Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple
Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is a temple on the outskirts of Arashiyama with a collection of 1200 unique and whimsical statues. It’s a rarely visited and interesting place that rewards the adventurous visitor.
Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple is hidden in the hills in far western Arashiyama. It is most famous for its collection of 1200 Rakan statues that represent the disciples of the historical Buddha. These statues are a relatively recent addition to this temple.
The main hall dates from the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and houses the temple’s principle image: Kannon the spirit of mercy
In 1955, a new head priest was appointed. His name was Kocho Nishimura. Kocho Nishimura was not only a priest but an accomplished sculptor of Buddhist statues. He hit on the idea of having visitors carve their own statues for the temple under his guidance. These “rakan” statues, which represent Buddha’s disciples, were all added to the temple between 1981 and 1991, but look much older as they are now fairly covered with moss. Because each statue was carved by a different person, each one is completely unique, and many have humorous expressions or whimsical poses.
Explore the grounds and you will find a statue with a tennis racket, another with an old portable cassette player, one dandling a child on its knee and two more sharing a laugh and a cup of sake! if you are expecting Buddhist temples to be solemn and serious, then you may be surprised. What is really amazing though is that all of these statues were carved by amateurs. Kocho Nishimura must have been a good teacher!