In the Gardens of the Eleven Headed Kannon

The Buddhist Channel, 17 June 2023

Kamakura,Japan -- Hase-dera, also known as Hase Kannon (Chinese: Kuan yin or Avalokitesvara) Temple, is a renowned Buddhist temple located in Kamakura, Japan. It is known for several notable features and attractions, making it a popular destination for visitors. Here are some special aspects of Hase-dera which makes it one of the "must visit" destination to Kamakura apart from the Big Buddha.

The Kannon Statue

The temple is famous for its large wooden statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The statue stands at a height of around nine meters and is considered one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan. The Eleven-Headed Kannon holds a rich legacy of bestowing miraculous blessings. Despite its reputation, this divine carving has encountered a tumultuous past. Since its creation in 727, the image has suffered the misfortune of being engulfed in flames three times before succumbing to another devastating fire in 1219.

History and Cultural Significance

Hase-dera has a long history dating back to the 8th century and is one of the oldest temples in Kamakura. According to legend, the temple's origins date back to the Tenpyō era (729-749). Nevertheless, temple records indicate that its true flourishing took place in the Kamakura period (1192-1333). It has survived numerous fires and wars over the centuries and stands as a symbol of Japanese Buddhist culture and heritage.

The Cave and Benten-kutsu

Hase-dera Temple boasts a captivating cave known as "Benten-kutsu," brimming with a multitude of petite Buddhist statues. Embarking on an exploration of this cave promises a distinctive and enchanting experience, where one can unearth various concealed treasures concealed within its depths. According to historical accounts, it is believed that Kobo Daishi utilized the Benten-Kutsu cave during his seclusion in the 9th century and personally carved the small statue of Benzaiten with eight arms, which now resides in the adjacent Benten-do Hall.

Benzaiten, a Japanese Buddhist Bodhisattva, made her way to Japan between the 6th and 8th centuries. Her presence is mentioned in the revered Lotus Sutra and she is frequently depicted holding a traditional Japanese lute or mandolin. In addition to her Buddhist significance, Benzaiten also holds the role of a Shinto deity, presiding over all that flowsóbe it words, music, water, or the vast realm of knowledge.

Enchanting Garden

The temple's enchanting allure extends beyond its mystical caves, as it is enveloped by resplendent gardens that transform with the changing seasons. Within the temple grounds, visitors can delight in the sight of a diverse array of flowers, such as the blossoming cherry trees during spring and the vibrant hydrangeas (ajisai) that grace the landscape in early summer. These meticulously tended gardens provide an idyllic and picturesque backdrop, offering a serene sanctuary for all who venture there. Access to the gardens is granted at a nominal fee of 500 yen, and a group visitation system is in place to manage the influx of visitors. It is important to note that due to its popularity, there may be a considerable wait time of up to an hour and a half before entering the gardens.

Jizo Statues

Among the notable features of Hase-dera Temple are its extensive collection of Jizo statues. These diminutive stone figures embody the spirit of the Bodhisattva Jizo and hold great significance. Revered as protectors of the souls of deceased children, these statues bring solace and comfort to grieving parents, serving as a symbol of compassion and care in times of loss.

Spectacular Hilltop Views

The temple is situated on a hillside overlooking the city of Kamakura and offers panoramic views of the surrounding area, including Sagami Bay. Visitors can climb a series of stairs to reach a viewpoint that provides a breathtaking vista.

These distinctive features, along with its rich history and cultural significance, make Hase-dera a special and popular Buddhist tourism destination for locals and foreign visitors alike.

Getting there:

Hase-dera is easily accessible by public transportation.†From Tokyo, take the JR Yokosuka Line to Kamakura.†From there, transfer to the Enoden Line and head to Hase Station. Hase-dera is a five-minute walk from there.†

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