Showa Daibutsu at Seiryu-ji

After a lot of ifs and buts, we eventually decided to visit the Seiryu-ji Temple. The weather around Aomori had been overcast with regular spells of rains. Seiryu-ji Temple (青龍寺) is located in suburb of Aomori city. It has on its premises some beautiful buildings including a five-story pagoda built exclusively using Aomori Hiba wood.

Along with the temple grounds we were particularly interested in exploring the huge Showa Daibutsu, with height of 21.35 meters, which is Japan’s largest seated bronze statue of Buddha, even larger than one of Nara or Kamakura.

Aomori Station to Seiryu-ji

We took the earliest available local bus from the Bus terminal which is right next to the train station at Aomori. It takes about 50 minutes for the ride. Just before you reach the temple, the bus passes through a beautiful town where the roadside are lines with ginkgo trees which had turned vivid yellow during the fall. Undoubtedly one of the most distinct and beautiful of all deciduous trees – the ginkgo stands out with its unique, fan-shaped leaves turn a stunning yellow color in the fall. We reached the temple by 8.20 am. You can also take the municipal bus bound for Kuwahara, and if you get off at the last stop of this bus line you can walk to the statue in about 10 minutes.

Seiryu-ji Temple

Among all the Japanese temples I have visited, the Seiryu-ji (青龍寺) is the youngest. It was founded as recent as 1982 by Acharya Ryūkou Oda (織田隆弘), who later also helped build the Shōwa Daibutsu statue (昭和大仏) in 1984.

Approaching from the bus-stop, the first structure that came to my notice was the Daishi-do, a vibrant red hall named after Kobo Daishi, founder of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. This building was under maintenance so we carried on over an equally bright bridge to the Kondo hall.

Just across the bridge one can find the ticket booth on the left. It costs Yen 400 per head for individual visitors. The premises were mostly deserted except for the temple staff, busy in their morning exercises.

Leaving our shoes at the entrance we entered the main Kondo hall. The Kondo hall and other wooden structures at the temple grounds are all built using local cypress wood known as Aomori Hiba.

Hiba ( Hinokiasunaro ) is known as one of the three largest trees in Japan alongside hinoki and sugi. It’s considered the best building material for pagodas and shrines as it naturally resists rot and mold, which is particularly valuable in humid summers in Japan. A compound called hinokitiol that’s found only in Aomori-bred hiba trees also banishes bugs like termites from infecting the wooden structures. In temples, where cleansing and purification are important parts of religious rituals, the natural anti-microbial and germicidal properties of hiba play an important symbolic part as well.

The inside of the Kondo hall was dimly lit with a heavy scent of incense creating a deep sense of peace and tranquility. A golden Buddha sits at the end of the hall surrounded by many artifacts. One the left side of the main hall lay many souvenirs, but the shops hadn’t opened by then. I sat there for a few minutes taking the chance to quiet my mind, banishing all external thoughts that intrude on my peace in that stillness in time.

Towards the back, a narrow corridor runs around the three sides the main hall. Along this corridor, there are a number of paintings of what I assume are Buddhist priests and saints, including one large painting called ‘Descent of Amida and the Heavenly Multitude‘. This hugely popular painting shows Amida Buddha, resting on a lotus blossom and holding his hands in a symbolic gesture known as a mudra, typically surrounded by celestial attendants in a sea of swirling clouds.

After paying our respects, we came out of the Kondo. Close to the Kondo, towards our left lay the Kaizan-do, a smaller wooden hall with a statue of Kobo Daishi in his pilgrim attire in the front.

Seiryu-ji Pagoda

On the opposite, hidden beside the Kondo hall, you can find one the most beautiful pagoda in Aomori. At 39 meters it is the highest wooden pagoda in all of Tohoku. In the delicately designed rock garden, the pagoda stands impressively against the greenery and the blue sky, with a touch of red added by the momiji trees.

We were lucky to be there at the temple grounds when Fall was in full swing. Koyo (紅葉) refers to the phenomenon of changing autumn colors before the leaves fall to the ground. The koyo season in Japan typically begins in mid-September in Aomori, and gradually spreads to the southern prefectures of the Japan.

