The Rakans of Otagi Nembutsu Temple, Kyoto

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The Rakans of Otagi Nembutsu-Ji

This is about a pretty special place in Kyoto, a temple not often mentioned in guidebooks.  I’ve been several times in Kyoto and I have now lived in for a few months, but it was the first time I visited this place. And what a beautiful surprise it was!

Otagi Nembutsu-Ji





The temple Otagi Nembutsu-ji was originally founded by Empress Shōtoku in the second half of the eighth century, in Kyoto’s ancient burning ground. At the beginning of the Heian period, it got washed away by the flooding of the Kamo River. It was rebuilt at the beginning of the tenth century.  In the 13th century, it was again destroyed during a civil war. In 1922, the temple was moved to its current location in the Arashiyama neighborhood of Kyoto. It got again damaged  by a typhoon in 1950.

The Rakans of Otagi Nembutsu-Ji





This temple features some 1200 sculptures of Rakan, little stone statues representing the disciples of Buddha. These statues are the main interest of this place and are really surprising. They were carved by amateurs and donated between 1981 and 1991 for the reconstruction of the temple. There are all kind of amazing, amusing, surprising, weird expressions among all these littles characters.

The weather has been pretty bad lately and it was still raining when we visited the temple. Still, we spent quite a bit of time there, having fun meeting all these little people, each with different look, pose, expression. Many were alone, serious, like you would expect for disciples in a temple.  But other were with their cat, their kid, their attitude, etc. We loved the two drinking buddies, laugh at the comedian removing his mask to tease the visitor.  Akiko liked the tennis player (!) and I found my soul mate in the guy who brought his Souseki (one my my favorite Japanese writer) book with him.

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Despite the rain that didn’t stop, we spent an enjoyable time amongst these sculptures, trying to find more faces with interesting pose or expression. This is a place I definitely want to return to, when the weather will be better.  Sure, it is not one of the main famous temples of Kyoto, but it is so different and really was a lot of fun.

To go there

The temple is located in the Arashiyama area, West of Kyoto. You can take the train from Kyoto station to Saga Arashiyama, then take a bus or a taxi to the temple. On the way back, walk down to another interesting temple, Adashino Nembutsuji temple, through quiet traditional streets with beautiful old traditional houses.
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