I don’t know about you, but I really love visiting Buddhist temples. Despite my non-affiliation with any religion, I find Buddhist temples welcoming, calming, and fascinating. Japan is home to a great many temples, as Buddhism is one of its major religions, and some have really quite striking locations and features. Nanzo-in temple is one such place. Join me on a journey through its hallowed grounds.
Nanzoin Temple Entrance
Originally, Nanzo-in stood atop Mount Koya-san, Wakayama Prefecture, but due to anti-Buddhists threatening its destruction in 1886, and the resulting public outcry, a decade-long mission to relocate it to Sasaguri, near Fukuoka, was mounted. Finally, in 1899, under the directorship of a Sasaguri priest named Hayashi Satoshiun, it was moved to where it stands now. It sits at the heart of 88 temples along the Sasaguri pilgrimage route, one of the three most famous pilgrimage walks in Japan.
Another interesting snippet is the temple’s association with luck and lotteries. It’s said that a chief priest of the temple won big after laying his lottery ticket next to a statue of Daikoku (one of Japan’s seven Gods of fortune). The temple claims others who have followed in the chief priests’ footsteps have also struck it lucky!
Grounds and Locale
The grounds of the temple itself are vast and sprawling, sitting slightly elevated, and with many chapels and shrines littering its hillside. There’s an Inari shrine here (associated with industry, fertility, rice and sake. You can spot them thanks to their bright orange torii and fox, called kitsune, guardians), and a shrine dedicated to the seven Gods of fortune. Buddhist temples are quite often paired with Shinto shrines, due to an amalgamation over the centuries of practices. Aside from the main attraction, which we will get to shortly, Nanzo-in is also home to an impressively sized Fudo Myoo-sama (a fire deity in Buddhism), as well as 500 statues of Buddhas disciples, the arhat.
Path Leading to Inari Shrine
The Reclining Buddha
Arguably Nanzo-in’s star attraction, this impressive bronze of Buddha reclining serenely is said to be the largest bronze statue in the world. Whilst I can’t be certain of this fact, I can tell you that he is 11 metres in height, 41 metres in length, and weighs an impressive 300 tonnes (that’s about the same as a jumbo jet, to put it into perspective). He’s quite the spring chicken amongst his peers too, being completed in 1995. Interestingly, most visitors (around 1 million annually), don’t go specifically for the Buddha, but as part of the Sasaguri Pilgrimage I mentioned earlier. However, it’s worth visiting just for this. The statue is simply beautiful. Intricate details, opulent gold adornments, and an aura of calm can be found when viewing the statue up close. The day I visited was kissed with a soft downpour, a normally bothersome state, however it was pleasant and enjoyable, not least because of the shelter provided opposite the statue.
Visitors are welcomed warmly by all, especially foreign visitors, as this seems not to be a place graced much by folks of the Western persuasion. Other visitors treated us extremely well, giving us gifts and chatting to us, despite language barriers! Staff too are very friendly, exhibiting that helpfulness and enthusiasm I’ve come to really love about Japan. No where is really off limits, though if there’s a sign up asking you not to take pictures, do the right thing and respect it. This is, after all, an important place of worship for people of the Buddhist (and Shinto) faith.
One of the many shrines
Take your time when visiting, as there is much to see. Walking up the path to the entrance, I recommend you take a right and venture through the tunnel first. There’s a shrine within this dedicated to the seven Gods of fortune, so make sure you stop to take a look. Out the other end, and you’ll come across a pond containing some plump koi, as well as the entrance to the small but beautiful Inari shrine. You can either visit this now, or later on. Check out the view opposite this, across the mountains and looking down into the valley.
Up a covered walkway will take you past statues (including a puzzling looking renaissance style knight and maiden), some beautiful garlands, and round to where the reclining Buddha rests. Take a left, and pass behind him first. You’ll discover more statues, and an administrative building. Further round, a huge Malas (Buddhist prayer beads, sort of like a rosary) takes up one blank wall, and further still, is a shop selling omamori. Next to this is a game resided over by a large Maneki Neko. There are dishes in front, and a line you stand on. For a small fee, you get to throw colourful darts (not pointy, so child friendly) at the dishes. If you land one, you get a prize! The smaller the dish, the better the prize.
Past the shop and neko game brings you out at the feet of the Buddha, which you can observe up close thanks to a set of steps. Admire the golden inscriptions and symbols, and maybe touch one of his gigantic toes. Afterwards, take a step back, way back, and see if you can get the reclining Buddha all in one shot. It’s hard! He has a wonderful outlook; rolling mountains lush with foliage sit in his line of view, and yours, for the time you spend here. You can choose to grab a drink and take a break, as there’s a vending machine with covered seating here. Once you’ve had your fill, exit the way you came in, and discover the rest of the grounds.
Back through the tunnel and to your left, you can climb a set of stairs that takes you into the main temple. Another shop sells omamaori, as well as houses a traditional Buddhist worship area. The smell of incense wafts through, enticing you. Walk beyond this and back down, to discover the many Arhat statues I mentioned earlier, as well as other chapels, a turtle pond, a cave, and our fire deity friend, Fudo Myoo Sama. This area seems bewildering at first, with paths snaking off in all directions, but don’t be discouraged. Start at the right hand side, weaving your way up and down, and you’ll not miss a thing.
Fudo Myoo Sama
Finally, on your way back out, give the lucky Buddha that stands near the entrance a friendly belly rub, and enjoy the rest of your time in Sasaguri.
Getting There, Admission, and Hours.
By far the easiest way is to catch the train. The closest station, Kido Nanzo-in Mae, is barely a three minute walk away, and is only a 20-25 minute ride from Hakata station in Fukuoka. Entrance to the temple grounds is free, but the prayer room located below the Buddha is ¥500. You can also buy omamori (lucky charms) on site, as well as drinks and snacks at the entrance. There’s the odd vending machines dotted throughout too. Take yen cash with you, especially smaller notes and coins. It’s open year round to visitors from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. You can find it here: