✍️: Erin 📸: Jan & Erin
We meander onto a nondescript path while climbing a steep mountainside staircase at Japan’s sprawling Daisho-in Temple. The stone path could be a service entrance or maybe an entryway to another small shrine. We aren’t sure. But we have time, so a wrong turn won’t hurt.
Then colorful dots appear on both sides of the forested path. A few steps later, the dots of red and white and yellow and blue climb up a long stone staircase through the woods. When I realize what we’ve happened upon, I melt into full-face smiles.
Some 500 stone statues line both sides of the path, each depicting an old man in a robe — and they all wear a tiny knitted cap of various colors.
Some men are jovial, their arms waving as if excitedly telling a story. Others lounge contently, amused by their neighbor. A few are grumpy old men, arms tightly crossed, eyebrows judgey. Each man has unique ears and wrinkles. They even sit differently, their robes draped accordingly.
What are they?
I called them rasta buddahs, but the small statues represent the original followers of the Buddha. The colorful caps — maintained by temple visitors, we’re told — are intended to keep the men and their little bald heads warm.
Statues of pudgy, smiling children — also donning knit caps — appear throughout the complex. They’re tucked into corners or sit atop steps. Each is intricately carved with smile lines, or a frown, or a pout. One seemed to be having a temper tantrum.
Discover it like we did:
The rasta buddhas start subtly, with a half circle of old men donning candy cane red-and-white knitted caps. The path then takes you away from the statues, so you think you’re moving on to another sight. As you round a corner, your sight initially blocked by a boulder, you suddenly see a rainbow of knitted hats.
Here’s a full slideshow of the statues from start to finish. Click through the photos to see them in order. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! (Jan was ahead of me and saw everything first, so he took photos to catch what he knew would be my elated expression as I rounded the corner.)
Mijiyama Island and this temple are a must see if you go to Hiroshima (which you must do while in Japan). The steep hike on the island and the staircases of the temple deterred many tourists from making it to the top, so it was also fairly quiet — not the norm for a temple of this size, detail and notoriety.
The Daisho-in Temple, near the base of Mount Misen, is among the most important temples of Shingon Buddhism, according to local guides. And it was probably my favorite temple complex in Japan, which is home to many, many beautiful temples ❤️
Read and see more on the full complex here, including hiking up Mount Misen to see stunning views of the ocean and islands below.