When feeling a little down on their luck the locals often try to restore their fortune via a pilgrimage to honour the seven lucky gods of Japanese folklore. There are over 20 of these fixed temple courses in Tokyo alone complete with stamps to collect along the way as nothing is complete without such a thing in Japan. Such trips are admittedly more popular around January when people want to get New Years off to a positive start.
These seven lucky gods have popped up in Tokyo Fox posts over the last few years whether it be in Yugawara (Kanagawa) or Maebashi (Gunma) but this time I’d be visiting them right up in the north of Saitama about 35 kilometres south of the latter. I can’t say I was full with too much excitement for seeing those guys again but I was quite interested in the mission of getting round the three areas and five temples to locate them. This actually all came about after I asked a friend about one of the temples and he provided me with this map (below)!
I should confess that I actually attempted this feat way back in August. The night before I had been to watch Kashiwa Resyol beat FC Tokyo 1-0 at Ajinomoto Stadium with Scottish Neil which was then followed by a few 9% alcoholic drinks outside a nearby convenience store. I ended up passing out on the sofa for the whole night although that did help a bit with waking up early and being on a train just after 7am heading up north along the Tobu Toju Line. Just over two hours later and I was at the unmanned Yodo Station (below) for my first meeting with the gods.
Renko-ji Temple was about a 15 minute walk south of the station and home to arguably the most impressive-looking gods (below) of the seven. Two for the price of one at this place where playground amenities and jizo statues mix together.
Five minutes away from there was Yorii Station and the river flowing through the area offered some of the best views of the day.
Joko-ji Temple was the longest walk of the trip at nearly 40 minutes. It’s a fairly small temple with just a solitary colourful statue of one of the smiling gods. For the record they’re called Hotei, Jurōjin, Fukurokuju, Bishamonten, Benzaiten, Daikokuten and Ebisu. Before you ask, I do not know them individually!
Not so far from there was this bridge and a dam (below).
It was another sizeable journey to the next place as Gokuraku-ji Temple was 35 minutes from Joko-ji temple and, like the first temple of the day, it was home to two of the gods. As I closed in on this place it started to spit with rain a fair bit but thankfully it was short-lived and was not going to ruin my day.
15 minutes later and I was back at Yorii Station where I found a map signboard nearby which was the only one I encountered that actually gave any details of this seven gods tour of the area. Just six minutes south on the train and I was at Obusama Station for the final two gods of this tour.
Ever since writing about a shrine of cartoon characters in April I seem to have seen statues in other such places of Doraemon, Hello Kitty and so other. It happened again en-route to find god number six.
Chosho-ji Temple was about half an hour south east of the station and my first destination in the area. The red-orange coloured god I was looking for was round the back.
The seventh god was to be found at Joraku-ji Temple which could have proved the most problematic as it was the only one I was unable to locate on my apps map ahead of this pilgrimage. It turned out to be fairly easy though as it was on an information board in the station and was just over ten minutes north on foot. This temple was ultimately reached after crossing a field-of-sorts as the maps app suggested that as the quickest route.
More interesting than finding the final god in my quest was this rabbit statue placed in front of a tree and holding what appears to look like a carrot full of small change.
It took just over four hours to complete the mission and everything had gone pretty much as planned regarding the timings for getting from place to place and connecting with the limited trains. It should be noted that trains are far less frequent than Tokyo up in this part of Saitama so planing is pivotal should you wish to not find yourself having to wait over an hour till the next train!
All had gone fairly well but just as I reached the station it started raining heavily. I wasn’t really focusing at all, completely misjudged where a white metal post was and whacked my thigh on it really hard as it began to pour with rain. What a plonker!!
That wasn’t the end of my day though as a little further down the Tobu Toju Line (having taken the 13:41 train) I got out at Higashimatsuyama Station which is home to a number of interesting sights. On the north side of the tracks is Yakyu Inari Shrine a.k.a. the baseball shrine. My intentions lay much further south though and this pretty little park (below) lay about half way between the station and my destination.
Despite a bit of pain in my thigh I managed to walk for half an hour to Yoshimi Hyakuana to see the caves but just before them is the Gan Kutsu Cliff Face Hotel (below). Click here to read my original report on that which details the history of the place. It has not surprisingly overgrown in the seven years since my last visit and you can hardly even see anything through the gates now.
The temple next door is (I think!) called Iwamuro Kannon (below) and with its 88 buddha statues is definitely worth a quick look.
Just round the corner from there are the Yohsimi Hyakuana caves (300 yen entrance) which were also a bit disappointing as so much seems to have been closed off from the public. On my previous two visits in 2010 and 2011 you really were free to wander pretty much where you wanted but not so much now. It’s a shame really but I seem to recall a similar thing happening at Angkor Wat in Cambodia between my two visits as that’s generally what happens the more and more tourists flock to a place.
Click here to read ‘Tokyo Daytripper: Top 10 Saitama Sights’