Category Archives: SHRINES & TEMPLES

A map of Sakura Cherry Blossom Locations | SAITAMA

A map of most of the key locations for hanami and / or sakura cherry blossom viewing in the Saitama area. Please click on the location for further information. If you have a blog post or photo of any location on the map (or indeed any location not on the map but in Saitama) that you would like added, please do feel free to contact me. I will add your photo and / or post and link it back to your website or blog. Also, if there is somewhere you feel should be added to this map and you are willing to share its location, please do leave a comment or contact me directly.

All the best for this beautiful spring and sakura season. 🙂

Setsubun: catching beans for good luck at Kitain Temple | KAWAGOE

February 3rd is Setsubun in Japan, which marks the end of winter. People celebrate annually with traditional ceremonies in both homes and temples. A common tradition associated with this ancient festival is mamemaki or bean throwing. A lot of families carry out this fun tradition at home, but you can also visit a temple to do it with a crowd. Today, we did both.

When you carry out setsubun at home, the aim is to chase the ONI (ogres) away. It sounds like a metaphor for exorcism, but it is just a ritual to rid the house of evil and allow luck in for the coming year.  The oni represent evil and bad luck. We shout “Demons out, luck in” as we throw beans at an ogre, which is often the head of the household dressed up in traditional garb!  Most preschools and children community centers also mark the day with some fun crafts and activities.  I’ve previously written about our experiences of chasing the demon away while celebrating Setsubun at home.

When celebrated at a temple,  temple staff and honoured guests throw beans into the crowds from a dais.  It is not unusual for the temples to also throw things other than beans. In some places they throw fortunes or amulets or money or a combination of these. Tokyo has some temples that are famous for sumo wrestlers and / or celebrities throwing money to the excited crowds. Most temples conduct rituals before the bean throwing ceremony.  Some temples also have a performance by Oni, Japanese ogres or demons. The oni in Japan usually have one or two horns and wear animal print shorts. They are most often depicted as being red, but the most famous setsubun festival in Kazo, Saitama has 3 oni; one red, one blue and one black. There are many temples that conduct setsubun and mamemaki ceremonies throughout Saitama. We went to one of the biggest; Kitain Temple in Kawagoe. This year was the kids first to participate in a ceremony of this type. They were dubious at first, but they quickly joined in on the commotion and were thrilled with their haul. They recounted the affair to their grandparents with great animation and excitement.

The video shows the dais. You can hear the emcee chanting. The last thing he says is "Fuku ha uchi" which invites luck and signifies the start of the bean throwing. I turned off the camera so I would have a chance to catch some of the goodies. :-)

One of the reasons I didn’t bring them to such a ceremony up until now was because I was worried that the crowds would be intimidating, even dangerous. However, I found today that people were quite careful of children for the most part, plus they made periodical announcements to watch out for small children.  We were able to secure a nice little spot right by the dais with a responsible crowd around us, during the bean throwing.  However, just before the ceremony ended the throwers accumulated on our end of the dais with huge boxes of goods (not beans) to throw, so there was a sudden surge in the crowd. That was a little frightening for my 2 year old, but she was okay in my arms. It was actually a wonderful feeling when there were dozens of little packets falling from the sky and enveloping us in a feeling of richness! However, the scramble to pick up the fallen packets was both surprising and amusing. The kind Ojiichan (older man) beside us suddenly became an oni himself as he whipped a packet from under my hand. Another stood on a packet so that my six year old couldn’t pick it up! The generous Obaachan (older woman) beside us who had passed us packets of beans was slipping unseen numbers of packets into her pockets and handbag. Despite those incidents we got a good hoard and the kindness of the Ojiichan and Obaachan returned as they complimented my kids on their stash and their devout participation. Much to my surprise I felt totally exhilarated after the whole experience.

    

Apart from the various ceremonies that were conducted there were other festivities to be enjoyed at Kitain today. They had some festival food stalls as well as some stalls selling flowers and plants, but what interested me most were the various stalls selling good luck charms, mainly Daruma and Manekineko. As we entered Kitain from the car park we stopped to look at the Daruma at the first stall. The very friendly, personable and informative owner told us many things about the goods he was selling. While we were there a man bought one of the giant daruma which would cost around 20,000 yen (approximately 200 Eur0). We were invited to join in the Sanbonjime to mark the occasion.  Sanbonjime is the custom of clapping your hands rhythmically 3 times for 3 claps and one final clap to signify fulfillment. They only do this type of Tejime (ceremonial rhythmic clapping) when they sell their biggest sized Daruma. Passersby stopped to observe and exclaim enthusiastically. It was a lovely thing to be invited to enjoy and I think we may have received some good karma from it!

