By Kasia Szumna
Seitai Hoshikai in Japanese means the Institute of the Handmaids of the Holy Eucharist. It is a community of nuns living a life of dedication in a convent near Akita City, possibly one of the most peaceful cities on earth. It is located in a semi-rural area with rice fields and forests eight kilometers north east from Akita City/JR Akita Railway Station, on Highway Route 15. On the way you may pass the Akita Hot Springs, and it is before Mount Otaki.
You don’t have to be Catholic or Japanese to visit this place, and while the nuns here do not speak much English, the language of peace and contemplation is universal. There are a number of gardens and spots for prayer and meditation in the grounds, such as the Garden of the Lamb. There is a mix of Japanese and European influences in the gardens and chapels. One of the more tranquil spots is the Japanese Garden, with trees donated from various parts of Japan. Many volunteers worked on this garden which is a labor of love. Visitors should note that this is more like a convent than a church. There is mass at 0730, but that is not open to the public.
Many people come here on a pilgrimage, to see the statue of Mary, also called Our Lady of Akita. It was carved in 1963 by Mr Saburo Wakasa, a local sculptor. From 1975 to 1981, it shed tears over a hundred times, with more than two thousand witnesses. One of the nuns, Agnes Katsuko Sasagawa, was cured of her deafness during a mass in 1982.
As this is a place of contemplation, there is not much in the way of eating places near Seitai Hoshikai. You can also buy some takeaway food and drink from the shops at Akita Station.
The Chapel is open from 9:00am to 11:30am, and again after lunch from 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm.
Seitai Hoshikai is accessible as a day trip or half-day trip from Akita City. From the west exit of JR Akita station, go to bus stand 12 Bus numbers 351, 352, 353, 360, 361, 362 should go to the Yuzawa stop, the nearest stop to the church. When you get on the bus, you need to take a ticket. The ticket has a number on it. When you get off the bus, look at the fare corresponding to the ticket and then pay the fare in the ticket box. They also provide change from 1000 yen notes. The bus takes 20 minutes and soon after the Akita Expressway crossing, get off at the Yuzawa bus stop. It is a ten-minute walk up the hill from the bus stop.
Please note the return bus timetable when you get off, just in case you miss the last bus and have to wait 30 minutes for the next one. Alternatively, you can catch a taxi from Akita Station, and you can ask for their business card and then call them to pick you up when you are ready to return. It is about 8 kilometers from the city and there is parking on-site. The fare is approximately 2800 yen each way.
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