Just uptown a little ways from the train station in Kawagoe is a collection of temples and shrines. At one point, it even hosted a castle from the imperial capital. I went one day to check out the grounds and learn a little more about this location, as well as gaze upon the sites most recognizable feature: The 500 Statues of Rakan.
Edo Castle Remains
The temple has a long and rich history of being destroyed and rebuilt. To summarize,
- Built in 830 A.D.
- Burned down in 1205 A.D.
- Rebuilt in 1298 A.D.
- Burned down again in 1633 A.D.
- Rebuilt in 1640 A.D.
- Damaged in the Great Earthquake of 1923 A.D.
- Damaged again in World War II
During that second rebuilding, the shogun, Iemitsu, had several of the buildings from the imperial capital moved down to Kitain. Most were destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1923 and World War II, but a few survived, which you can now walk through as a museum. It costs 400 yen per person and, unfortunately, there are no photographs allowed. Seeing artifacts and rooms that are literally hundreds of years old is really something else; you can see old armor, traveling carriages, chests, and even an old bathing room, tucked neatly in the corner. The ornate metal work, painting, and wood carvings of the temple from its reconstruction in 1640 are still there today. It’s a mind-bending trip into a small slice of Japanese history.
500 Statues of Rakan
The count numbers more closely to 540, but each statue in this collection is unique. No two are alike! You may also take photographs here, which will hopefully make up for the lack of photography allowed in the museum. You enter by tearing off the stub on your museum ticket and depositing it into a small box before entering the statue area. If you just want to see the statues, it’s only 350 yen per person.
The statues were all carved in a 40-year period that stretched until 1825. Each statue is the depiction of a disciple of Buddha. The legend goes that if you come in the dead of night and feel the statues, one will be nice and warm. Mark that statue in your mind and return the next day. That statue is, supposedly, the one that you resemble the most. I visited mid-afternoon, and the temple closes around 5 PM, so I don’t know how one could verify this claim. Regardless, it is there for us to speculate about.
If you’re in Kawagoe, this area is very nice and worth the cheap price of admission! It’s just a short walk from Kurazukuri Street, the main draw, so feel free to shuffle in your Geta down to Kitain!