A Peak at the 1,200 Statues of Otagi Nenbutsu-ji

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple statues coming alive amidst the vibrant hues of fall – Photo: Raymond Ling | Flickr

Japan is home to some of the world’s most intriguing architectural designs, as well as a variety of historical monuments and sculptures. For those who want to enjoy a bit of whimsy while exploring the country’s attractions, a trip to the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple is essential.

The Otagi Nenbutsu-ji temple is located on the outskirts of Arashiyama, a well-known sightseeing district in Kyoto. The temple features 1,200 unique statues, each one representing a disciple of the original Buddha.

Although a trip to see the statues is sure to be fun and engaging, it’s important to note that the temple’s past is not particularly happy.

The original temple was not built in Arashiyama. Instead, it was constructed in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district in 766.

When the Kamo River flooded, the temple was washed away. It was then re-established in northeast Kyoto, only to fall into disrepair until only three structures remained: The main hall, the Jizo Hall, and the temple’s gate.

Centuries later, in 1922, leaders decided to dismantle these structures and reassemble them in Arashiyama. In 1950, a massive typhoon severely damaged them.

The temple’s luck started to change in 1955 with the appointment of head priest Kocho Nishimura (1915-2003). Nishimura was a priest and sculptor known for his Buddhist statues.

After he was appointed, he had the idea to let visitors carve their own statues with his help.

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple statues exude tranquility and timeless beauty – Photo: Raymond Ling | Flickr

Known as rakan statues, the 1,200 figures were constructed from 1981-1991. Despite their relative newness, they look older because of the moss covering them.

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple statues adorned with nature’s verdant embrace – Photo: Raymond Ling | Flickr

Each statue has a unique appearance since they were all carved by different people. Many also feature funny expressions and poses as well. For example, one holds a tennis racket, and two share a cup of sake.

It costs just 300 yen to visit the temple and see the statues, making this an affordable attraction for travelers hoping to save money.