Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Hōonji Temple and the Rakan Statue Doing the Big Heart Pose

When the Gautama Buddha was alive, he had many disciples. While they are commonly known as the Five Hundred Disciples (五百羅漢). The number, five hundred, illustrates the greatness of the quantity. Because each of them had learned directly from the Gautama Buddha and was on the way to enlightenment, they were worshipped and enshrined in Buddhist temples.

About Hōonji Temple

One of the temples in the world where you can meet the Five Hundred Disciples is Hōonji (報恩寺) in Morioka. The 500 wooden Rakan statues were completed between 1731 and 1735 by nine sculptors of Buddhist images. Although one of them is missing, it is still astonishing to see so many statues in one place. And surprisingly, they have different facial expressions and body language.

Hōonji was erected in 1394 as a Sōtō sect (曹洞宗) temple in Aomori‘s Sannohe (三戸) to pray for the ancestors of the Nanbu clan. When the family moved to Morioka, the temple was relocated together.

The temple’s Sanmon Gate (山門) is magnificent. The two-story building was completed in 1978 and has various delicate carvings applied throughout. The worship area on the second floor has a Kannon Bodhisattva and deities enshrined.

Hōonji is also one of the few spots in Morioka where you can see a building from Morioka Castle. Although the castle was dismantled in the Meiji Restoration, one of the castle’s gates was relocated to Hōonji as its Sanmon Gate. It was moved backward and renamed as the Chūmon Gate (中門) to enable the construction of the current Sanmon Gate.

Refer to HERE for Hōonji’s map.

Hōonji’s Rakan-dō Hall (羅漢堂)

From the Sanmon Gate, walking towards the main worship hall, there is a Rakan-dō Hall on the left. The building, completed in 1735 and renovated between 1850 and 1851, is where the 499 Rakan (Disciple) statues are enshrined. To see the statues, you need to pay the admission fee at the reception in Hōonji’s main hall. The main hall is connected with the Rakan-dō.

The Rakans’ facial and body language is expressive and even humorous. You can almost hear a conversation between the disciples or what they are thinking. We even found a Rakan doing the big heart pose! It is almost like Rakan’s sculptor traveled to the future and saw the big heart pose that we do nowadays for photos!

Moreover, it is said that one of the disciples would look like you. The clothes they wear aren’t restricted to one country. So how about finding the one that resembles you the most? Some even find one disciple who looks like Marco Polo (the 3rd photo in the IG post)!

Lastly, remember to look up at the ceiling for the lively dragon painting (albeit it is weathered)!

In Buddhism, a Rakan is a status name given to a person who has attained enlightenment through ascetic practices. In today’s terms, it is similar to a degree given to a student after he has finished all the required studies.

Hōonji Temple’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • Hōonji is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
  • The admission fee is:
    • 300 yen for adults
    • 100 yen for elementary school students.
  • From JR Morioka Station, take a bus and get off at Kitayama (北山). The temple is then a 5-minute walk.
  • If you take the Loop Bus Dendenmushi-gō, the temple is a 12-minute walk from the bus stop, Honchōdōri Ichi-chōme (本町通一丁目).

Discover the Must-Visit Attractions in Morioka

Azumaya Honten Morioka Iwate Japan
Click the photo for travel ideas in Morioka!

When you hear of Morioka, Wanko Soba and Morioka cold noodles are probably the two first things that come to mind. But the city isn’t just about food. It also has many cultural attractions, hot springs, nature and more!

So refer to our Morioka article for ideas about where to stop by when visiting Iwate Prefecture’s capital city!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *