The Otagi Nenbutsu-ji (temple) was originally made in the 9th century in the Otagi District of Japan (that’s central Kyoto). Currently, however, you can find it in the Saga district, a move that was done in order to help preserve it.
What makes this temple so unique is its 1,200 Rakan statues (Rakan are disciples of Shaka, the founder of Buddhism) . You can find Rakan statues all around Japan, but the thing that makes these statues different is the fact that they were carved by amateurs from all around Japan, though they were being taught by an instructor (Kocho Nishimura). These statues were donated to the temple in 1981 to celebrate the refurbishing they did to fix damage caused by a typhoon.
As mentioned before, the Rakan statues are the main reason to come here. You can spend hours just walking around discovering new faces and new expressions. There’s a lot to see in a very small area, and as long as you’re not in a rush it’s definitely a lot of fun. You can’t go for very long without saying “Oh! Look at that one over there!”
Although it’s only been about 30 years since the statues were added, moss covers many of them and they have a very aged feel, which really adds to the atmosphere. Depending on the time of year, too, there can be grass, snow, or leaves covering the ground around them, meaning it’ll look different depending on when you go.
If you look through all of these, you’ll see that they all have a very cheerful style to them.
Not many are sad. They do say that Buddhists are pretty happy after all, and it really shows in these Shaka disciples. Some people give money to the statues for good luck. The one in the picture below had a few coins. I think a lot of people are drawn to this one because of the emotion expressed! It certainly stood out amongst all the rest.
Some of the statues get a little weird, too. Either someone was trying to stand out or someone really, really didn’t know what they were doing. Either way, I’m a fan.
And this one… This is what would happen if you gave me a chisel and told me to get to work.
The best one, however, is definitely the Mario Rakan. As I mentioned in the video above, totally explains why he’s able to reincarnate every time a turtle murders him. “It’sa me! Mario!”
And lastly, saw this inside the actual temple. “Buddhism #1! Buddhism #1! Buddhism #1!” Ammiright?
How To Get To Otagi Nenbutsu-ji
It’s a little bit outside of Kyoto main, so you’ll want to put aside a few hours for this trip. Considering that there’s over a thousand temples in Kyoto, this one’s easy to get lost in the mix. Make sure you study your maps and routes before leaving. The buses didn’t come all that often, though if you’re going during a busy time you won’t have to wait too long.
This route is from Kyoto Station (that’s the big one), so if you’re leaving from somewhere else you’ll want to change your route. Also be sure to look up routes before you go. Things change, you know?
Click on the map (or click here) to get a route from Kyoto Station. Adjust it depending on where you are right now (hopefully somewhere in Kyoto already). When you’ve gotten off the bus, also be sure to enjoy the walk up to the temple. It’s peaceful and smells nice. There are also plenty of little local shops on the way with omiyage and other trinkets. As someone who collects tenugui, I grabbed a couple on the way back. Also be on the lookout for this giant Daruma.
There’s also some other things in the area, though it’s nothing like the hustle and bustle of Central Kyoto temple life. Take a moment to sit back, relax, and enjoy being outside the city.