Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nihon-ji Daibutsu, Nokogiri-yama

The temple Kenkon-zan Nihon-ji on the Chiba peninsula off Tokyo Bay dates back to 725 A.D., but the daibutsu (large Buddha figure), itself, was chiseled in 1780. The temple has changed hands between various sects over those 1300 years and currently belongs to the Soto Zen sect. The main attractions of the temple grounds, in addition to the daibutsu, are three summit overlooks on Mt. Nokogori, which towers over the rocky coast of Tokyo Bay, 1500 smaller statues depicting various Arhats (novice practitioners who have achieved nirvana), a very tall relief of the Bodhisattva of Mercy, Kannon...and much more along the temple's immaculate trails. The following guide shows some of this:
View from the parking lot looking at the entrance to the temple grounds. This is about one third of the way up Mt. Nokogiri. The daibutsu is to the right of this shot.The daibutsu is 31 meters tall on its Lotus pedestal and is the largest in Japan, significantly taller than the daibutsu in Nara (18.8 meters) and over twice the height of the more famous Japanese daibutsu in Kamakura (13.3 meters). It has had its share of erosion over the years and received an overhaul in the 1960s. Still, you can see scars of the erosion all over its body. Keeping the erosion in check will no doubt be a challenge. There is a small moat running along the front edges of the stone statue. The prayer bell and donation box in front of the statue attracted a steady stream of visitors while we were there and, assuming each prayer was accompanied with a 5 or 50 yen donation, the sect made out well on that day.
The figure is Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha or the Buddha of Healing. The Indian name for this buddha is Bhaiṣajyaguru, which is short for Bhaiṣajyaguruvaidūryaprabha. It was made by the popular artist Jingoro Eirei Ono and his 27 apprentices over the course of three years.
A profile shot of the daibutsu against the mountain. The trail of stairs is not visible in the picture but winds up steeply past the head of the statue just below the forest canopy. As with several of the photos in this post, the vertical nature of the mountain and its trails is not adequately displayed.
Here is the view from the daibutsu area overlooking Tokyo Bay.If you squint your eyes you can make out the small but sacred Bodhi Tree in the picture below. It comes from the branch of a famous Bodhi Tree in India and was presented to the temple by an Indian sect in 1989 as a gesture of world peace.
Another praying area with piles of little prayer statues.As with the prayer bell nearby, there was incense burning periodically.The pathway that leads up to the top is scenic but brutal on the legs. It was a chilly and damp day, and yet, by the time I reached the top, I was pretty sweaty. The daibutsu is below and to the right of these steps.Along the way to the summit are numerous caves and inlets in the rock face which house 1500 Arhats all made by Ono and his 27 apprentices. Each statue is unique. Several of the statues have been worn down by erosion, or too often, defaced by an anti-Buddhist movement during the Meiji Era. Still, enough of these remain intact that I would imagine it would take some feverish radical Islamists several months to deface all of them.The stones used for the statues were brought in from the Izu peninsula. Work on the statues began in 1779 and was finished by 1798.It was rainy on the day of our visit, which revealed how manicured the mountain is. Instead of simply keeping the pristine natural beauty of the mountain, the Japanese, having a hands-on approach to nature, provide impressive bridges and stone walkways along the path to add a human touch to the surroundings. Below, a small waterfall rains over one of the statues. In other parts of the trail you can see where drainage trenches were carved in the rock to control the flow. The overall result is very appealing to the eyes.
The cliff from the summit went straight down and was more dramatic than this photo indicates. The weather was overcast and hid much of the view in the photo.The name of Mt. Nokogiri derives from the word for "saw" and this picture of the section cut out of the mountain demonstrates why it has that name. Like the view from the summit, this photo does not capture how dramatic this view is. To the right of the people in the photo is the second of the large stone carvings on the mountain...Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Mercy. I'm not sure how old this particular carving is, but it is about 30 meters tall and pretty impressive in its almost interior looking surroundings. I expected to see Dr. Jones with a few local guides making their way to this spot.A section of bamboo off the trail during the descent.
This shot shows some of the buildings on the temple grounds housing the priests. There were apparently several other buildings housing priests and monks, but those were not visible from the trail. This is a shot taken from the car showing the scene off the coastal road that leads to Mt. Nokogiri.


Mary said...

What wonderful pictures. Makes you want to be there too.

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