Momiji 紅葉, or Japanese Maple Tree, is probably one of the most beautiful type of maple trees there is, especially in the fall. Its thin elegant leaves turn such vibrant colors every fall, from bright yellow to deep crimson. The species of maple generally determines the color the leaves will change: red, yellow or brown. Although the word koyo literally means “red leaves, ” it is used to refer to all the colors of autumn leaves. The word oyo refers to yellow leaves, and the word katsuyo refers to brown leaves specifically.

After capturing some pictures of the pagoda, we walked up the gentle, forested slope that approaches the Daibutsu. The road was still wet from the early morning rain but the weather had improved greatly.

On the right I stopped off at a small wayside shrine next to a small pond with a Jizo statue. Jizo statues can be found in most temples of Japan. They are considered protectors of children. During the winter months you might see them dressed in a red woolen cap.

At the top of the slope there are a couple of baby-faced statues on either side, one of them sitting in an exact posture as the huge Buddha, at the entrance to the clearing where the Daibutsu sits in a meditative pose.

Showa Daibutsu

Guarded by towering trees, I suddenly felt a sense of sereneness come over me. Cut off from the rest of the world, the meditative feeling is enhanced by the setting where the only sound is of the birds calling to each other.

A few chairs are provided for visitors, where I put my camera bag and took some rest, quietly watching the statue in its meditative pose. The moment reminded me of my time in front of the huge Buddha in Ravangla.

The Big Buddha in Aomori, better known as Showa Daibutsu was established relatively recent, about 34 years ago. The Buddha itself is made of bronze with ornaments designed on its arms, head, and chest.

At 21.35m, the green colored statue is about 1.5 times taller than the more famous Kamakura Daibutsu (13.35 meters) and Nara Daibutsu (14.98 meters).

Just like the Buddha at Kamakura, it is also possible to actually go inside of the Buddha statue from the back. On the outer corridor of the first floor and the inner part of the Buddha there is a depiction of the Buddhist afterlife including both paradise and hell along with proverbs. On the second floor there is a memorial for those who have died in wars.

After taking a few pictures of the grand Buddha, we walked back to the bus stop. Showa Daibutsu and the temple grounds are a perfect place to spend some time in peace and tranquility. If you are in Aomori, it is a nice day tour to go on to replenish your zen energy.

What to know before you go…

One of the best times to visit Showa Daibutsu is in November before the snow makes the region a little hard to traverse.

You can also visit during the Bon Festival in mid-August, when the Shingon Temples hold light ceremonies to honor the spirits of the ancestors. This Buddhist-Confucian custom commonly referred to as the Feast of Lanterns, commemorates the spirits of dead ancestors. The Seiryu-ji Temple is no different in this respect, holding grand light ceremonies for the entirety of the Bon Festival.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the jewel of Hokkaido in Hakodate.

What is the price of admission tickets?

Adults: ¥400
Child: ¥200

What are the temple visiting hours?

8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. April – October
9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. November – March

Do they have an official website?

The moonlit Kofuku-ji Pagoda

I walked down to Kofukuji today in the evening to catch the huge Pagoda with the moon rising behind it. The five-story structure(Gojunoto) is the second tallest Pagoda in all of Japan. Built in 725 AD by the Empress Komyoh and last rebuilt in 1426, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage listed site.

The walk to Nara walk is generally entertaining.

Sarusawa Pond

Kofuku-ji Pagoda from the front

Kofuku-ji Pagoda

Petting the deer near Kofuku-ji

Deer at Nara Park

Dusk begins to take over Kofuku-ji Pagoda

The kofuku-ji Pagoda in the evening

A close-up shot of Kofuku-ji Pagoda

Nan’en-dō, Kōfuku-ji

Read all about my walk to Kofukuji. If you are visiting Nara, you can also check out my day at the Nara Deer Park.

