“A spiritual cave beneath a Japanese garden” was enough to get me interested in this 400 meter-long underground tunnel north of Tokyo.
On my previous visit to Takasaki at the start of this year I picked up a free map at the information desk about a few sights in the area but didn`t look at it until I had returned to Tokyo. There are a fair few places of interest in reasonably close vicinity of each other so I travelled up to Gunma Prefecture again. That may seem quite far but it`s actually a very easy 100 minute train ride from Ikebukuro without any changes.
From the station (west exit, bus stop #8) I took a local bus for about 15 minutes to Dokutsu Kannon Iriguchi bus stop. It was a boiling hot day in late July so I was relieved to get inside the cave once I`d stumped up the ¥800 (approximately £5/$7) entrance fee. For the record, that also includes entry to the gardens which lie directly above the cave in part.
The tunnels were built around 100 years ago and took about 50 years to carve out by hand. It was the brainwave of Tokuzo Yamada who, having made his fortune as a dry goods seller, decided to construct a sacred underground paradise where people could come together to enjoy such a wonder of nature.
Constriction started in 1919, and Yamada continued to invest his own private fortune in it for half a century, until he passed away in the mid 60s. The underground temple was completed without the help of modern machinery using pickaxes, shovels and sheer manpower dug out the cave and haul stones.
There are nearly 40 statues of Goddess of Mercy in the cave. Many of them are caged within the holes in the wall, and they all offer different benefits and divine favours for those who believe in all that.
These include things like erasing illness, protection from water accidents, giving easy birth, gaining leadership skills, daily peace, living long and healthily, safety when travelling, protection from disasters, making your dreams come true and just about every other possible common wish. You name it, there`s a goddess statue for it!
The cave is dimly lit and particularly in the hot Japanese summer offers respite with year round temperatures in the cave of 17 degrees celsius.
About half an hour is all it really takes to wander through the cave and the stone carvings appear one after another. Whether you`re spiritual or not, it really is an interesting place.
- Dokutsu Kannon is located at 2857 Ishiharamachi, Takasaki, Gunma-ken. It is open from 10 am every day of the week. Closing time is 4pm on weekdays and 5pm at the weekends.
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