Japan is one of the top modern countries in the world. To be living here and witnessing amazing technology and inventions I’ve never seen before is indeed an experience. But amidst the marvels of modern day Japan, the things that really captivated me about this nation are its cultural and historical legacies.
Buddhism and Shintoism are its two most dominant doctrines. In the same way as Christian churches are spread out across my home country, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are pretty much around every municipalities of Japan. From grand structures to modest buildings, these sacred places are alluring, especially in the eyes of an outsider like me.
A habit that has formed during my current stay in Japan is the weekend quest for shrines, temples and nature parks – usually on a bicycle. One of the rides that I enjoyed the most so far was the eight-temple pilgrimage in Seya-ku.
Seya is one of the 18 wards of Yokohama City. Within this humble district are eight Buddhist temples which people visit in a specific order to pray. These temples are dedicated to the gods of good fortune and finishing the pilgrimage is believed to bring upon luck and blessings.
To add a little more fun and motivation for this religious quest, stamp sheets with eight blank entries were made available at the Seya train station during New Year season. On each temple is a unique stamp that pilgrims will use to mark their stamp sheet. Although there’s no actual token or reward for anyone who finishes the pilgrimage, I believe visiting temples may never be as fun as this.
Seya is just a few kilometers from our apartment. From the train station and back, the entire route to finish all eight temples is more or less 12 kilometers. Doing so on foot is a real challenge and it could take one whole day to complete. But since we cheated on this one by riding a bicycle, we finished early in the afternoon.
Total distance : 12 kilometers
Sights and Scenes
In Japanese belief, seven gods represent the Shichi Fukujin. Also known as the Seven Lucky Gods, they are result of influences from China, India and local folklore. Seven of the eight temples in Seya-ku are dedicated to each of the Shichi Fukujin.
According to Japanese mythology, during the New Year, these gods travel together on their ship, Takarabune to visit humans and bless them with good fortune. It is no surprise that also during this season, more people visit their temples to pray and worship.
The first of eight temples of Seya is devoted to Daruma Daishi. He isn’t one of the Shichi Fukujin but was a very important figure in Japanese religion. From India, he crossed the Himalayas on foot to China to introduce the teachings of Buddhism. He was instrumental for spreading one of the dominant religions in Japan.
The Myokoji Temple which is on the northern part of Seya is dedicated to Daikokuten, the god of agriculture, food and wealth. In carvings and pictures, he is often showed as a happy male wearing a peasant’s hat. Daikokuten is considered to be the provider of food. Images of him can still be found on the kitchen of traditional houses.
Ebisu is the patron god of the Zenshouji temple. A god of the ocean, fishermen and other laborers, he represents a safe voyage and a bountiful fishing. Ebisu is the most popular among the Seven Gods of Good Fortune because he is the only one who originated from Japan.
Ebisu is depicted wearing hunting clothes holding a fishing rod with a large catch at the end of the line.
The fourth temple, Tokuzennji, is the biggest among the eight temples. It is dedicated to Bishamonten (also known as Bishamon). A god of the warriors, he is often prayed to for victory over battles. Bishamon is also a god who guards people from invaders and illnesses.
Most images of Bishamon present him wearing an armor while holding a treasure tower or pagoda on his left hand.
Hozoji temple is the place of worship for Benzaiten. The only female diety of the Shichi Fukujin, she is the goddess of love, education, arts and sciences. Students, geishas, entertainers and artists are her usual followers.
Benzaiten’s depictions often shows a woman sitting on a lotus leaf carrying a mandolin. Almost every major city in Japan has a shrine of temple dedicated to Benzai and most of it are located near a body of water or pond.
The sixth temple, Saifukuji, on the other hand is dedicated to Hotei, the god of contentment and happiness. Illustrated as a balding fat man with a happy face, Hotei has also been called many names : the Fat Buddha, the Laughing Buddha among some others. It was believed that he was based on a real person.
Hotei is depicted to carry a cloth bag on his bag which never empties. He uses it to provide food for the poor and needy.
The seventh temple, Sonsenji was one of my favorites. Its open space centered by big sakura tree distinguishes itself from the others.
Sosenji is the temple of Fukurokuju, the god of wealth, happiness and longevity. He has an unearthly depiction of having an elongated head, bearded and holding a cane with a scroll. His origins point to an early Chinese tale about a Taoist hermit who performed miracles. Fukurokuju is believed to have celestial powers from the south polar star.
The eight and last temple, Zentsu-in Shizeido, is dedicated to Juroujin, the god of wisdom and longevity.Commonly shown as an old man with a long white beard carrying a staff with a scroll, he is often confused with Fukurokuju. Stories say the the two gods inhabit the same body, which led to their similar depictions.
Juroujin is often associated with a deer, a crane or a plum tree which are symbols of long life.
The temples in Seya-ku are actually are minor compared to the more popular temples in Japan. But this quest is a good one-day adventure for those long term stay-ins in japan. But for short term tourists who wants to experience this kind of activity, I would suggest to do the seven god pilgrimage in Kamakura City, to see the grander and more popular temples.
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