An evening at Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda

Today we take a walk down to Yasaka-dori in Kyoto to the stunning Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda. Built in 592 CE, the Pagoda with the temple treasure (Yasakato-ezu) is the last remaining structure of the once flourishing temple of Hokan-ji. The rest of the structures have either been destroyed by fires or earthquakes over the years.

Kyoto has many attractions for the wide-eyed tourists. The Kinkaku-ji Temple, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and the Fushimi Inari-taisha being my favorites, but if you are photographically inclined, the Yasaka Pagoda is not to be missed. With its old city charm and cobblestone paths, the surroundings of this mystical place takes your breath away, especially during the evenings when the pathways are illuminated in a golden glow from gas-lit street lights.

How to reach Yasaka Pagoda from Kyoto Station

I and my wife, Mani, were coming in from Nara, another heritage city with hundreds of ancient temples and shrines. Nara is around a 40-minute ride on the JR local to Kyoto. If you are coming from outside to tour Kyoto or even staying there, it is best to start from the JR Kyoto Station. You will be able to obtain the current Bus time-tables at the tourist information center inside the station. You can also buy a full-day bus ticket from one of the vending machines that allows you unlimited travel on the public bus for a day. If you are planning to go to more than two sight-seeing points, it is best to obtain the full-day pass. From the station, you can catch either Kyoto City Bus #100 or #206 to reach the pagoda.

Yasaka Dori

The bus dropped us off at the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. Since we were only going to the Yasaka Pagoda, we didn’t go for the full-day bus pass. The one-way ride cost us ¥230 per head.

As soon as you turn your back towards the bus, you will feel transported to a timeless past. This is the Higashiyama District and the Yasaka pagoda lies in the heart of this district. From the bus stop, it is about a 5-minute walk to the pagoda.

Old town charm of the Higashiyama District

Of the mountains surrounding Kyoto, the ones which are closest to the present downtown area lie towards the east. This is why this whole eastern region of Kyoto is called Higashiyama which literally translates to eastern mountains. Since ancient times this area has been rich in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.

The Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is one of the city’s best-preserved historic districts. From ancient times, the mist-shrouded slopes of Higashiyama and the hills bordering Kyoto on the east, have inspired generations of poets and artists.

These 36 peaks are home to many temples, restaurants, inns, and tea shops – all picturesquely located along narrow winding streets. The shops that line these streets are always crowded, but it is not like the crowds in India. It is a much relaxed and silent gathering.

Visitors can enter the pagoda up to the 2nd floor for a price of ¥400.

Yasaka Dori (八坂通り) is a lovely, quiet path through the back streets leading to Yasaka Pagoda. It is an amazing place to walk around and explore the traditional old houses. Rickshaw drivers can be seen ferrying the wide-eyed tourists along this path. The area’s narrow alleys and machiya (traditional wooden buildings) are filled with small shops, cafes, and restaurants. The street runs between Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka slopes, and ends at the most iconic photo spot with the Yasaka pagoda looming over the cobbled path.

The walk presents lovely views of the Yasaka-no-tō tiered pagoda above traditional gabled roofs. It’s old Kyoto and it’s beautiful.

Long before the actual founding of Heiankyō, the capital of peace and tranquility, a tribe called Yasaka no Miyatsuko had immigrated from the Korean empire of Kōrai and settled at these foothills. Hokan-ji was most likely founded as early as 588 by this immigrant family from Koguryo, modern Korea. The Yasaka-no-Miyatsuko settled in the foothills of Higashiyama during the Asuka period & established the temple as their religious center.

Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda is also known as Hokanji Temple. It was built in 592, which makes it the oldest pagoda in Kyoto.

Their religious life centered around the Hōkan-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple built around 589. The temple itself has been long lost to fire. Of the precinct, only the pagoda is left standing today and is the most important vertical marker within the district today.

July is also the month of festivals in Japan. Saki Matsuri, the early festivities of the Gion Festival begins on July 10th and peaks on the 17th. We were just a day early but as we waited for the Sun to set over the lovely pagoda, troops of children in white attire rode down the cobbled street in makeshift carts. With them followed a horde of tourists flashing away their cameras.

