Vibrant colours, epic history and folklore, towering temple buildings – and engulfing tranquillity of nature. This is just the tip of the iceberg that keeps me pining for the Naritasan Shinsho-ji temple, not far from Narita Airport.
According to the official website, the Naritasan Shinsho-ji temple has over 1000 years of history. Whilst the buildings themselves were built in the 17 and 1800s, the statue of Fudo Myo-o (wisdom king in English) has a rich folklore that spans well into the 8th and 9th century.
Legend has it that the sculpture was built by the Japanese monk, Kukai, who prayed three times for each line that he carved! During the war of Taira no Masakado in the year 939, the statue was transported to Narita with the great priest Kancho, who performed a “Goma ceremony”, praying for the war to end. The war ended on the very last day of the ceremony, and peace was restored. As the priest prepared to return home to Kyoto, he found that the statue would not move. According to the folklore, the statue magically opened its mouth to speak, advising Kancho to stay in Narita to “save the people there.” The statue has remained enshrined in Narita ever since.
From the train station, I was able to walk to the temple in about ten minutes. I passed local restaurants and street vendors, and was able to watch the chefs working to prepare lunch. The streets themselves were relatively quiet in the morning, making the walk to the temple rather quaint.
Upon reaching the temple, I was greeted with a view of the temple gate. Once you enter the temple complex, there is a shaded station to wash your hands and a few stalls selling toys and snacks.
As a newcomer to Japan, I was immediately awe-struck by the grandeur of the entrance gates, I hadn’t even passed the temple guardian deities, and already I was humbled by the size and intricacy of the gates themselves. After a few photos, and a chance to wash our hands, we ascended to the main temple area.
As you enter the main area past the stairs, you will find the two towering temple guardians, glaring fiercely at you from inside their mesh wire barrier (probably used to avoid any pesky tourists climbing onto the statues). Inside the temple complex there are various little shrines and temples that are spread out over a large flat area. All of which are brightly coloured and very detailed.
The main temple for this area is a white and mahogany building,complementing the gates you entered from. Whilst you can’t enter the smaller shrines, they are left open to look into without any glass barriers hindering your view.
The image above shows Issaikyozo (All Scriptures House). Erected in 1722, this revolving book case houses ancient Buddhist scriptures. According to one source, if you turn the bookcase around, the scriptural knowledge will be magically transferred to you.
If you walk past the smaller shrines, over to the main temple, there is a path that will lead you on a nature walk. However, this is no hike in the woods. A rather rustic path leads you through a small forest, past a stream, to a small waterfall area.
As you can see, the stepping stones and shallow water made this area perfect for exploring. To the left of this image, I managed to find a small enclosed area (within the rocks) with a small idol inside. Such areas left much to the imagination: who was this idol? Why was he placed there of all places? Was this area used for other purposes?
Whilst Narita is considered “a tourist hot spot”, This particular nature walk was quiet and serene. I could barely hear any traffic or general tourist movement whilst walking along the path. There was a river area nearing the end of this path, with LOTS of koi that are not afraid to swim in shallow waters, or up to your hands (if you’re brave enough to hover your fingers above the water!)
- Top Tip 1:
Visit in the morning! the walk prepares you for a nice lunch in the cafes later, and I’m quite sure the tranquillity of the walk was partly due to most of the tourists/locals having a lie in!
- Top tip 2:
Take some drinking water. If you visit between March and September (barring the monsoon season), the heat does get quite powerful towards Midday. The nature walk is not long at all, but I still found myself a little dehydrated by the end of the walk.
Past the koi river, I came to a clearing where the Naritasan statue was encased in large, beautifully decorated temple. The building I could see through the branches above, what I did not expect was the immaculately preened lawn and flowerbeds below the temple itself!
The temple itself contains a museum on the ground floor. The exhibits were beautiful, however the text boxes explaining them were predominantly written in Japanese. If you follow the museum to the back of the building, there’s a staircase and a place to put your shoes before you ascend to the temple itself (strict no shoes policy for this temple).
From the stairs you enter the temple behind the Naritasan statue. The walls appear to be hand painted scenes of natural beauty, and people too. It’s easy to get a little carried away gawking at the walls as well as the idols; the attention to detail, down to the smallest petal, contain two or three different colour and strokes. I have not yet found an image of the wall paintings within this particular temple online to date. Again, the lack of people in the morning added to the tranquillity of the area (meaning that there was more time to really walk around without getting in anyone’s way).
I would recommend visiting this temple during the spring/summer months. If you’re looking for a real epitome of Japanese history, folklore, and architecture, this is definitely the place to be!