On my first visit to Tamana in Kumamoto, we headed straight for the popular temple that houses a giant, 40-ton bell (which you can have the pleasure of ringing if you arrive at the right time of day). On the second trip, my friend was keen to see this famous site and we programmed the satnav (satellite navigation) accordingly, but when we arrived at a spot near the center of the city, I knew we must have made a mistake – the temple I visited previously was way up on a hill. As it turns out, there are two temples in Tamana under the same name – the small one in the town is called the Rengein Tanjyoji Temple, and the one on the hill is more often just called the Tanjyoji Temple – you can see where the confusion arose! On the plus side, we had stumbled upon a whole new attraction and didn’t regret the mistake at all.
Arriving at this different temple, the first thing that struck me was how new it all was – it looked fresh out the packet like we were the first people who had ever visited it. Much of the complex was completed in 2011, but if you had told me that it had only been unveiled a month ago, that would have seemed just as likely.
The other thing that struck me was that there was nobody else there. It was a Sunday, so no reason why workers and schoolgoers wouldn’t be visiting, but it was completely deserted and eerily quiet – bliss, in other words, compared to usually overcrowded tourist attractions.
The corridor leading down to the South Gate is perfectly symmetrical – stone lanterns line the untrodden pathway, with trees and bushes behind to blend into the hillside. The gate is 15 meters tall and houses the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings.
It took more than five years to make the statues that are crafted of cypress wood with crystals serving as the eyes of the Kings, which explains the lifelike glint in the eye when you look at them. At 4 meters tall, the statues are colorful, imposing and vaguely frightening – look beneath their feet to see them trampling the devil.
Completed in 1997, the Heisei five-story pagoda is older than other structures on the grounds, but the vibrant red exterior still has a fresh-paint feel about it with its majestic golden embellishments reaching skywards between the trees. Set out on a little koi-filled pond next to the main building, this is the most picturesque spot in the temple, particularly when the pagoda is backed by clear blue skies.
The temple is dedicated to the Buddhist Saint Koen, a profound scholar.
To say that we stumbled on this little temple quite by accident, it turned out to be a highlight of the trip. While there are no vibrant festivals held there at certain times throughout the year, our visit was the epitome of peace and tranquillity – there wasn’t another soul to be seen, and wandering around in the quiet morning sunshine was just the sort of relaxing outing we were hoping for.