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May 2004
Issue 048

KS Classifieds

Classifieds now combined with Kansai Scene.

Doors of the divine — Ohara

Over a thousand years old, the holy temples of Ohara and their surroundings have the beauty and the blessings of the gods.

No matter in which part of the Kansai you are located, Ohara, just north of Kyoto city, is a very accessible local hideaway that is too often overlooked. The place is a perfect destination for those who want to touch the cultural history of Japan and be touched by the beauty of Japanese nature. Being off the beaten Kyoto temple trail but a significant heritage centre in its own right, it has the air of being under-discovered rather than un-discovered. Yet it is a place open to all to enjoy a relaxing atmosphere, scenic landscape, historical treasures and a walk in the countryside.

Ohara is about an hour bus ride north from Kyoto Station, cutting through Kyoto city and later traveling hilly roads. When you arrive at the bus stop, you have the options of choosing either left for Jakko-in temple or right for Sanzen-in temple — the two most significant attractions of Ohara. In either direction, during the fifteen minutes walk to the temples you can hardly hear any noise, except the murmuring of a stream and twittering of the birds, and you will find several paddy fields surrounded by thick-wooded hills.

The walk is through real countryside and you can enjoy chatting with farmers in the rice-fields, looking at ancient traditional Japanese houses and the beauty of rural life. You may even see some of the local monkeys strolling across the roads and fields as they still owned the place and oblivious to the busy humans. Approaching the temples, souvenir shops and pickle stores line the route.

Jakko-in is an ancient temple — founded in 594 by Prince Shotoku — is famous in particular for its association with the empress, Kenreimonin (1155~1213), who was a second daughter of Kiyomori Taira. After the destruction of the Taira clan in the naval battle with the Minamotos (1185), she shaved her head to become a nun, and lived the rest of her life at Jakko-in temple where she prayed for the repose of the Taira.

Regrettably, the main hall of the temple was burned down in a big fire on May 9th, 2000. Currently, the temporary main hall is placed, and its reconstruction project is under going.
Nearby Sanzen-in temple is very famous for its beautiful Japanese gardens and important cultural properties and therefore, you may see more tourists around.

The temple is surrounded by some of the best Zen gardens of the region. Shakyo, transcribing a sutra, is one of the popular attractions of the temple. It is said that if you transcribe words of the Buddha, then your cherished ambition would be realized. So make sure you try your luck!

Ojo Gokuraku-in temple and Raigo-in temple are the neighboring temples of Sanzen-in, much smaller in scale but perhaps better representations of the spirit of Buddhism. Both the temples have three wonderful statues of a seated Buddha in a nicely darkened atmosphere.

A perfect ending to the day is Shorin-in temple, which is again very close to Sanzen-in, and quiet enough to close your eyes to have few meditative moments in front of the beautiful solitary statue of Buddha — to gain absolute silence within. Without doubt this will remain with you till you are back on busy Kyoto roads, memorised by picturesque Ohara.

Getting there:
From C3 Kyoto Bus Terminal (next to JR Kyoto station), get on the Kyoto Bus #17 or #18 that takes you to OHARA bus stop (the last stop).
A one way ticket costs ¥580.
Entry to temples: ¥300/¥600.

Text: Akiko Kunihiro Photos: Jatin Banker


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The Ohara area is also famous for its mompei trouser-clad Oharame women, who use to sell firewood and vegetables from carts throughout the northern reaches of the city; a few still do. During this annual two-week festival, women can try on their distinctive mompei clothing, and you can see women marching in their lovely costumes.

5/16/31: Costume rental
5/16: Ploughing Shibuzake in the fields
(if rain, 5/17)
5/22: March in traditional costumes
(if rain, 5/23)
5/30: Discourse on Buddhism.
For more information call Ohara Tourist Office: 075-744-2148 (Only in Japanese)