“Another temple?!” Everyone groaned. It seemed that if we weren’t eating, we were visiting temples. We loved Kyoto, but we were almost templed out. There are so many to see, all unique, all wonderful. There are just too many. Even I was a little leary that the Otagi wasn’t going to live up to my expectations. How different could it be? I’d first found a mention of the temple on one of the many blogs I read trying to keep up with the unusual things to do in the world, and I’d written it down. I do this a lot, and sometimes I go and sometimes I never get to these special places.
Visiting the Peaceful Otagi Nenbutsu Temple
The Otagi Nenbutsu Temple is located a little out of the way. We drove to it along a pretty canal and some traditional houses. At one point the road was so narrow we weren’t sure if we were still going the best way. We probably weren’t; we were following our self-important, thinks-she’s-hilarious GPS. After a few minutes, though, we pulled up to a small, dirt parking lot next to a creek. There were no other cars there, so already we were a little happier not having to fight yet more crowds.
The entry fee is a mere 300 yen (less than $3.00). As soon as we walked through the gate, we started smiling. We smiled the whole time we were there. I’ve never been to a more fun temple. From our first short walk up to the beginning of the temple to wandering around and investigating every nook and cranny, we smiled. This is because the temple is filled with rakan, which according to the Japan Times, are short and stubby real-life renditions of human characters. Each one has its own personality, and we had the best time trying to find one that we thought could represent us.
Finding Yourself at Otagi Nenbutsu
The little people are everywhere. There are over 1200 of them and even though they are covered in all kinds of moss, they are not older than about 30 years. The Otagi Nenbutsu Temple originally was in a more central location where the Empress Shotoku commissioned it to be built, but was then plagued by disasters like floods and tsunamis so was moved to Arashiyama. When it was moved, the temple invited the people of Japan to donate and even carve their own rakan, so they did and they included things like their cats or sake.
We meandered through the temple grounds finding many rakan that could represent us. That one has a child; I’m a mother. That one has a beard; it looks just like Jim. That one is holding a cat. That one is smiling large. That one is talking on the cell phone. Every one we found was completely different than the one next to it. Although some were in pairs. It was really fun.
I’m not sure how long we spent marveling at the rakan and their personalities, but we finally pulled ourselves away and went back to the hustle and bustle of central Kyoto.
How to get there: A simple bus ride from Kyoto is all it takes. Don’t miss out on this amazing temple.
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