Friday, February 10, 2012

Visiting The Largest Buddha Statue In Japan

The tour of the Chiba Kun Ambassadors continued after we had a wonderful time picking strawberries in Tateyama and treated to a sumptuous lunch at Banya. The next destination took us to Mount Nokogiri (鋸山), a low mountain on the Bōsō Peninsular. The mountain got its name from its characteristic sawtoothed profile of a Japanese saw, nokogiri (鋸). During the Edo period, this mountain used to be a stone quarry and the marks are still picturesquely evident until today.

If Nokogiri-yama was in Kyoto, another famous tourist attraction in Japan, I am pretty certain that it would be an A-list tourist attraction. Nokogiri-yama has a huge daibutsu (great Buddha Statue) that is twice as big as the most famous versions in Kamakura and Nara, and an incredible relief image of the Kannon Bosatsu carved into the side of a cliff. There are also about 1,500 stone figures scattered along the hiking trail, which combined with the spectacular scenery of the Bōsō Hills and Tokyo Bay, making Mount Nokogiri a popular tourism destination in this part of Chiba.


A signboard at the cable car station on the foot hill of the mountain.

Unfortunately, the location of Nokogiri-yama is out in Kyonan-machi (鋸南町), almost in the middle of nowhere on the Bōsō Peninsular, and it takes about two and a half hours to get there from Tokyo. The western side of the mountain is the site of the sprawling Nihon-ji (日本寺) temple complex.

The temple is accessible by road and by a cable car, the Nokogiriyama Ropeway, which runs from Hamakanaya Station (浜金谷駅) on the JR Uchibo Line to a lookout deck near the top of the temple precinct. Opened in 1962, the oblique distance is 680 meters (2,231 feet) between the stations at the foot and top of the mountain, and the car is served every five minutes. It takes approximately three minutes to reach the station at the top of the mountain.


It costs 500 yen one way for adults. However, there are discounts for children and groups.


The cable car can fit in 41 people at one time, and it belongs to the Keisei Group.


Visitors will get to enjoy the magnificent spectacle of the mountains during the short ride up to the top.

There is an open-air observation deck at the top of the mountain and visitors will get to enjoy the panoramic splendor of the whole Kanto area, Tokyo Bay below, and Mount Fuji beyond the horizon. This breathlessly exquisite scenery and its fresh air from its observatory deck provides a calming effect and it is one of the reasons why this mountain attracts many visitors throughout the year.

In the building at the top of mountain, there are an observation restaurant, free resting room, telescopes, souvenirs corner, game for children. Also, the historical materials on the stone cutting in this mountain are exhibited there.


A great panoramic view of Tokyo Bay. The piece of land in far background is Miura Peninsular (三浦半島)  in Kanagawa prefecture.


Kanaya fishing port (金谷漁港) and the small town of Kanaya (金谷) at the foot of the mountain, facing Uraga Channel (浦賀水道) northwards.


A brief hike along the stony path brought us to the peak of Mount Nokogiri, which proudly stands at 329 meters above the sea level, 
4 meters shorter than Tokyo Tower (332.5 meter).

Besides being a place of scenic beauty, this modestly sized mountain is also a valuable treasure-trove for academic researchers. Geologists and naturalists speak of this mountain as a great museum made by nature.

Our tour at Mount Nokogiri was guided by a volunteer guide, Mr Kazuo Hirashima. Our next stop was to enter Nihon-ji (日本寺) temple complex. The original temple was established in 725, making it one of the oldest in Japan. It is now run by the Soto Zen sect. There are several Buddha statues - big and small scattered around this temple complex. It has some nice paths, which leads from temple to temple. Some of those paths are said to have been used by monks in the past. It is very peaceful and remote place, which makes it ideal for meditations.  


Mr Hirashima giving us a brief introduction about the temple and the places we were gonna visit.


Ready to come face to face with the largest Buddha statue in Japan!

Mount Nokogiri is famous for producing its one of its kind tuffaceous sandstone (凝灰質砂岩) called bōshū-ishi (房州石) since the Edo and Meiji period. This stone was mainly used for constructions and is known for its high quality. The stones were cut out off and formed a characteristic vertical cliff, which their traces can still be spotted at several places today. 

Our first stop was at a monument to soldiers killed in World War II - the Hyakushaku Kannon Buddha (百尺観音) or the Goddess of Mercy.


Wonder what everyone was looking at? (photo credit: Masataka Ishizaki)


The magnificent relief image of the Kannon Bosatsu, which stands at 30.3 meters (99 feet) tall.


All of us went crazy to see such an amazing carving of the Kannon haha! (photo credit: Kenichi Ishii)

This carving took six years until it was completed in 1966. The term hyaku means "hundred" and shaku refers to a traditional unit of measurement which is equivalent to 30.3 cm. Therefore, this carving is given the name Hyakushaku Kannon as it measures 30.3 meters high.

