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.
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
- The historical Shakyamuni Buddha flanked by Samanthabhadra and Manjushri Bodhisattva.
- Amitabha Buddha flanked by Avalokitesvara and Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva.
- The Medicine Buddha flanked by Bodhisattvas Moonlight and Sunlight.
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:
The white snake is a symbol of Benzaiten, as is the lute. The shrine on the island was small but lovely, especially at sunset:
This plaque below explains the origins of the symbolism of Benzaiten and the white snake based on a local legend.
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.
You can even climb to the top and enjoy a nice view of the countryside.
The following morning, we enjoyed an excellent ramen and gyoza pitsticker lunch with the extended family before heading back to the Tokyo area:
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”.