I have always enjoyed Setsubun as much for what it represents as the fun and vivaciousness of the celebration.  Now that the kids are old enough to enjoy the bean throwing ceremonies at temples, it just adds to the whole experience.  It completes the day for them too, as the celebration in the house is over quite quickly. The preparation of the masks and the aftermath of thrown beans take exponentially longer than the bean throwing ceremony itself! The kids love making the masks, feasting on the ehomaki, the traditional sushi rolls or makizushi and throwing the beans and eating them. (They say that if you eat the same number of beans as your age you will have good health for the year. ) However, I think after today’s experience,  what they are most anticipating now is the bean throwing ceremony at Kitain Temple Kawagoe. 🙂

For more details on Kitain Temple including maps, access details and other seasonal information:
http://insaitama.com/autumn-leaves-at-edo-castle-remains-kitain-temple/


A fantastic detailed and informative video about Setsubun in CHICHIBU SHRINE:

 

Naritasan Temple (& Rilakkuma amulets) | KAWAGOE

Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin Temple is a branch of the Naritasan Shinsoji Buddhist Temple of Narita, Chiba. It has a very interesting, but complex history with many layers of detail.  The founder Ishikawa Tomegoro, with the financial backing of wealthy locals, restored what was previously the ruined Hongyoin Temple to be the first branch of Narita’s Shinsoji Temple.  

The story goes that Ishikawa, a farmer, lost his eyesight and tried to commit suicide. When he was unsuccessful after three attempts he believed it was sign from the Gods and entered the Buddhist priesthood. He regained his sight and the temple is now a popular place to pray for poor eyesight and general eye health. After touring all round Japan he finally settled in Kawagoe at a Shinto Shrine (Hachiman Shrine) where a temple to the Fudo Myo-o, the Wisdom King Acala , a protective Deity, had been established.  That Acala Temple was then moved to what today is the Naritasan Kawagoe Betsuin Hongyoin.  Unfortunately there is very little comprehensive information in English to direct you to, but there is a little on the Kawagoe Koedo Naritasan page.

The Kawagoe branch of Naritasan Shinsoji Temple is represented by the Ofuda-sama, the common name for Fudo Myo-o, at the North Gate.  The North Gate is the one to right of the main building as you face it. It is beside a turtle pond.

Here you will find a statue with lots of baby paraphernalia laid to the God and to Jizo for Mizuko, literally water baby, which are babies that have passed away. Jizo are the most venerated bodhisattva in Japan, are believed to be a the equivalent of a patron saint, in Christian beliefs, of dead children.

You can write a prayer plaque for 500 yen to leave for the soul of a passed away child. The temple also offer other services for a lost child, miscarriage or abortion.

There are many other statues and prayer points on the temple grounds.  Including an area to worship Ebisuten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Kawagoe. There is a popular 6 kilometre pilgrimmage of the seven temples of which each worship one of the seven lucky Gods. They even have an area where you can get your God stamp for that temple! Naritasan is the 4th stop on the pilgrimage. Ebisuten is the God of purity of unselfishness and the symbol of good luck and happiness. The temple sell Ebisuten Ema, which are votive prayer plaques, that you can write your prayer or request on and hang from a designated prayer plaque area.

The temple sell a number of other Ema, prayer plaques, and omamori, a type of amulet / talisman. One of the more popular ema is that for eyesight, due to the background of Ishikawa and his regained sight. To me a Japanese omamori is a hybrid of an amulet and talisman. From my understanding, an omamori has both the protective power of an amulet and the good luck of a talisman. Naritasan is most famous for their traffic safety omamori. Currently, they are receiving attention for their Rilakkuma omamori. Rilakkuma which means relaxed bear in Japanese, is a popular fictional character and its merchandise is very popular. These amulets / talisman also seem to be very popular although 200 yen more expensive than most at 700 yen a piece.

Despite its interesting background and the amount of prayer spots in the temple, Naritasan is not as well known as its neighbouring temple of Kitain. Kitain is one of Kawagoe’s most famous and popular tourist spots. It is also a station on the Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage.  Perhaps in modern society Kawagoe Naritasan is actually most famous for its antique and flea market which is held on the grounds of the temple on the 28th of every month.  It is said to be one of the best antique and flea markets in the Kanto area and always draws crowds.

Access

On Foot

  • 13 minute walk from the Seibu Shinjuku Line Honkawagoe Station
  • 22 minute walk from the JR Kawagoe Line and the Tobu Tojo Line Kawagoe station
  • 17 minute walk from the Tobu Tojo Line Kawagoe-shi station

By Bus

You can take a bus from both Kawagoe and HonKawagoe for Minami Furuya station (南古谷駅行き)and alight at Naritasan Mae bus stop「成田山前バス停」

You can take the Tobu Koedo Loop Bus from Tobu Tojo and JR lines Kawagoe station and alight at Naritasan Mae bus stop
「成田山前バス停」

You can take the Eagle Bus Coedo Loop Bus  from Tobu Tojo Line and JR LIne Kawagoe station and Hon Kawagoe stations to Kitain Temple 「喜多院バス停」 . It is about a 2 minute walk from that bus stop.

