Sometimes peace and relaxation are closer than you think.
Not far from Fukuoka City lies the beautiful mountain town of Sasaguri. It’s a wonderful, little known secret, tucked between forested mountains and lush rice fields. Only twenty minutes away by train from Hakata but, a world away in atmosphere.
Sasaguri Town is seventy percent forest. Towering ancient cedar trees, bamboo and various species of mountain Sakura populate the mountains which also flow with an abundance of waterfalls and underground streams.
Sasaguri is home to the famous mini pilgrimage, the “Sasaguri 88” founded in 1835. It's a copy of the world famous 88 temple pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku, Japan. The mini pilgrimage, about 44 kilometers long, can take anywhere from three days to a week to complete on foot. The Shikoku pilgrimage can take months.
The “Sasaguri 88” was founded to give pilgrims who couldn't go all the way to Shikoku because of expense and time constraints a chance to partake in the famed 88 Temple Pilgrimage. The eighty-eight shrines in Sasaguri have a connection to the shrines and temples in Shikoku.
Mt. Wakasugi stands at 681 meters and is the mountain where the ascetic Kobo Daishi, better known as Kukai, was said to have trained. Okunoin, the shrine commemorating Kukai’s spiritual training site, sits on the peak of this mountain. There are two massive boulders with a 30 cm wide space In-between them. Legend has it that only those who have an honest heart are able to pass between the stones. Years ago a chain was installed to aid pilgrims in their attempt.
More than half of the shrines in the Sasaguri pilgrimage route are on Mt. Wakasugi. Kukai is the patron of both the pilgrimage in Sasaguuri and Shikoku and stone statues of him are scattered throughout the mountain pathways guarding and watching over pilgrims as the endeavor on their pilgrimage along with hundreds of Jizo statues.
One of the most amazing features of the Sasaguri 88 is found at Nanzoin- also known as temple number one. It's a bit of a climb up several sets of concrete stairs and a ramp up to the grounds that hold literally the biggest bronze statue of the reclining Buddha in the world!
Whether you visit once or several times it is always an awesome experience! The statue is 41 meters long, 11 meters wide and weighs a whopping 300 tons! You can take all the photos you want of the statue and the temple grounds.
The inside of the statue holds the ashes of Gautama Buddha, Ananda and Maudgalyayana. These were given to Nanzoin in 1988 as a gift by the Buddhist congress of Myanmar in gratitude for the many medical supplies sent to Myanmar throughout the years. There are no photos allowed inside the the Buddha statue.
The temple also holds soil from the 88 temples in Shikoku making it possible for pilgrims to have “ visited” all the 88 temples there.
Walking back down the stairs to the entrance of the temple grounds one passes through a small tunnel and into the area of the Hongan or main prayer hall.
One level lower is a beautiful garden area featuring several rushing waterfalls that flow out from crevices deep within the earth.
The entire area is earthy and lush- truly a delight to the senses. Towering cedar and other giant mountain pines, the sound of spring water gushing out of the earth and on occasion the cry of wild monkeys all add to the intriguing atmosphere.
Several winding stone pathways lead up into the mountain to various shrines. Along the paths are dozens upon dozens of small stone statues of ancient deities, no two faces alike!
The head priest of Nanzoin is known to lead small groups on walking pilgrimages throughout the year and he can usually be found somewhere on the grounds. He is exceptionally pleasant and speaks some English.
There are many other interesting places and unique attractions. Crossing the bridge from the Kido-Nanzoin station you'll find a xylophone built into the bridge railing! Popularly called “ The Melody Bridge” it's a fun attraction for young and old!
There is a small shop across from the Kido-Nanzoin Mae station where route maps of the Sasaguri 88 Temple pilgrimage can be purchased for under 500 yen. The map is in Japanese but this website lists the temples in Japanese and in English.
If you are hungry and would like to try a local restaurant or two the following list is a great place to start.
Yumeya (Tel. 092- 947-3137) is a one hundred year old pawnbroker’s shop turned restaurant. Yumeya serves Western and Japanese style food at a reasonable price. The service and staff are great! Walk out of the Sasaguri Station, past the Lawson combini. Cross the main road, go one block, turn left, walk one more block and you will see it on your left. They are closed on Mondays.
Uokichi (Tel. 092-947-7739) is an izakaya that serves the usual sashimi, sushi and agemono, and nabe in winter. The owners are very welcoming and love Hawaii so their restaurant has a life-size cardboard hula girl, Hawaiian shirts and palm trees. Not a traditional Japanese interior but a fun place to eat! From Sasaguri Station turn right, walk about 100 meters and the restaurant is on your left.
Jizo Tofu (Tel. 092-948-1225) is superb if you happen to be in Sasaguri at lunchtime! They serve a really wonderful lunch set along with their fresh, handmade udon and soba. If you are heading towards the Yakiyama Bypass from Sasaguri on Route 201, cross Route 92 about 1km from Sasaguri town and the restaurant is on the right-hand side next to 7- Eleven. Lunch only.
“Create Sasaguri” the town community center located across from the JR Sasaguri Station has lots of information and pamphlets on shrines, temples, other places of interest and events. Their phone number is 092-948-2222. They are closed on Mondays.
Learn more about Japanese Pilgrimage here.
Getting to Sasaguri:
Sasaguri Station on the JR Fukuhoku-Yutaka line; from Hakata platform 9. Travel time is 20 minutes and cost is about 270 yen.
#310 from stop 19A outside the Central Post Office in Tenjin, every half hour. Travel time is 35 minutes and the cost is about 350 yen.