naoko April 23, 2016
Out of the 305 Buddhist sculptures, you might find a familiar face or two. Traditionally, people saw their deceased loved ones in these sculptures, allowing them to “see each other again”. One of the Important Cultural Assets of Tokyo, Gohyaku-rakan (五百らかん) or the 500 Arhat (Sanskrit), is located at Meguro-ku, Tokyo in the temple of Gohyaku Rakanji. Today, these figures that were sculpted during the Tokugawa Period in the 17th century, count a total of 305. But most of them were damaged or destroyed in the past resulting in the current number. The temple went through two moves until it settled at the current address in Meguro-ku. Although that does not refer to its easy presence throughout the Meiji, Taisho or the Showa periods. The huge storm in 1917, lack of funding and the deterioration of the sculptures in the meantime endangered the existence of the temple. Finally, the rebuilding took place in 1979. The main hall or the Arhat Hall was completed in 1981. Arahats are the disciples of the Buddha, who actually lived or existed. Without them, the teachings of Buddha would not have lived. Each Arhat at Gohyaku Rakanji has teachings written in plaques in front of them: “You shall smile and others will follow”, “Be aware of whom you choose as your friend”, “Be the first to work on the duties unwanted”, just to name a few. The serenity of the 305 figures meditating in a single-roofed courtyard is definitely something out of the ordinary. It may take a few minutes to get used to the atmosphere full of Arahats, but in no time, you will be drawn to each Arhat with a realisation that with each sculpture comes a different feature. In the main hall, a scene of Buddha preaching to the Arahats is re-staged. One step into this hall, you may feel as if you need to hold your breath as the atmosphere is captivating. It seems as if the sculptures are earnestly listening to the preaching. Other than the Arahats, outside the hall there is a 3.5 m statue of Saiki Jizo who had wished for “the recovery of all people suffering under adverse circumstances”. Inside and out, the temple which is rather modern, comes with its own unique serenity that for once you will forget that you’re in the midst of Tokyo. What will also make you forget about the bustle of the city is the Tera-yoga or the temple-yoga, that takes place in the morning of every second and fourth Saturday and the first and third Wednesday of the month. Tera-yoga has become popular among those who want to wind down from the stress accumulated from fast-paced city lives. Gohyaku-Rakanji has been offering the program since July 2015. The Saturday lessons have become a popular morning activity for most of the locals. The temple provides a distinct atmosphere, adding to the element of relaxation for the yoga fanatics including beginners. An hour of yoga with an encounter with the 305 Arhats will definitely be a Saturday morning you will endear, in the midst of Tokyo. For information click here.