By Car

  • 15 minute drive from Kawagoe Interchange on the Kanetsu Expressway.
  • 20 minute drive from the Kawajima Interchange of the Ken-O Expressway.
  • Free Parking for about 20 cars

Kawagoe Access by train from Tokyo and Omiya

  • 31 minutes from Ikebukuro on a express train on the Tobu Tojo Line. 470 yen
  • 44 minutes from Seibu Shinjuku on a Red Arrow Limited Express. 420 yen for the express ticket, plus base fare.
  • 66 minutes from Shinjuku or 62 minutes from Takadanobaba on Seibu Shinjuku Line.  You can buy one round trip ticket for 700 yen for either of those stations.
  • 54 minutes from JR Shinjuku on a rapid train of the Saikyo/Kawagoe line. 760 yen.
  • 28 minutes on a regular train from Omiya on the Saikyo/Kawagoe Line or 22 minutes on the rapid train.
  • The Fukutoshin and Yurakucho subways connect to the Tobu Tojo line at Wako-shi. Some of them go all the way to Kawagoe (and beyond) too.

Kawagoe Access from Tokyo by Car

About 21 kilometres from Nerima to Kawagoe using the Kanetsu Expressway. The toll for the expressway is about 840 yen.

About 40 kilometres from Hinode using the Ken-o highway. The toll is about 1400 yen.

Links

Kawagoe Naritasan Official Site:
http://www.kawagoe-naritasan.net/

Information in English:
http://www.koedo.or.jp/foreign/english/llak/217.html

Naritasan Temple, Chiba, official site:
http://www.naritasan.or.jp/english/

Kitain Temple:
Cherry blossom festival at Kitain Temple

Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage of Kawagoe:
http://www.kawagoe.com/7fukujin/m/en/

Tobu Koedo Loop Bus:
http://www.tobu-bus.com/pc/area/koedo.html

Eagle Bus Coedo Loop Bus:
http://www.new-wing.co.jp/koedo/index_e.html

Fuku Daruma / Daruma Market | KAWAGOE & TAKASAKI 【GUNMA】

I often get asked about Japanese New Year’s traditions. There are a  lot, but one close to my heart is the ancient tradition of purchasing Daruma dolls. It was the very first quintessentially Japanese New Year’s tradition I had the fortune to try.

My first New Year in Japan, 16 years ago, was spent in Takasaki, Gunma, which is an area famous for Daruma dolls. My friends and I had the rare opportunity to make our own Daruma. They are made from papier-mâché, are round, usually red with a face of a bearded man. The dolls are to some just a toy, but to most they are more of a talisman.  They are actually modeled after Bodhidarma the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism.

“Daruma0791” by Frank Gualtieri – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daruma0791.jpg#/media/File:Daruma0791.jpg

When you buy the doll the eyes are not painted in. The idea is to paint in one eye, usually the left one, as you start a quest and paint the other one on completion of your resolution or task. As such, they have become a symbol of perseverance and good luck. The latter is attributed to the Daruma Temple which played a big part in increasing the popularity of Daruma as a good luck charm and as a New Year’s tradition. People who are firm believers in the Daruma tend to buy one every New Year and burn the old one as per tradition.

Both pupils in to mark completion of a task or resolution

Sometimes you see Daruma of different colour. In my own prefecture of Saitama, Fukaya is known for their green coloured Daruma. Supposedly green is more specifically as a good luck charm for health.  In Fukaya, green matches the colour of the city mascot!

One of the more traditional and popular New Year events in Japan is Daruma Markets. There is one in Saitama in Kawagoe’s Kitain Temple every year on the 3rd.  However, the best is the annual Takasaki Daruma-Ichi (Daruma fair) event held on January 6th (and 7th). Daruma Ichi is the largest and most famous daruma market in all of Japan.

The annual Daruma-Ichi (or Daruma Fair) is held on January 6 and 7 every year. During this event, there are the numerous booths around the Reifudo and Darumado, displaying all sizes of new Fuku-Daruma dolls(6cm~75cm) produced by local farm families. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the temple to buy their Fuku-Daruma dolls for the new year and have them blessed.Source: Obaku Zen School | Syorinzan Darumaji

You can read more about Takasaki Daruma in English here:
https://www.visitgunma.jp/en/sightseeing/detail.php?sightseeing_id=70

You can read more about Daruma here:
http://www.daruma.jp/about.html

Featured Image: “Daruma dolls”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daruma_dolls.jpg#/media/File:Daruma_dolls.jpg

Kawagoe Kitain Temple Daruma Market

Kitain Temple Daruma Festival | KAWAGOE

Mt Takao with children (includes New Years data) | HACHIOJI 【TOKYO】

The first time I went to Mt Takao with my 4 kids, they were all under 7 at the time. The youngest had just turned one.  I did the trip sans husband, but thankfully with my best friend, Japanese food writer Fiona Uyema, and her 2 children. I had chosen to take Fiona there, who was visiting from Ireland, after reading a very good write up about the Autumn Leaves in the area. I was very glad we made the trip and was pleasantly surprised at how easy the trip was to manage, even with small children.

