Nihon-ji is a complex built on and into the slopes of Mount Nokogiri in Chiba. While most famous for its giant Buddha Daibutsu, it is a worthy hiking destination, with enough stairs to work up a good sweat and a gorgeous view from the top as a reward.
Built in 725 CE, Nihon-ji has seen periods of neglect and renewal. The Meiji period, when Japan experienced a rapid societal transformation to Western-style industrialism, initially encouraged the destruction of temples, shrines, castles, and anything else considered to be of traditional, non-Western value. Nihon-ji was a victim of this misguided decision, and suffered vandalism of its buildings and Arhat statues.
Northern Japan, perhaps due to its proximity to Tokyo and the Meiji reformist government, lost more of its priceless cultural assets than, for example, the Kansai region. Thankfully, the government did put a halt to the destruction, in part due to Minakata Kumagusu, who I will describe in a future blog. Nihon-ji has since become a very popular tourist destination.
The main attraction is undisputedly the Daibutsu, the largest carved from stone in Japan.
For those who don’t have much time to spend, or aren’t keen walkers, the Daibutsu is a very short distance from the car-park. (map here) As fantastic as a mountain sized Buddha statue is, I really urge you to clear that itinerary, and prep yourself on that Stair-master, because the rest of the hike just gets better.
The Arhat statues were my favourite part of the hike, as each was carved with an individual personality, body-language and facial expressions. Some sit in a calm, meditative poses, while others are visibly angry, or sad, or leaning over to a neighbour make a sly comment about the passing hikers.
I took so many photos of the Arhat that, to save on scrolling, I’ve organised them into a small gallery, which you can click on to see bigger images. I hope you enjoy the variety of expressions and my interpretations of them. (Feel like your own interpretation? Make sure to leave a comment!)
After marveling at the giant Daibutsu, and photographing every single Arhat you can find while catching your breath, visitors finally reach the top of the trail. The panoramic ocean meets forested, rolling hills calendar worthy view may knock that breath out of them again, but it’s worth it.
About 2 hours from Tokyo by train, arriving at Hamakanaya station for the rope-way (there’s a rope-way?) or Hata station to walk up, entry into Nihon-ji is from 8am until 5pm and 600 yen for adults or 400 yen for kids from 4 to 12 years. Their website is Japanese only, but the second last menu at the top アクセス has a basic map for the trains if you want one.
Though I unfortunately won’t be visiting Tokyo or Chiba prefecture any time soon, for those who do find themselves in the vicinity, I really recommend exploring Nihon-ji. I was only exaggerating about the amount of stairs… really!
Have a hike in Japan to recommend? A rival for bigger, better Daibutsu? Just want to say hi? Leave a note in the comments!