Otagi Nenbutsuji

While living in Japan, my oh-so-infrequent days off were spent visiting, Kyoto, other parts of Osaka, Nara, Kobe, and Asuka.   A sense of urgency has always been present to better understand what influences Japanese bonsai practitioners to do what they do.  Is the form of a tree an allusion to a Manyo poem?  Maybe a branch at a famous temple prompted a styling decision.  Why the hell are there so many crabs in displays?  You have one day to “rest” and over 1300 years of history a short train ride away.  What do you do?  Bonsai is one thread in the cultural fabric of Japan.  While still in high school, I saw a photo in a coffee-table book of Adashino Nenbutusji’s statues very much like this one:


DSC_0236_2That image stuck with me and prompted a visit there in November of 2012 along with a few other temples which I will cover later.


Adashino Nenbutusji was originally built at a different location but repeated natural disasters left the original site untenable.  Many temples have a mix of buildings from other sites and varied ages.  Only a few of the original structures from the Heian Period for example still stand like at Byodo-in.  The Onin-no-ran (civil war) destroyed a great deal of historically important buildings.  Instead of typing it, a brief history is in this photo.

The temple is not hard to get to and there were not that many people there.  A Google Search of just about any place in Japan will often show a map of the site.  Click it and type in your starting spot.  It will even tell you what trains and buses to take.  Some sites can be so mobbed during the early Spring and Fall that you cannot even enjoy the scenery.  If you see a bus or three of Chinese tourists pull up, run.   To get the best sense of a place in Japan, arrive right when the gate opens in the morning.  This may require some early trains and buses, but it’s well worth the effort.



It’s hard to explain the feeling you get at this temple as the statuary are a mix of creepy and cute.  I’m told there’s 1200 Rakan statues at the site.  All of them were carved by amateurs.  Rakan represent disciples of the Buddha and generally have a pleasant or sublime expression.  What haunted me about this place was that no matter where you were on the temple grounds, one of the Rakan was always looking at you…….



















One of the most prominent trees on the site is an Acer palmatum with striking yellow Fall color.  It could be a cultivated variety as it peaked after the other maples.  The lone dropping branch is epic.  In my experience, the best Fall color to be seen in Kansai Prefecture is North of Kyoto City.  The largest Acer palmatum around seem to be at Kiyomizudera (in Eastern Kyoto) and in Takao City (North of Kyoto).



I’ll leave you with a gallery of some of my favorite photos from the temple grounds.