When we visited it was bang smack in the middle of prime Autumn Leaf season. I didn’t know it at the time, but the day we chose to go had been reported the previous evening as to be the best day to view the Autumn Leaves in their prime. I think half of Tokyo got in their cars and made the journey to witness the leaves in their prime. The area was extremely busy, we even had to queue to take the exit of the highway. However, it was worth it.

Image from SONY JAPAN

There are a number of different trails you can do, so you can plan according to your children’s ages. 599 Museum supplies good information in English on the trails. Despite being a mountain area, the top of Mt Takao is actually quite easy to navigate with a stroller / buggy. However, if you want to hike the mountain trail, a buggy / stroller is  not advisable.  Also, there are places at the top of the mountain that you will need to park your stroller if you want to explore further. The easiest way (and most fun for the kids) to get up the mountain is the cable car. Even if it is very crowded, they don’t ask you to fold up your buggy, or at least they didn’t ask me – they told me to leave it open. It maybe that they took pity on me trying to flock my herd, fold a buggy and hold a one year old simultaneously! For older children you can also use the chair lifts.

There are two things that I would point out as potential difficulties with small children. One is that as you are on top of a mountain with a steep decline on one side and limited barriers at the side of the pavement, it can be quite unnerving if the kids walk close to the edge. Obviously, I told them not to, but… well they’re kids, even if they do listen, they forget and they can’t quite sense danger like a Mother can. Two; you have to queue for everything if you go at one of the prime visiting times; tickets, trains, toilets, food… everything. On the way back down if you want to get the last cable car, which goes around 5.30 pm, you need to start queuing up to an hour in advance. Also, another thing to take note off is that it is a couple of degrees colder at 599 meters. When we visited in November we needed winter jackets as the sun started to go down.

Despite the crowds and the potential danger, I think Mt Takao is an ideal place to bring young children, even babies, for a mountain visit. It is also a great place to introduce young children to hiking. There is a lot to do in the area, especially close to the cable car and train stations. At the bottom, near Kiyotaki Cable Car Station there is the relatively new 599 Museum, nearby and very close to Keio Takao Line Takaosanguchi station there is Keio Takao Hot Springs and a Trick Art Museum. Up the top, near the Takaosan cable car station there is a monkey park.

There are also lots of eateries, power spots and view points near this station.  Near the Takaosan cable car station at the top of the mountain is Kasumi, a popular spot with hikers for a quick bite to eat. They have 2 popular traditional type Japanese treats; Mifuku dango and Tenguyaki. Mifuku dango is a type of charcoaled dango, cooked in a circle around an open charcoal grill (pictured). One dango costs 310 yen. The Tenguyaki is a type of waffle with sweetened black soybean paste inside. A tengu is a legendary long nose goblin that is an intricate part of Japanese religion.  One tenguyaki costs 140 yen.  They sell ice-cream here too, including a Fly Honeysuckle flavoured ice-cream (pictured).

Takao-san is popular all year round, but it has boom periods which are mainly New Year’s, Cherry Blossom season, peak of summer (to escape the heat) and Autumn leaves season. Another thing that draws people to Mt Takao is that sometimes you can see Diamond Fuji from the Momiji viewing deck of Mt Takao, an opportunity is coming up this month in fact.  Diamond Fuji is estimated to be viewable around 4.15 pm on December 17th and possibly a day or two either side of that.

ZOOM IN: NEW YEAR’S DAY

Regarding New Years, it is hard to believe, but people hike up Mt Takao (or take the cable car) on New Year’s eve or very early New Year’s morning in the dark and bitter cold.  Accordingly, the cable car runs through the night.  In fact the cable car runs from 8 am on December 31st until 6.30 pm on January 1st to accommodate the throes of visitors on one of the popular New Year’s pilgrimages in the Greater Tokyo area.

There are three main incentives to do this:

  1.  to see the first sunrise of the year, which is generally around 6.48 am
  2.  to see Mt Fuji for the first time in the year (weather permitting of course) and
  3. to participate in Yakuo-in Temple‘s New Year welcoming rituals including “the festival to welcome the light”.

This temple also follows the traditional custom of gonging the Temples Gong 108 times to dispel evil. The Keio Takao San hot spring is open over New Year’s, but from January 1st to 3rd they charge an extra 200 yen, so 1,200 yen per person.

