Date: 30th June 2018
I was in Ueda city and was supposed to go for a day-hike nearby but had cancelled it after the weather forecast indicated rain. Well, turned out to be a super hot day. After several days of checking several different sources for weather forecast, I think I know which to trust now.
Anyways, since I was in Ueda, not for the first time, I decided to head over to Bessho Onsen, which is just 30 minutes away on train. The goal was not the onsens though, really did not feel like soaking in the onsen on such a hot day. My destinations on this day were some of the temples in Bessho Onsen – Anraku-ji, Kitamuki Kannon Temple and Jorakuji. So lets have a look at the first temple I visited – Anraku-ji.
Anraku-ji (安楽寺) is Nagano’s oldest Zen temple of the Soto sect. and the only Zen temple in Japan that has an octagonal three-storied pagoda. According to Rankei Doryu (Lanxi Daolong), the founder of Kamakura’s Kencho-ji, Anraku-ji was previously larger than it is, being the center of Zen teachings in Shinshu (the older name for Nagano prefecture) in the 1200s (Kamakura period), with the support of the Hojo clan. It saw declines during the Muromachi period, after the end of Kamakura period, and was only re-established in the 1580s.
Before you enter the precincts of Anraku-ji, you will go through the Kuromon, built in 1792. After walking past the parking area, you will see a path leading to the temple and the flight of stairs.
The main hall (hondo) has a thatched roof and worships Shakyamuni (Gautama Buddha) flanked by Manjusri and Samantabhadra, forming the Shakyamuni trinity.
The octagonal three-storied pagoda was built at the end of the Kamakura period in the style of Zenshu-yo or Kara-yo (Zen or Kara style) which was brought into Japan along with Zen teachings. There is an octagonal Buddhist altar in the pagoda.
You will also see two important statues in this temple, one of Shokoku Isen, who went to China for studies and returned in 1246 with Rankei Doryu. He later founded Anraku-ji. This statue was sculpted in 1329, along with the second statue, which is of Yogyu Enin, a Chinese priest who was the second priest of Anraku-ji. Both statues are in the Denpo-do hall.
Another feature of this temple is the sixteen rakan statues and the seven Buddhas from Shikoku. You have probably heard of the Shikoku 88-temples pilgrimage. Well, in 1693, it was decided that they would make similar Buddha images to that of the 88 temples, so that they could acquire the same merit without actually completing the Shikoku pilgrimage. Anraku-ji has seven of these 88 images.
Also in the temple compounds is a Shoryo or bell tower, originally built in 1769 which combines both Japanese and Zen styles. The original bell became a scrap metal for World War II, the current bell was cast in 1957 by Katori Masahiko.
Built in 1784, Kyozo is a repository for Buddhist scriptures copied by priest Tetsugen which was purchased from Uji’s Mampukuji. Inside here is rinzo, an octagonal revolving sutra shelf. Another cultural asset found in this temple is the letter written by Rankei Doryu to Shokoku Isen.
The temple was especially quiet even though it was a Saturday. I thought the oldest Zen temple in Nagano or the only octagonal pagoda in Japan would get more visitors than this.
- Mar to Oct: 08:00 – 17:00
- Nov to Feb: 08:00 – 16:00
Admission fee: 300 yen
No closing days
Anraku-ji is just a 10-minutes walk from Bessho Onsen station. It should be easy to navigate your way here even without using Google maps, there are clear English signs from the moment you exit the train station.
Getting to Bessho Onsen Station: From Ueda Station, take the Ueda Dentetsu Bessho Line (30 minutes, 590 yen), train departs roughly every 40 minutes. IC card cannot be used.
Getting to Ueda Station:
- From Nagano Station:
- Take JR Shinonoi Line, 35-45 minutes, 770 yen
- If you have the JR pass, you can take the bullet train, Hokuriku Shinkansen, 12 minutes. The time difference from the JR Shinonoi option is not that much, so there is probably not a need to splurge 2,940 yen if you do not have a JR pass.
- From Tokyo Station: Hokuriku Shinkansen, 1 hour 30+ minutes, 6,670 yen