We already introduced to you two of the best places to enjoy cherry blossoms - Ogawara and Shibata. While enjoying the sight of thousand Japanese cherry trees, you can actually have a small spiritual quest, visiting temples and shrines that are just a brief walk away from the main tourist course of cherry blossoms.
First of all, there is a really unique object of faith, or, that is, five hundred objects - statues of five hundred rakan (buddhist saints, Buddha’s disciples) not far from Funaoka station, in a temple called Daikoji.
The statues are enshrined in a cave behind the temple’s main building and can be visited any time.
All five hundred statues were carved by a single monk, who wanted to stop the plague that was devastating Shibata. Just imagine this brave man sitting in the cave and carving the statues one by one, praying for his beloved town and its’ people! All statues are different, in some it is even possible to recognize the facial expression.
Shibata’s neighbour, Ogawara, has two main temples, called very simply - The Temple of the East (Higashi no tera) and the Temple of the West (Nishi no tera). One might think that there is a connection between these two, but in fact, there is none. They belong to different schools of Buddhism, and have never had any ties. The reason why they became connected in the minds of people is because their names are a little bit similar - Hanshoin and Saishoin. To distinguish two temples, people started calling them by their geographical location.
The temple of the West, Saishoin, belongs to Shingon-shu.
There used to be a pond here, inhabited by tortoises, and even the temple’s Sango (the name of the metaphorical mountain the temple is located on) means “a mountain of the treasure tortoise”.
Nowadays, tortoises are present only in a carved form on Saishoin gates, but the temple abbot has recreated the pond in his Japanese-style garden that is really worth seeing.
There is a wisteria arbor in the garden, that should be simply incredible in summer. You can also pay some homage to the grave of Kaijiro Takayama who donated the cherry trees to Ogawara town.
The temple of the East, Hanshoin, belongs to Soto-shu, which is prevalent in Miyagi prefecture.
The temple is located on the bank of Shiroishi river, so you can enjoy the sight of cherry trees right from the temple.
The temple has a great meditation hall, and maybe this is one of the greatest places to experience sitting meditation.
The garden and the main hall of Hanshoin are full of interesting statues - a 1000-year old statue of Amida Buddha, a 16th century statue of Shakyamuni Buddha from Myanmar and a statue of bodhisattva Kannon, also known as the goddess of mercy and love, with a lovely heart-mark on her face!
The two major Shinto shrines - Otakayama-jinja in Ohgawara and Shiratori-jinja in Shibata actually are connected. Both enshrine the same deity - Yamato Takeru-no mikoto - a legendary warrior, protector of all kinds of fighters, including students and startupers! According to the legend, YamatoTakeru-no mikoto turned into a big white bird after his death, so both shrines worship swans as well.
Majestic atmosphere of Shiratori-jinja is something to see!
Come inside the shrine to pay homage to Yamato Takeru-no mikoto!
Otakayama -jinja is located on a mountain and is bathing in cherry blossoms, so it can become a great closing point for your walk.
In the worship hall of Otakayama-jinja you can see old ema - wooden pictures containing someone’s prayers and wishes expressed in a metaphorical scene. Great warriors of old times, scenes from kabuki, swans - people of the past knew many ways of expressing their desires to gods!
This year’s cherry blossom viewing, combined with a spiritual quest, can become your source of energy and positive emotions for the whole year. Don’t forget to give some rest to your body and soul and treat yourself with beauty of nature and human legacy!