It has since been revered as the Buddha to protect the safely of sea navigation, aviation and land transportation. It is two-dimensional, but somehow the way the cliffs tover over us and the lines created by the layers in the rock make it incredibly powerful. It is something which you really have to see it with your own eyes to appreciate it.


You wanna take a peek at the "hell"?


Seems that everyone was very excited although we are standing just a few inches away from the cliff (photo credit: Kenichi Ishii).

Right next to the Hyakushaku Kannon carving is the a very interesting spot, called the Jigoku Nozoki (地獄のぞき) or literally, "a peep at hell". The top of the mountain juts like a narrow balcony on which only half a dozen of people can stand. The path to the top of the mountain is rocky and steep but it juts down almost forty-five degrees after that, giving a scary experience for those who have acrophobia like me haha! However, once you're on top there, the view is just splendid. Tokyo Bay can be seen right below and if the weather is good, Mount Fuji is also visible far away.

Exhausted from walking up all the stairs, we walked along a quiet trail that brought us to pass by 1,500 stone figures of Rakan Arhats (阿羅漢), the disciples of Buddha. They are spiritual practitioners who have realized certain high stages of attainment in Buddhism. Each of them is distinctly carved using the stones brought in from Izu by sea (because the sandstone in Mount Nokogiri is not suitable for carvings), differing in facial features, position and clothes, depicting the spirit of eternal benevolence. If you look on them from any point, it seems that some statues are watching you.


Hyakutai Kannon, part of the arhats collection.


Some of them were headless, some with missing limbs, etc..


Chiba Kun Ambassador standing in front of the marvelous masterpieces haha!

The carving work was led by skilled artisan, Jingoro Eirei Ono (大野甚五郎英令) and his 27 apprentices. They devoted their lives to this work, which began in 1779 and ended in 1798, over a period of almost two decades. The stone figures were places among rocks of fantastic shapes and in sacred caves that have been formed by erosion. These images are great treasures to the timple and valuable cultural assets.

Unfortunately, most of them have been destroyed by an Anti-Buddhist movement in the Meiji era, and those left were in a state of ruin until quite recently. Although not all of them are preserved until today, the temple has started a repair campaign to restore these beautiful figures.


A falling tree across the walking trail, which was left to be in its original position.


And it was turned into a piggy bank by some visitors lol!

Our final stop was a giant daibutsu (great Buddha statue) that was completed in 1783. It took the same artisan (Jingoro Eirei Ono) with his team of 27 apprentices, it took them three years to complete this statue. Although it is Japan's largest pre-modern and largest stone carved daibutsu, I find it surprising that this status is hardly mentioned in travel guide books.

Damaged over the years by earthquakes and the elements, this Buddha status was restored in 1969. It depicts the image of Yakushi Ruri (薬師瑠璃), the Medicine Buddha. This daibutsu is carved in a common pose for a Medicine Buddha, with his left hand holding a bowl and his right hand palm upward. Visualization of the Medicine Buddha is said to be good for mental and physical health.


The great daibutsu of Nihon-ji temple.


A close-up shot of the Buddha statue, which is twice bigger than the ones in Kamakura and Nara.


Some brief history and stats about this statue.


Our Mr Ishii attempts to be the fortune teller haha! (photo credit: Yu Yokoo)


A shot with two Chinese Chiba Kun Ambassadors and our guru besar haha!


Group shot with all the Chiba Kun Ambassador in front of the largest Buddha statue in Japan.

Opening hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. everyday.
Admission: ,600 yen (adults, junior high school and above), 400 yen (children 3-5-year-old); there are discount for student groups or those coming in groups.

Address: Nokogiriyama, Kyonan-machi, Awa-gun, Chiba Prefecture, 299-2100 Japan.
0470-55-1103   Fax: 0470-55-1174
Access: Car: Tokyo
(東京) → Kawasaki (川崎) → AquaLine (アクアライン) → Kisarazu (木更津) → Kyonan-hota IC (鋸南保田 IC)
Train: 10 minutes from Hamakanaya Station (浜金谷駅) for rope way; or Hota Station (保田駅) for climbing from the approach, on JR Uchibo Line (JR 内房線).
Ferry: Tokyo (東京)
→ Shinagawa (品川) → Kurihama・Tokyo-wan Ferry (久里浜・東京湾フェリー)  (35 minutes) → Ropeway Sanroku Station (ロープウェイ山麓駅) → Nokogiriyama-chou Tenbodai (鋸山頂展望台)
~ to be continued ~


Kae Vin said...

remember how last time i wanted to go there. XD

calvin said...

@ kae vin:
yup, this is exactly the place you told me last year! if not for this tour, i wouldn't have gotten the chance to visit this amazing place. at least now you get to see how the place looks like *hehe*

Anonymous said...

Hello, do you happen to still have the contact information of your tour guide? I'm traveling to Japan next year, and I this is on my list of sites to see. Thank you!

calvin said...

@ Katy:
Hello Katy! Yes, perhaps you might wanna take a look at this site which offers fantastic tours around Japan!