop this area and many new villages were born.

models of houses with walls of soil

Kawagoe houses

painting in the Kawagoe City Museum

ship in Kawagoe City Museum

Buddha image

Archbishop Tenkai, having won the respect of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun, served three generations of the Tokugawa shoguns. The Kita-in Temple, where Tenkai served as the chief priest, was once the head temple of  theTendai-shu sect of Buddhism in the Kanto area.

When the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu were carried to the holy place in Nikko, Tenkai stopped the funeral procession at the Kita-in Temple, and held a grand memorial service for him. To commemorate this, Archbishop Tenkai built the Toshogu Shrine in the grounds of Kita-in in 1633. The shrine was worshiped faithfully by the successive lords of Kawagoe Castle from then on.

Archbishop Tenkai and the Buddhist Temple of Kitain – The Toshogu Shrine

The Early Modern Times

Another section of the museum is devoted to The Early Modern and the Modern Times.  In the Edo era, Kawagoe was called “the kitchen of Edo.”  Many merchants with great economic power participated actively in the city.  In this section are model houses made of soil with straw, as well as dioramas showing the economic activities of the town.

Exhibition corner of the Early Modern and the Modern Times

economic activity in Kawagoe

The Kawagoe family was such an important vassal of the Kamakura government that a daughter of the head, Kawagoe Shigeyori, became a wife of Minamoto-no Yoshitsune, a brother of Shogun Minamoto-no Yoritomo’s. Later, however, the relationship between the Shogun and his brother grew worse. When the brother was killed by the Shogun, Kawagoe Shigeyori was also executed because of the kinship. The next generation of the Kawagoe family won an important position again, but later rebelled against the Muromachi government and was destroyed completely.

In the Folklore section, one can see the craftsmanship and skills of the Edo era craftsmen, as well as their tools and instruments.

In the past, Japanese cities consisted almost exclusively of wooden buildings, which made them vulnerable to fires. Kurazukuri construction was used both to make a structure fireproof and to secure it against intruders. They were expensive to build, as their construction involved making thick walls consisting of several layers. Thanks to the prosperous trade with Edo, the merchants of Kawagoe flourished, and many showed their wealth by building as good-looking a structure as they could afford ( Warehouse District).

the process of building the Kurazakuri houses and the craftsmen

the process of building the Kurazakuri houses and the craftsmen

I enjoy the display of ceremonial masks.

Festivals related to the agricultural production are also displayed.

Kawagoe City Museum

I dread going back out into the heat again, but I must because now I’m quite a distance east of the historic district and I want to go to Kita-in Temple and the Gohyaku Raka (500 disciples of Buddha), which are further southeast.  All are long walks with no relief.  I really hope after visiting Kita-in that I will have time (and energy!) to return to the historic district to see several things I missed while looking for a lunch spot, namely the Toki no Kane (Time Bell Tower) and the Kawagoe Festival Museum, as well as Kaskiya Yokocho (Penny Candy Lane).

Onward to Kita-in Temple!


%d bloggers like this: