The Nangaku-ji Temple
From the beautiful prefecture of Akita, we were headed to Niigata. Unfortunately there are no Shinkansen lines along this route, so we caught a local JR train along the Uetsu Line to Sakata. From Sakata we changed to another train on the Inaho line towards Niigata.
It was afternoon by the time we reached Tsuruoka. Leaving our baggage at the station locker, we set out towards Nangaku Temple. The sun was bright and strong. The weather had been mighty pleasing in Aomori but as we moved south, it was becoming hotter. Nangaku-ji is within walking distance from the JR station in Tsuruoka, but being new to the area, we decided to use the local bus service. Bus services are at frequent intervals so we didn’t have to wait too long.
Inside the hall, housed behind a glass case, lay the mummy of Tetsuryou-kai. He is referred to as a Sokushinbutsu. Sokushinbutsu is a practice of self starvation by Buddhist monks to become a mummified Buddha. It was performed by mountain ascetics for the welfare of poor farming communities. This practice has been abolished in Japan since the 19th century.
In the late 19th Century, Emperor Meiji instituted a number of governmental reforms, the most controversial of which was the abolition of the Samurai. Various sections of the samurai rebelled but they were suppressed by the army. The reforms caused much discontent among the common folk. Tetsuryukai grew up during these turbulent times and it is said his insecurities drew him to join the Issei Gyonin sect at Nangaku-ji under the able guidance of Tetsumonkai Shonin.
It was at Nangaku-ji, that Shindo Yuzo took up the name the name of Tetsuryukai, by which we remember him today. His name at Nangaku-ji was created from the words Tetsu (iron) and Ryu (dragon). Following on the path of Tetsumonkai, he allegedly cut out his own left eye while training in austerities, like his master had done years before..
Tetsuryukai desired to become a Living Buddha, a self-mummified monk. He regulated his diet and practiced severe austerities, such as meditation in freezing water and extended periods of starvation. Due to the hardships, he became extremely ill. His physical condition became so bad that he could not continue on the path to Sokushinbutsu. He died still aspiring to become a “Living Buddha.”
After his decease, it is said, the saint appeared in the dreams of many people, requesting that his body be dug up. A man from the temple named Maruyama, and a charcoal dealer named Tojiro, exhumed the body and carried it from the grave site to Kannon Hall in Nanoka-machi, Tsuruoka. It was here that his body was mummified and later moved to Nangaku-ji.
After telling us this long history, the elderly lady led us out of the hall. She went away for her other chores and left us to take a look around the other artefacts in the temple. We made our way up the stairs into a giant hall. This hall on the first floor contains many miniature shrines dedicated to monks.Bandai Bridge under the stars.