Rocking Out in Utsunomiya, Part Two

In our last adventure, we visited a famous rock-quarry in Utsunomiya, Japan during my last visit there.  That same day we were treated by a visit to a temple I hadn’t seen in more than 10 years: Ōya-ji Temple (大谷寺).  This temple, part of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism, is close to the rock-quarry mentioned in my last post ( 5 minutes by car? ) and is famous for being a temple built into a rock wall, including the interior walls of the temple.¹

I visited this temple in 2009 I think, but knew very little about Buddhism and Japan back then, so although I took a couple photos, I had no idea where I was, and what the significance of the temple is.  It was nice to finally see it again, and appreciate it more.

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This is the main entrance. As you can see, it’s built into the rock face. Behind this entrance is a Buddhist altar devoted to Kannon Bodhisattva with 1,000 arms. Unfortunately, like many Japanese temples, they do not allow photos, so I didn’t take a photo inside.

Similarly, after you walk past the main altar, is a small indoor cave, with images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas carved.  There are three Buddhist “trinities” there:²

Again, though, photos aren’t allowed, so I can’t post any.  :-/

However, the temple also had a couple other features.  First, there was a museum dedicated to local relics from the area, including an 11,000 year old skeleton of a prehistoric man. Sadly, with all the kids running around (particularly my own), I didn’t get to take a photo of that either.

But the visit concluded with a nice view of this shrine in the middle of a pond, dedicated to Benzaiten (弁財天), a goddess of music and arts:

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The white snake is a symbol of Benzaiten, as is the lute. The shrine on the island was small but lovely, especially at sunset:

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This plaque below explains the origins of the symbolism of Benzaiten and the white snake based on a local legend. 

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Finally, after touring the temple we went across the street to another attraction: an outdoor park with a massive stutue of Kannon Bodhisattva called the Heiwa Kannon (平和観音) or “Kannon of Peace”. If memory serves, this was carved after the War, so it’s a modern work of art. 

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You can even climb to the top and enjoy a nice view of the countryside. 

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The following morning, we enjoyed an excellent ramen and gyoza pitsticker lunch with the extended family before heading back to the Tokyo area:

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Ursunomiya is a fascinating area to visit because of its past and because it’s off the beaten path. It’s location near the hills and mountains gives it a local history that you don’t find in more touristy areas. I always enjoy coming here. 

¹ You can see the Japanese Wikipedia article here.

² In Mahayana Buddhism, Buddhas are frequently flanked by two “attendant” bodhisattvas forming a kind of “trinity”.

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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