Mt Takao is very accessible by car from Saitama and Tokyo, if you are on the Ken-O expressway. From Tokyo it is quite convenient by train, but unfortunately from Saitama the train is a bit more tricky. By both car and train it takes less than an hour to get to Mt Takao from Tokyo. From Western Saitama it takes about an hour by car or train. The station you use to access Mt Takao is Takaosanguchi on the Keio Takao Line. On weekends and holidays two trains on the Toei Shinjuku Line also continue on to Takaosanguchi station. The exit on the Ken-O expressway is Takaosan. The Mt Takao cable car website has full information on how to access Mt Takao.


埼玉県の圏央道の近くに住んでいれば、高尾山は結構近いです。いつでも綺麗ですが、客様が多いときあります。お正月、花見、夏と紅葉の時期です。

 

去年、紅葉のときに行ってきました。先に知りませんでしたけど、天気方法によって、高尾山の紅葉の一番綺麗の日の発表あったそうです。ですから、ものすごく混んでいました。圏央道の高尾山インターチェンジから混みました。しかし、行って良かったです。

Chichibu Night Festival | CHICHIBU

At 2.02 am today, December 1st 2016 the Chichibu Night Festival, specifically the traditional music and performances of the festival, along with 32 festivals in Japan were confirmed and recorded as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Congratulations CHICHIBU. 🙂

Japanese people seem to have an magnanimous love of the number three. One of the ways this manifests itself is in the numerous compilations of top threes that are famous within the country. There are the three gardens of Japan, the three views of Japan, the three night views of Japan, the big three festivals, the big three fireworks and so on and so forth. Chichibu Night Festival also makes it on to a top three list or more accurately a “greatest” list. It is one of Japan’s three greatest Hikiyama (pull-float) festivals in Japan, together with Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and Takayama Matsuri in Gifu prefecture.



KASABOKO from Chichibu Navi page
KASABOKO from Chichibu Navi page
YATAI from Chichibu's Navi Page
YATAI from Chichibu’s Navi Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The floats of this 300 year old festival, which are very different to the better known Mikoshi (portable shrine), 奉奏are on wheels and are drawn by a rope, by bearers clad in traditional festival clothes.  There are a number of different floats classified as Kasaboko or Yatai. Both are floats with beautifully carved ornate roofs. There are two main differences between them.  The first is that the Kasaboko have an appendage on the roof, which remind me of Yorishiro, the white paper decorations you see around trees at shinto shrines. The Yatai does not have this decoration. The second is that the Yatai have room for performers to sit and play music and / or dance, which Kasaboko do hot have. They floats are pulled around the town on both days of the festival:

On the 2nd the floats will be pulled from Chichibu shrine from about 12 noon first to Miyakawa then Moto Machi, Naka Machi and finally Kami Machi at approximately 4 pm. During this time you can watch the floats being turned and danced around the street. The yatai will have live traditional music and you can witness traditional dance. From 10 am to 3 pm you can see traditional performances in Chichibu Shrine. From 4 to 6 pm there is taiko drums and other traditional music performances around Seibu Chichibu station. Fireworks are from 7 to 8 pm.

On the 3rd the you can see the kasaboko and yatai all around the city from 9 am to midnight. The yatai will be pulled with traditional dancers performing in the float, from just before 10 am on the same route as the 2nd: from Chichibu shrine to Miyakawa then Moto Machi, Naka Machi and finally Kami Machi which will be around 1 pm. Chichibu shrine will have music and traditional performances from 10 am to 3 pm. You can see a Yatai Shibai, stage performance, from 11 am to 2 pm in Naka machi near the kaijyou 会場. Oneri (Kabuki Douchuu) a type of acting performance will be held between 2.30 and 3.30 pm moving from around the Chichibu shrine area right down to Yao Department store.  From 10 am to 7 pm there are live taiko drum and other traditional music performances around Seibu Chichibu station and Chichibu Tetsudo station. The fireworks are from 7.30 to around 10 pm.

INFORMATION

Cost: FREE

Dates / Hours: Every year on December 2nd from 10 am to about 8 pm and December 3rd from 9 am to midnight.

URL: http://chichibuji.gr.jp/

TEL: to Chichibu Tourism at 0494-25-5209

ACCESS

From the Chichibu Tourism English webpage

BY CAR

  • Use National highway No. 140 from Kanetsu Expressway flower garden I.C.; in Chichibu-shi (from flower garden IC approximately 35km)
  • Use National highway No. 299 from Kanetsu Expressway Kawagoe I.C. or Tsurugashima I.C.; in Chichibu-shi
  • From Kawagoe, Iruma at National highway No. 299 via Shomaru tunnel in Chichibu-shi (from Hanno approximately 40km)
  • From Yamanashi side via National highway No. 140 wild goose slope tunnel in Chichibu-shi

BY TRAIN

Trains are usually very scarce in the evening in Chichibu, but each train line puts on extra trains for this special occasion. Usually the last train leaves around 10.20 pm. Please do check for up-to-date information on train times.

