Aizu Ranks as one of Japan’s Five Great Buddhist Capitals, behind Nara and Kyoto.
“Ichijirendai Hokkekyo” (Lotus Sutra), a national treasure, was carefully written with elegant Japanese-style characters in India ink.
There are two national treasures in Aizu. The Buddhist culture that created them was brought to the region in the 9th century.
Aizu’s Buddhist culture began in the 9th century.
Standing more than two meters in height, the Aizu Great Buddha of Ganjo-ji Temple is known to all Aizu natives.
The Shingu Kumano Shrine and Nagatoko is a place of worship that was built in the shinden-zukuri (manner of a Heian-era palatial residence) style around the 12th century. In the autumn, the 800-year-old giant gingko trees on the temple’s grounds turn a brilliant golden color.
According to historical fact, the Buddhist culture has been brought to the Aizu in 807 years. At the time, the monk "Tokuitsu" from Nara where was the center of Buddhism in Japan, visited Aizu. However, the “Houyouji Temple” was built on the west hill in Aizu Basin by some monks from Harima in 702 years is well known locally from the past. Unlike Nara and Kyoto, the simple style of praying is the charm of Aizu Buddhist culture.
Enichi-ji Temple at the foot of Mt. Bandai is a large temple that includes the entire area as its grounds. It was from here that Buddhism became firmly rooted in Aizu, as it was the starting point from which a number of Buddhist statues and temples were constructed and continue to exist in all parts of the Aizu Basin. Among them are Shojo-ji Temple in Yugawa Village (which contains a set of Bhaishajyaguru Triad statues that is a national treasure), Nodera Yakushi Temple in Aizuwakamatsu City, and Kitayama Urushiyakushi Temple in Kitashiobara Village.
The Aizu Great Buddha of Ganjo-ji Temple, located on the outskirts of Kitakata City, was created around the 12th or 13th century. It is designated a national important cultural property. At the sides of the Great Buddha are kneeling bodhisattva images. The statues take the same form as a Buddha triad in Kyoto’s Sanzen-in Temple and have an appearance that is considered rare in the Tohoku region. Visitors are permitted to freely view the Great Buddha hall, located at the back of the temple grounds, during daytime hours. Taking the 33 Kannon pilgrimage and seeing the nameless stone Buddha images on the roadsides give a sense of the simple beliefs that remain a fixture in people’s lives.
The sophistication of the architecture and engravings of Buddhist art
The “lucky” ornate engravings of Torioi Kannon. It is said that finding the three monkeys who are hiding from falcons will bring good fortune.
A hexagonal three-story wooden structure, this temple is called Sazaedo because its spiral structure resembles a turban shell mollusk (called sazae in Japanese). Some say that visiting it is a mysterious experience.
If you’re looking for somewhere to visit during the autumn, the Shingu Kumano Shrine and Nagatoko of Kitakata City is it. Standing on the grounds is a place for worship called the Haiden, an open building built on 44 wood pillars measuring approximately 45 cm in diameter. Behind the Haiden is the main Kumano Shrine building. Also present are giant sacred gingko trees called goshinboku from which the gods are said to descend. During the autumn, the golden leaves of the trees fall and cover the entire area like a carpet.
Torioi Kannon in Nishiaizu Town is a temple with a 1,200-year history. The current temple building was rebuilt 400 years ago. A unique feature of the temple is its elaborately detailed engravings that cover the pillars and spaces under the eaves. Three monkeys engraved at the eastern entrance are particularly well known. The monkeys are depicted hiding from falcons, their natural enemies. Tradition says that good luck will come to people who can find all three.
Sazaedo on Mt. Iimori in Aizuwakamatsu City is famous as a wooden structure of a design rarely seen anywhere in the world. It is a three-story hexagonal temple that was built in 1796. It once housed one of the Kannon images of the Saigoku 33 Kannon statues Pilgrimage; however, the statues are is now lost. Inside is a two-tiered spiral structure; the tiers are separated for one-way climbing up and down. This unique structure in architectural history has been designated an important cultural property of Japan.