A village of hidden gems, including the only Nihon (Japan) Shrine in all of Japan, near the Honjo Agriculture Tourism Center in Northern Saitama.
The Honjo Agriculture Tourism Center is quite different to any other location I have visited in the last few years. It reminds me greatly of the remote villages in Ibaraki I had the pleasure of visiting when I lived and worked in Ibaraki Prefecture. Because this area of Honjo is very remote it feels more like a village than part of a large city. It is quite unlike any other village or town I have visited to date.
Honjo Agriculture Tourism Center
I went to see the buckwheat soba. After being suitably impressed by the buckwheat soba flowers in the Arakawa area of Chichibu in 2020, I searched for more buckwheat soba flower fields in Saitama Prefecture as Autumn approached in 2020. Thankfully, the official Honjo tourism website turned up in the results. There wasn’t much information, but there was a photo. Although the fields looked small, I was drawn by the image of a wooden gate in the background. As per the featured photo at the top of this post, taken October 2021.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I set off to see the marigold in Honjo, which bloom around the same time as buckwheat flowers. Fortunately, while there I recalled the buckwheat soba fields of Honjo. I put the address in Google maps, and seeing that they were relatively close by car, off I went. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect.
More than just a tourism center
In addition, I had assumed that the Honjo Agriculture Tourism Center was just used as a reference point rather than actually being the name of the ‘attraction’, for want of a better word. But it would seem the area is called by the name of the tourism center, which in my experience is quite unusual in Saitama Prefecture. It is also possibly hindering the success of the area. In other prefectures I think it is more common for a scenic area to go by the name of the local tourism center, but in Saitama a tourism center is just somewhere you go to get information.
So expecting just fields and the wooden gate and possibly a temple or shrine when heading off to the area, I was quite surprised and delighted to find there are several gems in the area. Not least of all, the only shrine in all of Japan called after Japan…
The only Nihon Shrine in all of Nihon!
Nihon (or Nippon) is the Japanese for Japan. It has had other names in the past. For example, Yamato. Interestingly, Nihon as written in kanji 日本 is often translated as “Yamato” by Google. Although Yamato actually has a completely separate kanji of its own 大和. Point in case: this shrine in the area of the Honjo Agriculture Tourism Center. On Google they call it Yamato shrine. But it is most definitely Nihon Shrine officially.
Furthermore, it is the only shrine in all of Japan called Nihon Shrine. Or to translate Nihon: Japan Shrine. This shrine in itself, a namesake shrine of Japan, should be reason enough to visit the area. Moreover, it is home to Japan’s largest blue colored daruma. The blue is for the Japanese soccer team. Football players, including World Cup players, are known to pray at the shrine for victory. But that is not the end of the undermarketed attractions of this area.
The wooden gate that I had seen in the photo of the buckwheat on the Honjo Tourist Association’s website turned out to be the gate of Hyakutai Kannon-do. The Joshinin aka Seishinin Hyakutai Kannon-do, hereafter just Hyakutai Kannon-do, is another remarkable religious artefact in the area of the Honjo Agriculture Tourism Center. It is one of the three great “Sazaedo” temples in all of Japan, the other two are in Fukushima and Gunma.
One of the three great Sazaedo temples of Japan
Ironically, despite knowing about the one in Fukushima, I had no idea we have one here in Saitama Prefecture. Or that the third one is just up the road in Ota City (Gunma) – Ota is just over the border of Kumagaya in Saitama Prefecture, as such is not far from Honjo either. The one in Honjo is a designated Tangible Cultural Property of Honjo City. It was built in 1783 in memory of the victims of the eruption of Mt Asama and a famine.
The Sazae-do temples of Japan are so named because the unusual sloping design of the interiors look like a mollusk (or turban) shell. From the outside Joshinin Hyakutai Kannon-do looks like it is only two storeys high, but when you get inside you can see that it is three floors. And you can indeed go inside the temple if you arrange a visit in advance and pay a nominal fee of 300 yen for the honor.
Furthermore, the temple design pays homage to three of Japan’s most famous pilgrimages. The first floor represents Kannon – the Goddess of Mercy – of Chichibu’s 34 temple pilgrimage. Meanwhile the second pays homage to the Kannon of Bando’s 33 temple pilgrimage. Finally, the third layer the venerates the Kannon of Saikoku’s 33 temple pilgrimage. In addition, the temple is one of only a few that still practice a Buddhist custom of walking to the right three times before praying.
Furusato no Mori Park
At the back of the temple there is a small park where you can barbecue and even camp. It is a hilly park with pavements winding up and down. On the west end there is a barbecue area. In the center of the park there is a very small playground. It just has spring rides really. The park connects to a larger sports park, Honjo Kodama Sogo Park, where you can see shibazakura in spring.
Maze Dam and lake
About a 20 to 30 minute walk, or a 10 minute cycle*, from all of the above there is a notable dam and lake. Lake Maze and Dam is a nationally designated tangible cultural property, because it is the oldest remaining concrete agricultural dam in eastern Japan. You can fish in the lake. The lake looks particularly picturesque in spring when there are cherry blossoms and azalea in bloom. There are some beautiful bridges in the area. *You can rent a bike from the Honjo Tourism Agriculture Center for 1000 yen for the day.
- Cherry Blossoms, Shibazakura and azalea in spring (as of April 14th 2023 the azalea are in bloom)
- Hydrangea, Yamayuri, Sunflowers and cosmos in summer
- Autumn Colors and Buckwheat in autumn.
- Wintersweet in Winter. See also: 10 places for wintersweet (robai) in Saitama Prefecture
Address: 653 Kodamacho Kodaira, Honjo, Saitama 367-0214
Hours: the area itself is open 24 hours in theory, but the agricultural center and thus admission to Hyakutai is from 10 am to 5 pm. Closed on Thursdays.
Cost: free to walk around, 300 yen to tour the Hyakutai “Sazaedo” Temple, 1000 yen to rent a bike.