There is no doubt that Rakanji temple is one of the greatest temples in Oita prefecture. But what makes it so special?
Built on the top of a mountain, and constructed around 700 years ago, this Buddhist temple will steal your breath away. It is claimed to have 3700 stone Buddhas, several caves, and many preserved scriptures. The history of the Rakanji temple dates back to the 13th century, when an Indian monk, Hodo, preached and meditated around this area. Later, a priest named Shogaku decided to construct a temple honoring Hodo in Mt Rakan. This gives the temple its name, Rakanji.
It is a little hard to reach this site without a hired or private car, but there are bus stops nearby too. From the center of Nakatsu city, near the station, it takes around one hour to get there but it was totally worth the trip.
When I first arrived, I was told that there are two ways to get up the mountain. One is by walking up the steps which takes around 40 minutes, or the second is by taking the chair lift. This chair lift is something like you see in ski areas, but it climbs really steep. Nonetheless, this was an extremely fun ride and I strongly felt like doing it again. It looks a little primitive, but it is safe and super exiting.
On reaching the top, I had to climb a few steps before I arrived at a cave that had hundreds of Buddha statues. When I walked further, there was a worship area and the priest was chanting prayers. Around this area, I saw something really interesting. There were hundreds and thousands of rice paddles ('shamoji') attached to the walls. These rice paddles were adorned with messages symbolizing people's wishes or prayers. An interesting fact is that the word 'shamoji' also means to save somebody. And did you know the 'go-en' (or 5 yen coin) that people drop into the donation box at a temple also means "good fortune".
The tourist highlight of this place is the panoramic view from the top of the mountain. You truly get to see the beautiful wilderness of Nakatsu. And if you want a better view, you could also pay a small entrance fee to the main building and climb to the top of it. Getting to the top of the building might be a little troublesome, but once you are at the top, the view just gets better. Though I didn't try it, you can go higher up the mountain via the same lift or by climbing on foot.
Rakanji temple is an architectural wonder located fairly remotely, but what starts with an exhilarating lift ride ends with a breathtaking view from the top. There is, of course, plenty to learn about Buddhism and Japanese culture in between.