The last time I was in Japan, I was on a study abroad trip. The class I was taking focused on the dropping of the atomic bombs so we visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and while in Hiroshima my class visited this really beautiful place called Mitaki Temple (which, for jetlag reasons, I mistakenly thought was in Kyoto, glad I got reminded it was in Hiroshima, otherwise who knows where I would have gone). Now, the first time I visited this place, I just thought it was a beautiful place, but this time it was…very special. I really felt like I was in a special (sacred) place and I’m wondering why that was the case. Maybe it’s because I was alone this time and was able to be more meditative?
This is the entrance of the temple
The last time I visited, my class got dropped off by a bus so while driving to Mitaki, I wasn’t really sure where I could park. I ended up seeing a small parking lot a short walk away, which is where I ended up parking, but I later saw that other visitors actually drove all the way up to the temple and parked upfront. I don’t mind that I parked down the way since it did mean I got a nice uphill walk out of it, but it’s good to know for future reference!
And actually, before I even got up to the entrance, there was a small board with information and the map of the temple on it. I couldn’t read any of it but I did see THIS and considering some friends had recently been talking about the wild animals one may encounter while in Japan…I became slightly worried. I have yet to throw this into Lens so I’m still not sure what it says
I have not gone to many temples but visiting Mitaki temple is quite the experience because it’s also a mass gravesite. The parking lot where I parked (I think) is actually meant for the people visiting the graves just around the corner from there and these graves extend onto the temple grounds. I don’t remember too much about my studies, but I believe Mitaki temple is where many people trying to find safety after the bomb’s dropping, ended up congregating, and then dying. But again, I haven’t been to many temples before so maybe this isn’t unusual (or perhaps it’s unusual in the amount, not the fact that there are graves)
I did a quick search and also learned that the really beautiful pagoda at Mitaki was actually brought from a shrine in Wakayama Prefecture in 1951. I’m actually really curious about how this was done. Did they sort of just dig it up and put it on a vehicle that drove some six hours (maybe more)? Was it flown over? And how do you just pick it up and go? I figured buildings were built into the ground (foundation) so wouldn’t that make it hard to relocate? Then again, I’m not really familiar with how Japan makes its buildings.
Mitaki has many Buddhist statues everywhere. The main hall is dedicated to Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion but other statues that really stand out have a red cap and red bib.
I found out that this particular statue is a Jizo, another bodhisattva who has similar traits to Kannon. Jizo is said to be the protector of children, women in childbirth, and travelers, but also the being who relieves suffering in hell and leads the souls of children to the afterlife, aka. a very compassionate being.
I also learned that there will sometimes be piles of rocks near these statues, which symbolizes a “wall” that protects the spirits of children from oni, and that it’s a good custom to help the children build these walls. I didn’t really check to see if this was the case at Mitaki but definitely will know to do this the next time I encounter this particular statue. Also, if anyone is curious, we help protect the children that Jizo isn’t able to ferry off into the afterlife since it’s believed that children who die before their parents can’t be sent away until after their parents’ death
I mentioned that this visit to Mitaki was really emotional for me and after learning all of this, I wonder if part of it was because there are such compassionate beings protecting this place. The last time I visited, I was on a school trip with friends and teachers who were touring us around, but this time, I was alone and am in a country…well, alone. My family is far away and I don’t exactly know when I’ll be seeing them again for many reasons, one being COVID. In a sense, I am a bit “lost”. So yes, being at Mitaki was a bit like receiving a hug from my parents, except it was sort of unexpected so I did almost cry
As much as I love to visit places like this, the truth is that I’m always very hesitant because I don’t really know how to “worship” properly. I’m not even very religious, so part of me is also like, maybe it’s not right for me to do this. But I was recently reassured by a friend who is into all this and knows more than me. They said that to them (Buddhism and Shintoism) it doesn’t really matter how you worship. I guess it’s more about the intent. Or maybe they were just trying to make me feel better, who knows!
But I did decide to do this ema, which is a wooden block where we write a wish or give thanks for something, and then offer it to the shrine or temple by hanging it on the emakake, which is that frame that holds all the wooden blocks. I chose the design with the ox because of my sign and tried my best at filling out the information on the back with my very bad kanji skills. I hadn’t started my kanji studies then so I’m sure it was an epic fail. And my wish was in English, but I’m hoping that language isn’t a deterrent since Buddhism isn’t strictly a Japanese thing
Plus, as gods, I’m sure they know all languages
If you swipe to the sixth item on the IG post, you will see another reason why I love Mitaki Temple, which (if you’re like me and didn’t know) means “three waterfalls”. There is nature and water everywhere, giving Mitaki an even more serene feel to it.
I feel like my visit this time was more complete, since I wasn’t in a hurry and could really appreciate everything. That said, I did miss out on the small nature hike up Mount Mitaki because I didn’t know if I could follow this “path”. I did see some people go ahead of me and then just “disappear” so I’m thinking they continued on the mountain path, which I chickened out on because of the boar sign. But next time, NEXT TIME, I will definitely go through this path
When I went back to school and some people asked where I went, even locals (not saying all, but the few I did mention it to) didn’t know about this temple, so it’s very cool that my class was able to experience this hidden gem.