The other day I took guests to Arashiyama and Sagano areas. We started at Adashino-Nenbutsu-ji Temple in Kiyotaki.
It is located in north east Kyoto and takes 40 minutes by bus from the city centre. Nowadays it’s easily accessible from the city but until 40 or 50 years ago it was a very quiet backwater.
According to the temple record a monk, Kukai, founded the temple about 1,100 years ago to repose deceased souls in the area. The custom had been to leave bodies randomly in the open without burial and this area was the designated area for leaving the bodies. Later burial became the common practice for disposal of the deceased but there were still no cemeteries and graves were scattered throughout the area. Over the years the graves were abandoned because there were no relatives or descendants to look after them. These abandoned, scattered tombstones (in this case pagoda-shaped or jizo statues rather than the western idea of tombstones) were gathered together in around 1903 and set in the temple in order to help the souls of those buried and forgotten throughout the area. The temple’s uniqueness is due to the resulting huge number of aligned stone statues and pagodas there –it is said over 8,000 of them .
On the 23rd and 24th of August a festival takes place in the temple called “Sento-Kuyo (千灯供養)”. “sen(thousand) to(light) kuyo (repose of deceased souls)”. The candle lights offered in front of the statues are to pray for the souls of the deceased who are now unknown.
The temple is located on a mountain and viewing cherry blossom in spring and autumn colours is enjoyable there. The place reminds us life and death are connected and like the changing colours of the seasons nothing is eternal.
Adashino-Nenbutsu-ji (Official/ Japanese)