By 10am the weekend crowds from all over Kansai, and beyond, had choked all roads around Negoro-ji. My friend Mayuko, our daring driver, consulted with others in our party, who had arrived at 8am, as to where possible parking vacancies existed. An hour later, by sheer luck of being near to a car as it pulled out, we successfully parked.
Despite the traffic, Negori-ji is worth a visit. Another large temple complex to explore, but with less stairs than Kimiidera, Negoro-ji was home to a sect of warrior monks until Toyotomi Hideyoshi destroyed many of the buildings and the order during a siege in the late 1500s.
Back in modern times, our early risers had secured us an excellent space to lay down a large tarp and blankets and enjoy the scenery. I had brought an unconventional hanami lunch of homemade sandwiches, a banana and some Jagariko. Bento boxes and chuhai are a little more usual, but our concerns over the source of rice in bought food has taken much of the convenience from shopping at ‘konbinis ‘. Most of the group, made up of Mayuko’s Japanese tea ceremony friends, had brought something from home: karaage, Japanese fried chicken, salads and chahan, fried rice, onigiri. I hurriedly added my Jagariko to the shared lunch.
Negori-ji is much less accessible than Kimiidera in the heart of Wakayama city. Taking a train from Wakayama station to Iwade will take about 20 minutes, followed by a 20 minute taxi ride to Negoro-ji. Or if you’re coming from Osaka, you can stop at Kii station and take a 20 minute taxi from there.
Wandering around the grounds of the temple complex is free, though entrance to view the Daito pagoda, a national treasure built in the century before Hideyoshi’s siege and survivor of WW2, is 500 yen.
We stopped to pose often, taking ownership of a bridge (and the route to the toilets) for a few minutes while a patient pair of girls took a photo on each of the 7 odd cameras our group had brought. Japanese people are very kind when it comes to taking photos for others and for waiting without comment until the perfect posing spot has been vacated.
I discovered this temple, like Kimiidera, had a small shrine set aside for ‘mizuko’, miscarried children, though at Negori ji you can buy small statues to place in the shrine. I don’t know how wide-spread these shrines are in Buddhist temples, having only noticed the significance of these small memorials recently.
Negori ji also hosts a small, crowded cemetery for ‘muenbochi’, for the remains of those who, due to poverty or having no family to bury them, are kept in the temple grounds.
There were also plenty of my favourite Buddhist: Daruma! According to this blog (in Japanese) the Daruma are a famous Negoro ji item, containing a written fortune (the kind that then gets tied to a tree in the temple garden).
We wound our way down to the ‘daimon’, a huge gate complete with fearsome Niō guardians. I was hastened to a viewing spot where the roof of the gate seemed to be floating on clouds of sakura. However, I prefer the shots of the whole, imposing structure of this huge, grand gate which dates its reconstruction back to 1852.
As we stood admiring the gate and dodging the cars and bikes weaving about us, I noticed a girl looking hard in my direction and, in one of those beautiful coincidences, recognised a close friend whom I had lost contact with a few years earlier. We rushed dramatically together, tearfully catching up over each other’s shoulder, while my sakura group murmered, “Just like a drama~”
Even though the essence of hanami is the very Japanese, highly poetic appreciation of the transient beauty of the soon to fall sakura; for me it has always been about the lasting memories, sharing food and posing before a gorgeous backdrop with a group of people who, if they were before, are no longer strangers.
- Best cherry blossoms in Japan contender: Kimiidera temple Wakayama (wherenextjapan.wordpress.com)
- Explanation of NIŌ GUARDIANS
- Japanese write up about Negori ji