Undeterred by my failed attempt to see the Iko-ji Temple Benten Cave near Keio Yomiuriland station last year (it had closed down), I decided to head off on a 30 minute walk from Ofuna station to locate Josen-ji Temple. This one was mentioned to me by a student at the same time as the closed one, and the journey back from Odawara seemed like the perfect opportunity to seek this one out.
Located in a suburban neighbourhood surrounded by rice paddies, the tunnel entrance could be seen fairly quickly within entering the temple grounds and I headed immediately towards it completely unaware that there was an entry charge!
The temple grounds themselves are of course free but it costs 400 yen to enter the cave but I just wandered off into the cave. About 300 metres is open to the public although the original length is actually close to 1000 metres.
To the left of the entrance is a holder for the candle (above) and just inside the cave there is a flame to light your own one not that I had one the first time I looked round.
The temple was affiliated with Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura back in the 12th century and for about 500 years the cave was gradually carved by hand into the limestone hill by meditating Buddhist monks. I was immediately impressed by the scale of the place and it’s maze-like nature.
I had pretty much done all of the cave by the time I exited and was approached by the owner asking for the entrance fee. I apologised and paid up 400 yen straight away and we chatted for a bit. She gave me a candle with my change and ushered me back towards the entrance so I went through the motion of going around what I had just seen albeit in a different direction (the proper one!) this time. The candle didn’t add anything more than atmosphere really and it kept going out. However, it did at times give me the opportunity to more closely examine some of the intricately carved chamber walls.
There is a narrow river channel running through the caves at its lowest point. According to the pamphlet I was given, the nature of the soil in the cave is a solid sheet of clay stone rock with no dislocation and this foundation is the reason the cave is safe and solid and has survived countless earthquakes unlike the aforementioned Iko-ji Temple Benten Cave. Reinforcements have been added though just to be on the safe side. Sadly this makes it trickier to really view the carvings running parallel to the noiseless river.
It was naturally warm inside the cave with it’s man-made low ceilings just a few inches above my head but once in the chambers it opened up a bit and there was more space though probably nothing to appease your average claustrophobe! Fruit and boxed drink offerings seem to have been quite common at the altars of the tiny temples dotted throughout the cave but I have no idea why!
Before heading back to the station area to check out the Ofunakannon-ji Temple, I spoke to the owner who said I was the first foreign visitor, and she wondered how I had come to know about the place. Given that she presented me with a pamphlet featuring an English translation inside I’m really not sure if that’s true…or maybe I just misunderstood what she was saying!
How to get there: Take the west exit at Ofuna Station and either catch the #72 bus or enjoy the 30 minute walk. The address is 1501 Tayacho, Sakae-Ku, Yokohama.
Click here to read ‘Tokyo Daytripper: Ofunakannon-ji Temple’
Click here to read ‘TF Top 10……Kanagawa Sights’
Click here to read ‘Tokyo Daytripper: Iko-ji Temple Benten Cave’