  • Getting off at SEIBU Railway Seibu-Chichibu Station (limited express from Ikebukuro approximately 80 minutes)
    To SEIBU Railway homepage
  • To each Chichibu-Railway Wado Kuroya, Onohara, Chichibu, Ohanabatake, Kagemori, Urayamaguchi, Bushunakagawa, Bushuhino, Shiroku, Mitsumineguchi nearest station (from Kumagaya to Chichibu approximately 70 minutes)
    To Chichibu-Railway homepage

Even more detailed access information here:
http://navi.city.chichibu.lg.jp.e.qg.hp.transer.com/access/

Iwamuro Kannon | YOSHIMI

iwamuro-kannon-12

When I first came to Japan it was as an exchange student with 6 of my friends from my University in Ireland. One of my friends famously said “If you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all” and there is a truth in that. The magnificence of a temple doesn’t always lie in its appearance, but rather in the history and meaning behind a particular temple.  Many temples do look very like others and / or some are very plain and, frankly, quite disappointing to the naked eye, but on the flip side there are many that are both aesthetically pleasing and have a fascinating back story.  Then there are those that are different; that stand out for either their background or their architecture or both.  Iwamuro Kannon is, in my experience, one of those temples.

Located on the side of a cliff right by the side of the road, the temple is intricately positioned between two rock fronts. The ground floor of the temple is actually part of the cliff and the 88 stone statues, which are one appeal of the temple, are housed in caves within the rock. The stone statues are images of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The temple is dedicated to this “Goddess of Mercy”. The building of the temple is a beautiful wooden structure positioned on stilts. There is no door on the temple and you are free to climb the steep stairs to the first floor where you can look out over the Ichino River on the North End.  In Spring the Cherry blossoms along that river are stunning and draw quite a large amount of tourists.  On the South end you see the steep trail that leads to the site of Matsuyama Castle. The only remnant of the castle is the moat, but you can view a diorama of the castle in one of the museums in the nearby 100 Caves of Yoshimi. You can exit the temple onto the trail at the back of the temple.  On your right you will see a ladder leading to another Kannon. On the left a staircase has been dug into the incline, with a chain rope for support, so that you can climb up to and pass under the naturally formed passage that is shaped like a heart.

iwamuro-kannon-9

Once upon a time Iwamuro kannon enjoyed many visitors as the 3rd stop (of 33), and only one in Yoshimi, on a pilgrimage of Kannon statues in the Hiki district. The Kannon are said to have 33 forms they use when helping sentient beings, thus the Hiki West Country pilgrimmage has 33 stops.  Nowadays, however, the temple is virtually abandoned, making it pleasingly tranquil. On the south side you are enveloped by nature, but the temple is quite literally on the side of the road on the North end. That road is mainly used to get to the 100 caves and as such isn’t used much in off season periods. The lack of visitors would imply that in recent years it does not enjoy much appreciation, fame or reverence, but it impressed me greatly. It is well worth a stop, in my personal opinion, if you are in the area.

iwamuro-kannon-5

INFORMATION

Cost: FREE

Parking: Shared with the 100 caves of Yoshimi. FREE

Access:

By Public Transport

Just over an hour from Tokyo.

  • Bus from Tōbu Tōjō Line Higashimatsuyama station (from Ikebukuro) to “Hyakkuana-Iriguchi” 百穴入口
  • Or Bus from  JR Takasaki Line Konosu station (from Ueno) to “Hyakkuana-Iriguchi” 百穴入口 from Konosu Sta.

By Car
5 km from Higashimatsuyama Interchange of the Kanestsu expressway, in the direction of Konosu.

 


If you are interested in learning more about Kannon, there is a very informative and extensive knowledge based shared on:
http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/kannon.shtml

A fun and educational summer drive | Higashimatsuyama Hatoyama

This morning after a sudden change of plans, I decided it was time we check out one place on the summer wishlist: the JAXA earth observation centre. As we departed the house I had planned to just go to JAXA, but when the three girls (5, 3 and 1 years old) weren’t too enamoured with my choice, I improvised a day trip. The result, a pretty amazing summer drive with lots of fun for all, and educational to boot. Another bonus; it was pretty much free – the only cost (other than transport and food) was the parking and entry fee to the zoo. I adapted our actual route for this blog post, to make it more time savvy.

A. Start

Sakado Nishi Smart Interchange

↓11 minutes

B. Peace Museum of Saitama

Looking for Tokyo Skytree which on a fine day is view-able from the Observation Tower of the Peace Museum of Saitama
Looking for Tokyo Skytree which on a fine day is view-able from the Observation Tower of the Peace Museum of Saitama

I’ve known that the Peace Museum is there ever since I moved here, but I never made an effort to go see it. To be honest, it sounded boring. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find it is far from boring and a really fun place for kids set in beautiful surroundings. The main exhibit hall boasts a recreated school house and world war II bunker.  You can walk into both. They have traditional toys, colouring and the all important stamp rally in the reception area. They have a great observation tower too. They host events and show movies during summer vacation.

