Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom
September 15, 2005
The walk through the souvenir shops from Narita Station may not be very promising, but the entrance to the main courtyard is sudden and magnificent, through a market square and up a flight of steps to Niomon Gate, where a red paper lantern drops from the roof between scowling guardian statues. A bridge arches over a pond, turtles crowd a rock in the centre, and inscribed stone markers rise vertically out of the steep banks, then there’s a final flight of steps to the top. On the right, there’s a 25m three-storied pagoda decorated with snarling lantern heads, and to the left, Korinaku Hall towers above a huddle of brightly coloured shop windows. Directly ahead is the twin-tier-roofed Great Main Hall. The image of Fudo Myoo, the Buddhist God of Fire, enshrined inside the hall, was dispatched from Kyoto in 940AD to support Imperial troops suppressing an uprising. At the end of the campaign, the soldiers were unable to move the statue, which had mysteriously grown in weight, so the Emperor that ordered a temple be built around it. At the start of February each year, tens of thousands of people gather for Setsubun, throwing beans in front of the hall to ward off evil and encourage good fortune.
Naritasan Park starts at the top of the steps behind the main hall, and trails lead through the woods to three ponds strung between a waterfall and calligraphy museum, stepping stones, bridges, and pavilions, stretching over and across the water. In a couple of minutes, you can be totally alone, standing by densely packed stone markers at the base of a pine tree, hearing nothing but the faintest rumble of water. To the left of the pond, on the other side of a fountain and gardens that could have come straight from a French chateau, the arresting sight of the Great Pagoda of Peace juts 58m up into the sky. There’s something unexpected around almost every corner at Naritasan, be it faded inscriptions on wooden votive tablets or a collection of Chinese legends carved in relief on the side of a hall. There isn’t a temple in Tokyo to touch it.
A number of festivals are held at Naritasan throughout the year including a firelight Noh play in May and a portable shrine parade in July. Check at the city’s tourist information centre for details.
From journal Days Out of Tokyo