I’ve been revisiting some of my most memorable moments from our trip to Japan. Of all the shrines and temples, perhaps the one that most captured my imagination was Otagi-Nembutsuji and the nearby bamboo forests.

Like most places in this land of contrasts, getting there is half the fun – that is, if you like solving puzzles! Travelling in Japan made me realize just how heavily we have to come to rely on technology to get around. Whether due to the the complexity of the geography, the dense urban nature of the country or perhaps the language, Google maps was not to be relied upon. In many instances it got you to the approximate location, but something almost always got lost in translation. We got very good at wandering around until one of us figured it out. And in many cases, kind local people came to our rescue. Between their bits of English and Stefan’s limited Japanese, we were never stuck for long. To visit the Otagi-Nembutsuji temple, we took the train to Saga-Arashayima station, then tried to get there by bus but failed. In the end we gave up and took a taxi. Thankfully cabs in Japan are cheap and readily available.

This Buddhist temple has a fascinating history dating back to 766 but has been ruined by natural disasters and rebuilt multiple times. For me the attraction was the moss-covered statuary adorning the hillsides.

The hundreds of comical characters are so expressive, and the way they have become part of nature is a call to meditation itself.

We walked down to the village and took a short hike through the Arashiyama bamboo forest. Peace and serenity lurk among those rows of trees perhaps more than in any religious site.

After our walk we found a little café for lunch. In another amusing cultural contrast, the very traditional place had a poster of Saturday Night Fever with a little shrine to Olivia Newton John behind the bar.

To each his own religion, n’est-ce pas?


  1. margaret21 · January 8

    The congruence with our South Korea experience continues. Our most discombobulating train experience was when the new high-speed train station in the town we were visiting proved to be some 20 miles from the town itself!. But shrines and temples always proved rewarding, and usually serene and beautiful too. You’ve got some lovely photos here.

    • MELewis · January 11

      Margaret, discombobulating is the word! No matter how you try not to make assumptions, inevitably there are surprises. Which is part of the fun! I enjoyed the tranquillity of the shrines but didn’t enter the temples as there was so much to soak up in the surroundings. Glad you are enjoying the photos!

      • margaret21 · January 11

        Yup. Keep ’em coming. I know what you mean about the exteriors, but I hope you made it inside at least one of them, as they have a special atmosphere too.

  2. acflory · January 9

    Thank you! I love this vicarious journey. Each face on that statuary looks to be ‘individual’. Is that right? And those bamboos…I had no idea bamboo could grow so tall. Gobsmacked. 🙂

    • MELewis · January 11

      It does appear that each face is unique, yet there is something in the whole that somehow makes them all feel like one. As for the bamboo trees, they are so tall yet so quiet somehow. No leaves near the bottom to rustle in the breeze, perhaps? Quiet amazing to walk through. P.S. Will send some ryokan pics soon!

  3. Dale · January 9

    Thank you for sharing, Mel. These are beautiful images and well worth the effort to get there! I would so love to visit Japan one day – not the city, areas like this one you shared.

    • MELewis · January 11

      Dale, there is an amazing amount of forest and nature in Japan despite the fact that the country is so populous. Even within the cities, many gardens and parks make you forget the density. It was worth the trip and I highly recommend if you get the chance!

      • Dale · January 11

        One day, Mel, one day… 🙂

  4. Colin Bisset · January 9

    I remember feeling on the brink of being ‘templed-out’ in Kyoto, there are so many, but I was always tempted by ‘just one more’ – they’re all different, all so beautiful. I love the atmospheric ones nestled into the hillsides like this, often with hardly any people around. Luscious photos, Mel!

    • MELewis · January 11

      We did not actually enter the temples and mostly skirted around the shrines to avoid the ever-present crowds but I know what you mean. Just the act of observing so many beautiful sites and trying to get a handle on their story is consuming — it’s easy to saturate. Especially in Kyoto! Atmosphere was what it was all about in this one. There is a close spiritual link between religion and nature that was palpable in those hillsides.

  5. Vanessa in France · January 16

    Amazing pictures! Friends visited Japan more than 40 years ago and said they spent a lot of time hanging out of train windows trying to match the characters on the station sign with those on their tickets! I expect it’s changed somewhat in that time, but it still sounds complicated to travel.

    • MELewis · January 17

      Oh, my…now that would be challenging! We trusted in technology to get us there, along with some English signs and husband’s limited Japanese. We never got lost for very long, but it is daunting when you don’t understand anything of the language. I suspect Japan has not changed so much in 40 years…

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s