Hours: 9 am to 4.30 pm. Closed every Monday
Charge: FREE access and free parking
URL: http://www.saitama-peacemuseum.jp/publics/index/29/

↓10 minutes

C.  Jaxa Earth Observation Centre

Looking for our house on a giant floor map of Japan!
Looking for our house on a giant floor map of Japan!
Drive day trip higashi matsuyama hatoyama
Learning about countries with this interactive exhibit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have preschoolers, I recommend skipping this point of interest, or just planning a half hour maximum at this location. I found it very interesting and my almost 7 year old enjoyed a couple of the exhibits, but it is best suited to older children. They have some interactive exhibits and plenty of visual exhibits. Some of the educational video clips have English subtitles and there are some bilingual brochures, but this JAXA is most suited to proficient Japanese speakers. You need to pull into the reception office as you enter the gate to sign in to the premises.


Hours:
10 am to 4.30 pm
Charge: FREE access and free parking
URL: http://global.jaxa.jp/about/centers/eoc/

↓9 minutes

D. Monomiyama Viewpoint

A steep climb up many steps is rewarded with amazing panoramic views. There is a park you can access from this point, or from the Peace Museum, but in summer it is just too hot. The free parking is shared with Shoboji Temple (Iwadono Kannon) on the Shoboji Temple side, so you don’t have to cross over the road if driving from Jaxa Earth Observation Centre.

Hours: The viewpoint is open 24 hours
Charge: FREE access and free parking
URL:  http://www.higashimatsuyama-kanko.com/english/03.pdf

E. Shoboji Temple aka Iwadono Kannon

Ringing the bell at Iwadono Kannon, Spectacular view from the bell platform
Ringing the bell at Iwadono Kannon, Spectacular view from the bell platform

You walk through a cool tunnel to get to this hidden temple with the most amazing Gingko tree I have ever seen.  I did not know before I went that it is an acclaimed power spot, but I definitely sensed an atmosphere. There are great views from the bell platform of the temple. There are a couple of swings and some horizontal bars for kids to play with.

Hours: 8.30 am to 5 pm in the summer, 8.30 am to 4 pm in the winter.
Charge: FREE access and free parking
URL: http://www.bandou.gr.jp/temple/saitama.php

↓6 minutes

F. Saitama Children’s Zoo

Splash pool at Saitama's Prefectural Children's zoo
Splash pool at Saitama’s Prefectural Children’s zoo

During the summer, the children’s zoo tends to be a degree or two cooler than surrounding areas, especially on a breezy day. Plus it has a great splash pool that the kids can cool down in. During the month of August they have a Night Zoo on 6 different dates, you can get that information here: CLICK HERE FOR SAITAMA EVENT LIST  For more general information please see the entry on this blog: Saitama Children’s Zoo

Hours: 9.30 am to 5 pm. Closed on Mondays except for national holidays
Charge: Adults 510 yen, Primary and Junior High school children 210 yen, Preschoolers and below FREE, Parking 600 yen for the day
URL: on this blog – Saitama Children’s Zoo
O
ffical (Japanese only): http://www.parks.or.jp/sczoo/

↓??

HOME with tired, but satisfied kids. 🙂

 

One thing to note is that there isn’t much in the way of food once you get into the mountain region. Therefore, if you are planning to do this drive or a variation of it, I recommend you bring a packed lunch / purchase something on the way or schedule to eat at the zoo.

Have you created or followed any Saitama day trip and / or drive routes you’d like to share? Input is always welcome. 🙂

 

Cherry Blossoms on Shingashi River | Kawagoe

http://www.kawagoehikawa.jp/




Kawagoe is just 31 minutes from Ikebukuro, Tokyo, on the Tobu Tojo line (jump to access from Tokyo).  It is a popular tourist town. One of Kawagoe’s most spectacular spots to enjoy “sakura” is out the back of Hikawa shrine, where the cherry blossoms line the Shingashi River. Until recent years it was mainly locals and off-the-beaten-track tourists who enjoyed its splendour, but nowadays the cherry blossom attract thousands of admirers. One of the reasons is you can get a photo of a paddle boat being steered down the river under the blossoms, by a man in a festival happi coat and a traditional sugegasa hat. The image above is an official photo from Hikawa Shrine’s Facebook page.

Currently, the boat ride isn’t accessible to the general public, but on April 2nd 2016 it will be from noon until 6pm (2017 the date is rumoured to be March 29th, was set for April 2nd and then changed to MARCH 26TH). Tickets will be distributed, subject to availability, from in front of the Kita Kominkan on the far side of the bridge to the Hikawa shrine back entrance.  They are marked on a map I made below the access map.