Think of the saki matsuri as a way for downtown Kyotoites to welcome the deities to their town in a similar way as we Bengalis, welcome the goddess Durga into our city of Kolkata.

Yasaka Pagoda

Once the evening started to set and the shops began to close, the huddle of tourists disappeared from the area and the streets were empty again. In the rare silence, I set up my tripod and quickly captured the most iconic landmark of Kyoto in the beautiful surrounding blue light.

Kyoto has four five-storied pagodas, which are located in temples around the city: Hokan-ji, Daigo-ji, To-ji, and Ninna-ji. Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda, also known as Hokanji Temple is the tallest among them and was built in 592, which also makes it the oldest pagoda in Kyoto.

Origins of Yasaka Pagoda

There are various theories about the origins of the Hokanji Temple, but it is generally believed to have been founded in the Asuka period (593–710) as the guardian temple of the Yasaka clan. Although details from the early history of the Yasaka Pagoda are scarce, there is information about the fires. In 1179, the Pagoda was burned in a dispute between the Yasaka Shrine and the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The temple was rebuilt by Shogun Minamoto Yorimoto in 1191. Later the records show that the temple again burned down in 1291 and 1436.

The current 49-meter tall five-tier pagoda is a reconstruction built in 1440 by Ashikaga Yoshinori and is a nationally designated Important Cultural Property. The construction and design of the pagoda were never altered, despite being rebuilt several times after different blazes.

The Yasaka Pagoda is dedicated to the five great Nyorai, who are depicted in sculptures and murals inside the pagoda. The epithet Temple Hikan-ji reveals in its suffix that it was not the main temple but rather a secondary one. At the base of the pagoda are four finely carved Buddha statues arranged around the points of a compass. Visitors can go inside the pagoda to view a dais on which are placed figures of Mahavairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and amoghasiddhi – the Five Perfected Ones; as well as the interior structure of the pagoda and the great central pillar supporting it.

The Yasaka Pagoda is said to contain some of Buddha’s ashes beneath its massive central pillar.

As it got darker, the yellow lamps from the street took over. The evening tourists had disappeared from the streets and the dim light from the street lights bathed the closed wooden storefronts. I felt as though I had stumbled upon a sleeping 18th-century town when life was a lot simpler.

Did you know that to make this view perfect, all the electric and telephone lines were moved underground?

The rather narrow street west of the pagoda runs straight north to the southern entrance of the Gion Shrine, renamed Yasaka Shrine in 1868, the first year of Meiji.

Around the pagoda, there are gently sloping hill east towards the mountains. The cobbled street here is known as the Sannen-zaka, the “Three Year Slope”. To the north is the Ninen-zaka, or “Two Year Slope”. Both streets were paved with stones in about 808.

Illuminated Yasaka Pagoda

The Higashiyama area doesn’t have a lot of tall buildings, so the pagoda is a landmark in the Higashiyama area. The pagoda is surrounded by traditional Japanese-style houses so if you go there, you can feel the history of this area. It was dark, I took one last shot of us to keep as memorabilia, and then we made our way back to the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop.

After a small wait at the bus stop, we were able to catch a bus back to Kyoto Station.

Note: The bus back from here is always full and the less weight you carry, the better it is for you.

Over the centuries, millions of pilgrims have passed along these streets, stopping to buy a charm, sip a cup of green tea or purchase a Kyoyaki (Japanese pottery traditionally from Kyoto). This is a great place to experience the traditional Kyoto, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings, and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city.

If you are visiting the pagoda, only a short walk away, on the border of the historic Gion district, lies the ornate red-and-white gate of the Yasaka Shrine. Open 24 hours a day, the shrine is one of the most popular shrines in Kyoto.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked my story or follow my travels as I go on a day tour of Shimane to explore the perfectly manicured gardens of Adachi.

When was Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda built?

592 CE

What are the entry timings of Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda?

10:00 am to 4:00 pm

What is the entry ticket price for Yasaka-no-tō Pagoda?

¥400. Children under 12 not allowed in the pagoda.