Nakazawa Hiromitsu: Pilgrimage to the Thirty-Three Western Provinces

The Buddhist Channel, 11 December 2023

A 78-day Pilgrimage to Seek Solace After the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake

Tokyo, Japan
-- Renowned Japanese artist and illustrator Nakazawa Hiromitsu (1874-1964), aged 49, embarked on a pilgrimage on December 11, 1923, accompanied by his friends, haiku poet Ishikura Suiyō and Western-style painter Akatsuka Chūichi. Their destination: the thirty-three temples that make up the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, a journey spanning approximately 1,000 kilometers in Western Japan's Kansai region.

Nakazawa Hiromitsu: The Pagoda of Tennoji Temple

Captured in a picturesque scene at Nara Park during their 78-day pilgrimage, the trio donned the latest men's fashion, featuring tonbi sleeveless overcoats, hip-length shoulder capes over kimonos, Western-style hats, and traditional geta on their feet to keep them elevated from the mud on the many trails of this spiritual trek.

The reason for undertaking this journey a little over three months after the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake, which devastated Tokyo, remains unknown. Perhaps it was to find solace in the ancient temples and the company of good friends.

Nakazawa, the leader of the trio, was a traveler at heart and a prolific author and illustrator of books and prints in the very popular sketch-tour genre, where artists traveled throughout the country and the Japanese colonies, sketching and writing about the places they visited.

The Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage (Saigoku sanjūsansho junrei)

Japan's most famous pilgrimage, originating in the 11th century, encompasses thirty-three Buddhist temples in Western Japan (Kansai region) dedicated to Kannon (bodhisattva Avalokitasvara), the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who hears the cries of the world and assists anyone in distress.

The thirty-three temples on the approximately 1,000-kilometer pilgrimage route correspond to Kannon's ability to take on thirty-three different forms. One hundred thousand pilgrims navigate the route in its entirety or in part each year.

It is traditional for pilgrims to wear white clothing and conical straw hats and to carry walking sticks. While the route was historically traveled by foot, today pilgrims usually use cars or trains. Pilgrims record their progress with a prayer book (納経帖 Nōkyō-chō), which the temple staff mark with red stamps and Japanese calligraphy indicating the temple number, the temple name, and the specific name of the Kannon image.

Some pilgrims receive the stamps and calligraphy on wall scrolls (for a decorative hanging) and on their white coats (to be cremated in) as well. It is customary for pilgrims to recite goeika (junrei uta) specific to each site upon entering.

Origin of the Saigoku Pilgrimage

The origin of the pilgrimage is largely unknown, although the retired emperor Kazan (968-1008) is popularly credited with founding (or reviving) the Saigoku Thirty-Three-Temple Kannon pilgrimage route.

Kazan was credited with authoring the thirty-three waka poem-prayers (junrei uta or goeika), consisting of thirty-one syllables, which appear at the end of each temple entry and are the major devotional liturgy of the pilgrimage.

Yet, according to Professor of Religious Studies Mark MacWilliams, "despite the popular stories, there is no historical evidence linking the retired emperor with the origin of the route. Most scholars agree that the thirty-three-temple route originated at the end of the Heian period, at least a century after Kazan's death. In all likelihood, the actual founders of the route were two Tendai monk-ascetics from Mii-dera, Gyōson (1055-1135) and Kakuchu (1118-1177)."

Nakazawa's Documentation of the Saigoku Pilgrimage

In June 1925, fifteen months after the trio completed their pilgrimage in February 1924, the publisher Kanao Tanejirō, who had previously published Nakazawa's sketch-tour books, released the print album titled "Saigoku sanjūsansho junrei gakan" ("Picture Album of the Thirty-Three Pilgrimage Places of the Western Provinces"), consisting of woodblock prints made from Nakazawa's sketches, poems by Ishikura, and one print by Akatsuka of Nakazawa resting after his journey.

Other material for the album was contributed by University President and Doctor of Religion Mochizuki Shinkō 望月信亨 (1869–1948)1, Washio Junkyō 鷲尾順敬 (1868-1941), the Buddhist scholar and historiographer, and the tanka poet Sasaki Nobutsuna 佐佐木信綱 (1872-1963)2, making this album quite a religious and literary, as well as a pictorial, undertaking.

This work by Nakazawa Hiromitsu is an overlooked wonder of 20th-century Japanese woodblock print production. It is not only an artistic achievement but also a statement of Japanese resilience in the aftermath of great destruction, with the pilgrimage undertaken a little over three months after the Great Kantō Earthquake devastated Tokyo, and the second edition of the album being released just nine months after Imperial Japan's unconditional surrender following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The woodblock prints in the series highlight Nakazawa's lightness in depicting the temples, given the solemnity of the period after the Great Kantō Earthquake. Rather than focusing on the images of Kannon in each temple, he is almost whimsical in the scenes he chooses to represent each temple, sometimes focusing on the surrounding landscape rather than the temples themselves.

When figures appear in the prints, much like Hiroshige and Hokusai landscapes, they are just going about their business - individual pilgrims making offerings, monks walking the grounds. And, on occasion, one of Nakazawa's traveling companions appears.

Unfortunately, the poetic and other inscriptions on the first seven prints remain untranslated. Their translation into English might well throw light on Nakazawa's thoughts and reasons for undertaking the seventy-eight-day pilgrimage.

As an artistic work integrating contemporary Buddhist scholarship and poetry with the painterly renderings in woodblock of Nakazawa's sketches, "Saigoku sanjūsansho junrei gakan" ("Picture Album of the Thirty-Three Pilgrimage Places of the Western Provinces") deserves further study.

More information: Wikipedia - Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage

Here is the site listing the Saigoku 33 Kannon Route
We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: