Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple is located in the suburbs of romantic Saga Arashiyama district of the western Kyoto city. From the JR Arashiyama station or from the Arashiyama bus stop, this temple can be reached in about thirty minute walk. During this walk, you get to see many romantic and enchanting aspects of the Arashiyama district. This temple is built by order of Emperor Shotoku in the latter half of the 8th century.
This temple, originally called Otagi Temple, was first built at Higashiyama Ward (Otagi District in the past) around the late eighth century (764-770) according to the temple history.
At the beginning of Heian period (794-1192), the temple building was washed away when the Kamo River flooded. It was reestablished by Senkan Naigu (918-984), a priest from Mt. Hiei in the northeast of Kyoto, so that the temple became a branch of Enryakuji complex of the Tendai sect, named Tokakuzan Otagi-in. In 1922, the temple was transferred to this place in order to preserve the main hall.
Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple Seal
The main worship hall was reconstructed in the middle of the Kamakura period (1192-1333), having the style of Japanese architecture and enshrining the image of Senju (thousand armed) Kannon. In the Jizo Hall, a Jizo image known as the Hiyoke Jizo Bosatsu (Jizo Bodhisattva symbolizing protection against fire) is enshrined to protect Kyoto against fire, since the god of extinguishing fire inhabiting Mt. Atago is a Jizo Bosatsu.
In some ways this temple is a bit off the beaten path and is usually ignored by a typical tourist but I suggest you visit this temple. There are many unique aspects of this temple, in a way how it was constructed. The temple bell is not a single bronze cast bell but it has three gold plated bells and they are called Sambo-no-Kane. They are known as the bells of the three treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Priests. There is a beautiful gold plated statue of Kokuzo Bosatsu, on top of a small hill behind the main worship hall. This Bosatsu represents the Boddhisattva of Space.
A portion of the Rakan statues in the Temple Grounds
Above all the main attraction of this temple are the 1200 carved stone figures of Rakan (disciples of Buddha), made by people from various parts of the country from 1981 to 1991 for the reconstruction of the temple. No two the stone figures look alike and it is remarkable how these carved figures were built and placed at this temple. In addition these stone figures all have funny grins on their faces, which I though was interesting.