The Five Buddhas of Wisdom – where nobody would have exptected them
Everone who has visited this website once in a while, will know: Tōkyō is always good for a surprise. But it should also not go unmentioned that, even after a great number of years of repeated discoveries of the grand as well as the (almost) unknown, there still seems to be an almost inexhaustible pool of sights the city has to offer.
There is hardly a place more predestined to be “made known” here than the Buddhist temple “Nyorai-ji” (如来寺 / にょらいじ) in Tōkyō’s Shinagawa ward (品川区 / しながわく), as it is hardly ever mentioned in any of those guidebooks (at least not in the German ones). There is also extremely little to be learnt about it on the internet (apart from a rather impressive Japanese website the temple itself hosts). One might fall for the misconception that this temple might utterly insignificant or not worth seeing at all. But – as so often – the absolute opposite is the case.
Have a walk with me to one of the most impressive Buddhist places in the city.
The Nyorai-ji (如来寺 / にょらいじ) was foundet in 1626. And about 100 years ago it was combined with another temple, the Yōgyoku-in (養玉院 / ようぎょくいん). It belongs to the Tendai school (天台宗 / てんだいしゅう) of Japanese Buddhism – the school that draws its wisdom from the lotus sutra.
The temple’s grounds belong to the “100 beautiful landscapes of Shinagawa” (しながわ百景 / しながわひゃくけい), and you approach them via the main gate of the temple, the Sanmon (山門 / さんもん) – which looks rather newish; no wonder, it was completed only in 1989.
The slope leading up to the temple’s main buildings does not only feature an impressive belfry, but is also lined with sculptures of auspicious divinities. Of course, the friendliest of them all is the always rubenesque Hotei (布袋 / ほてい). Maybe he is such a happy fellow, because he is so popular that he is being worshipped in both, Buddhist temples as well as Shintō shrines…
But the actual magnet, the breathtaking gem of the temple can only be found in the Buddha hall (仏堂 / ぶつどう), where the entrance is guarded by two rather fiercly looking deva (protective divinities).
But don’t let them scare you! Enter the Buddha hall and meet the Gochi-Nyorai (五智如来 / ごちにょらい): the five transcendental Buddhas, the five Buddhas of wisdom. Don’t worry, if you cannot remember their names and titles, just call them the way they are usually being called: “Daibutsu of Ōi“ (大井の大仏 / おおいのだいぶつ).
The statues of Buddha are made of wood and are each three metres tall. As it befits religious sculptures that are connected with the lotus sutra, they all throne and meditate on the blossoms of lotus.
Let’s meet the five divine gentlemen (from left to right, or from the southwest corner of the building to its northwest corner respectively):
- Sakyamuni Tathagata, called Shaka-Nyorai (釈迦如来しゃかにょらい) in Japanese Buddhism.
- Amitabha Tathagata, called Amida-Nyorai (阿弥陀如来 / あみだにょらい) in Japanese Buddhism.
- Mahāvairocana, called Dainichi-Nyorai (大日如来 / だいにちにょらい) in Japanese Buddhism and regarded as the “Great Sun Buddha”.
- Ratnasambhava, called Hōshō-Nyorai (宝生如来 / ほうしょうにょらい) in Japanese Buddhism.
- Bhaisajyaguru, called Yakushi-Nyorai (薬師如来 / やくしにょらい) in Japanese Buddhism and regarded as the “Buddha of Medicine” or “Buddha of Healing”.
The easiest way to distinguish them is by having a look a their hand’s posture….
Address of the Nyorai-ji
How to get there:
Take Japan Rail’s (JR) Yokosuka line (横須賀線 / よこすかせん) or Shōnan Shinjuku line (湘南新宿線 / しょうなんしんじゅくせん) to Nishi Ōi (西大井 / にしおおい) (from Shinjuku it is just a short hop of four stations by Shōnan Shinjuku line).
Or take the Asakusa line (浅草線 / あさくさせん) of the Toei Subway (都営地下鉄 / とえいちかてつ) to Magome (馬込 / まごめ).
And maybe you have some time to spare, then take a note of the following: On August 13 (from 6 pm) there is the “Festival of 1000 Lampions” (千燈供養 / せんとうくよう) on the grounds of the Nyorai-ji.