"You have to go to Nokogiriyama in Chiba Prefecture. It's a power spot," a friend said. I laughed and replied that it sounded like "saw-toothed mountain." I was intrigued when I learned that was the name. "During the Edo Period (1603-1867), there was a stone quarry, and that's where the name came from." I've always been attracted to so-called spiritual places, so I hopped into my car, found Nokogiriyama in my navigation system, and off I went.
I hadn't done any research, so I had no idea what would await me. My GPS took me to a temple with a grand name ? Nihon-ji. Japan temple! Wow. I got out of my car and walked up to the temple gate and was relieved to see a sign that read Nokogiriyama Nihon-ji Annaizu (information map). Oh, so I have come to the right place. Studying the signboard, I learned that the whole mountain was one big place of worship. I could see how this could be a "power spot."
I paid the entrance fee and walked along a path when suddenly, a humongous Buddha appeared before me. The 31.05-meter-high Nihon-ji Daibutsu, built in the late 1700s, is more than twice the size of the one in Kamakura and the largest ancient stone Buddha in all of Japan.
How come I had never heard of it, especially when it’s not that far from Tokyo! The breathtaking Buddha had a medicine jar on his palm, so I recognized it to be Yakushi Nyorai. I made an offering and prayed that those in need of healing would get it.
I walked around the mountain and came to an area called Fifteen-hundred Rakan (Arhat). Today there are only about a third of the statues left as most were decapitated or destroyed during Haibutsu Kishaku--a period in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) when anti-Buddhist violence erupted. Yes, Japan has seen religious savagery, too.
There’s Jigoku Nozoki (Peep Into Hell), a scenic cliff; Hyakushaku Kannon, a 30-meter stone statue of the Goddess of Mercy built in 1966; and a Bodhi Tree from Bodh Gaya where Buddha attained enlightenment that was given to Nihon-ji from the Indian government.
Before returning to my car, I went to the restroom and smiled when I saw Ususama (the God of toilets) at the entrance reminding people not to be judgmental and to stay pure. Yes, physical and mental cleanliness is next to godliness.
Nokogiriyama is indeed a spiritual place. I felt lightened and cleansed as I descended the "power spot" mountain.
This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the August 6 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa's In and Around Tokyo," that is the successor series to the popular "Lisa's Eye on Tokyo." Moving beyond the geographical range of its predecessor, the new series will depict areas further from central Tokyo that can be enjoyed in day trips, but will still offer the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.