Here are some photos of the sakura I took on March 30th 2016.

And earlier in the week
750bcf13ce8a6ebace9f28f9c19fc4d0

 

Information

Hikawa Shrine

Address:2-11-3 Miyashitamachi, Kawagoe, Saitama 350-0052
URL: http://kawagoehikawa.jp

Access from Kawagoe Station

Koedo Kawagoe bus one day pass allows you unlimited travel on the Koedo Kawagoe buses. It costs 300 yen. In the bus they have a monitor with sightseeing information.  Some tourist places give discounts on souvenirs or entrance tickets to people with a one day pass.
Koedo Kawagoe Loop BusKoedo Meguri (Loop) Bus from Kawagoe station. You can buy a one day pass that allows you unlimited travel on the Meguri Bus. It stops at 16 different locations. 104 different shops, offer discount services such as souvenirs, food, and entrance fees to facilities for holders of this day pass. There are announcements in English and Chinese as well as Japanese so foreigners can feel at ease. More information here:
http://www.new-wing.co.jp/koedo/index_e.html

Shingashi River and the free parking area:

<

Kawagoe Access by train from Tokyo and Omiya

  • 31 minutes from Ikebukuro on a express train on the Tobu Tojo Line. 470 yen
  • 44 minutes from Seibu Shinjuku on a Red Arrow Limited Express. 420 yen for the express ticket, plus base fare.
  • 66 minutes from Shinjuku or 62 minutes from Takadanobaba on Seibu Shinjuku Line.  You can buy one round trip ticket for 700 yen for either of those stations.
  • 54 minutes from JR Shinjuku on a rapid train of the Saikyo/Kawagoe line. 760 yen.
  • 28 minutes on a regular train from Omiya on the Saikyo/Kawagoe Line or 22 minutes on the rapid train.
  • The Fukutoshin and Yurakucho subways connect to the Tobu Tojo line at Wako-shi. Some of them go all the way to Kawagoe (and beyond) too.

Access by Car

About 21 kilometres from Nerima to Kawagoe using the Kanetsu Expressway. The toll for the expressway is about 840 yen.

About 40 kilometres from Hinode using the Ken-o highway. The toll is about 1400 yen.

More on Hikawa Shrine on this blog:

Other points of interest in Kawagoe

Free Shoyu Factory Tour & Cafe Kura at Matsumoto Soy Sauce | KAWAGOE

Where in Kawagoe to bring a visiting famous Japanese food chef and author?  This is the question that faced me when I was bringing Fiona Uyema, Ireland’s leading Japanese food expert and owne…

Source: insaitama.com/free-shoyu-factory-tour-cafe-kura-at-matsumoto-soy-sauce-kawagoe/

Other Cherry Blossoms in Kawagoe

Cherry blossom festival at Kitain Temple

There are two main ways you can celebrate the blooming of cherry  blossoms in Japan; hanami, which involves picnicking under a cherry tree, or a Sakura matsuri, literally cherry blossom festival.  …

Source: insaitama.com/cherry-blossom-festival-at-kitain-temple/

Cherry Blossoms at Isanuma Park | Kawagoe

Isanuma park in Kawagoe is a popular spot to enjoy Hanami for locals. There are cherry blossoms along the river at the playground as well as cherry blossoms lining the street that separates the lak…

Source: insaitama.com/cherry-blossoms-at-isanuma-park-kawagoe/

 

Yakyu Inari Shrine, the Baseball Shrine| Higashimatsuyama

Yakyu Inari Shrine is located in Higashimatsuyama, Saitama, just 1 hour and 10 minutes from Ikebukuro on the Tobu Tojo line.  It is one of many shrines to the God Inari. However, what makes it special is that its Chinese characters (“Yakyu” 箭弓) are pronounced the same as the Japanese for baseball (野球).  It has thus come to be known as the baseball shrine.

Photos from the official website:

Lots of baseball fans visit the shrine to pick up a baseball shaped amulet or write on a baseball prayer plaque (Ema 絵馬) to bring good favour to their own skills or to a baseball team they support. Even famous baseball players visit the shrine to pray for a good season. Another reason Japanese tourists visit Yakyu Shrine is to see the pine trees and in the spring to see the peony, azalia and wisteria that bloom around mid April. You can read more about the shrine and flowers in English in this tourist leaflet from Higashimatsuyama city: http://www.higashimatsuyama-kanko.com/SP_EN.pdf

Shrine in photos (access and general information below this gallery).

INFORMATION

Open all year round.

TEL: 0493-22-2104

URL: (Japanese only) http://www.yakyu-inari.jp/index.html

ACCESS: 5 minute walk from the west exit of Higashimatsuyama. Parking for 50 cars.

On Google maps: