Vegetarian's Japan Guide

A Guide to Mizusawa Temple, the Origin of Mizusawa Udon

Mizusawa-dera (水澤寺), southeast of Ikaho Onsen, has been a highly regarded temple for centuries. The temple is filled with amazingly built buildings and Buddha statues. The Tendai sect temple has Eleven-faced thousand-armed Kannon (十一面千手観音) as the main image, so it is also referred to as Mizusawa Kannon (水澤観音). Aside from wishes for safe child delivery and parenting, the temple is also a spot to pray for good health and fortune. So in the Ikaho area, the temple is a tourist spot that is just as popular as the hot spring town!

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Tip: Mizusawa Temple is also a cherry blossom and autumn foliage spot. The cherry blossom season at Mizusawa Temple is usually from mid-April to early May. The fall foliage season is usually from early to mid-November.

How to Get to Mizusawa-dera Temple

  • As Mizusawa Temple isn’t close to a train station, you will need to take a bus from either JR Takasaki Station (高崎駅) or JR Shibusawa Station (渋川駅) and get off at Mizusawa Kannon (水沢観音).
    • Refer to Ikaho Onsen’s Access Information for more details. The buses bound for Ikaho Onsen should stop at Mizusawa-dera.
    • You can also take a taxi from JR Shibusawa Station, which will take around 15 minutes.
  • From Ikaho Onsen, you can also take Ikaho Town Bus No. 4 (伊香保タウンバス4号) or Mizusawa Shuttle Bus (水沢シャトルバス).

Tip: If unsure about the bus timetable, check with the temple office/souvenir shop staff.

Mizusawa Temple’s Opening Hours

  • Mizusawa-dera is open from:
    • 9 am to 4 pm on weekdays
    • 8 am to 5 pm on weekends and public holidays
    • The Shakadō Hall is currently closed until further notice.

Mizusawa-dera’s History

Mizusawa Kannon is said to have been erected during the early Asuka period (592 to 710). It was said that the temple was erected by a Goguryeo (a Korean kingdom at the time) monk named Ekan (恵灌). He was invited by the governor of Kōzuke Province (上野国), today’s Gunma Prefecture, to establish his family temple. The temple was once so prosperous that more than 1,200 Buddha statues were placed around 30 to 40 sub-temples. Unfortunately, most were destroyed due to the conflict between the governor and the temple’s followers in the late 7th century.

The temple was later revived by the disciple of Gyōki (行基) in the late 8th century, but the buildings were then destroyed by fire again in 1511 and 1524. In the Edo period, Mizusawa Temple was supported by the Tokugawa shogunate. This is why you will find the Tokugawa clan’s hollyhock crest everywhere in the temple, whether on the side of the paper lantern or on roof tiles. Many pilgrims and Ikaho Onsen’s visitors also contributed to the temple’s prosperity.

Niō Gate (仁王門)

Ⓒ 水澤寺

Niōmon is a splendid gate atop the 40 stair steps from the temple’s purification fountain. The Nio statue and statues of the wind and thunder god are magnificent.

When you get to the gate, remember to turn around to observe the stunning natural scenery!

Also, look up for the dragon painting on the ceiling. It was drawn by Kanou Tanun (狩野探雲), a famous painter in the mid-Edo period.

From Niō Gate, there are an additional 97 stairs to the next temple building. The number nine is pronounced as “Ku”, which can mean hardship. The number seven is pronounced as “Na”. Thus, 97 staircases were constructed so that all of your hardships are eliminated after climbing the stairway.

Note that the stairways are both steep, so climb carefully and slowly.

Tip: There is a small staircase leading to the top of the gate. It is accessible by tourists. A golden Gautama Buddha (釈迦如来), Manjushri (文殊菩薩), and Samantabhadra (普賢菩薩) are enshrined on the gate’s second floor. Behind them are the Sixteen Arhats.

Ⓒ 水澤寺

Shōrō (鐘楼)

Ⓒ 水澤寺

The bell at the bell tower was completed in 1975 and was named Taiwa no Kane (大和の鐘). The large bell at Mizusawa Temple’s Shōrō can be knocked by anyone as long as a 100 yen coin is donated. It is said that ringing this bell can chase away your earthly desires and bring you luck and fortune.

Note that if you want to ring the bell, do it before worshipping the Buddhas because if you ring it afterwards, the blessing from the Buddhas will be chased away, too!

The sound of the bell has long been said to be the voice of Buddha, and the calming sound is offered to them. So listen carefully to the sounds that echo in the mountains. While you might not hear any messages from the Buddhas, the clear sound should make you feel at ease.

Like other Japanese temples, Taiwa no Kane is rung on New Year’s Eve.

Hondō (本堂)

Hondō is Mizusawa Temple’s main worship hall, enshrining the main image, the Eleven-faced thousand-armed Kannon.

Why does the Bodhisattva have so many faces and arms? The number of faces and arms is a metaphor that Kannon Bodhisattva listens to all creatures’ wishes and extends a helping hand to those who ask for it.

Ⓒ 水澤寺
Ⓒ 水澤寺

It is said that the Kannon statue enshrined at Mizusawa Temple belonged to the wife of the Kōzuke Province’s governor, who asked for the temple to be built. According to legend, she was saved by Kannon Bodhisattva from being drowned by her stepmother.

The temple remains a popular religious spot amongst females, especially pregnant women and mothers with young children.

Even if you are not a parent, it is said that if you worship Kannon Bodhisattva by offering incense sticks, he will look after your health. This is why Mizusawa Temple’s Hondō is usually surrounded by the white smoke from the burning incense sticks pilgrims offer.

Note that the Kannon Bodhisattva is a hidden image at Mizusawa Temple. You won’t be able to see his face unless you are lucky enough to visit the temple when the hidden image is shown to the public once every 12 years!

Hondō’s Building Decorations

Similar to the Niō Gate and Rokakudō, the Hondō also underwent a major renovation completed in 1787. The colorful carvings underneath the roof were a part of that major renovation. And don’t forget to check out the dragon and Celestial maiden paintings on the ceiling by Kanou Tanun. As it was a prayer temple of the Tokugawa shogunate, the large lantern hanging in front of Hondō’s donation box has a hollyhock crest printed on it.

Underneath Hondō’s roof, there are two large wooden plaques. One of them has “一隅を照らそう” written on it, meaning ‘light up a corner’. It was taken from the phrase written by Saichō (最澄), who started Japan’s Tendai sect.

The full phrase by the master was “径寸十枚これ国宝に非ず、一隅を照らすこれ則ち国宝なり” meaning “Money and treasure aren’t a nation’s treasure. Whether in the workplace or at home, those who shine because they do their best playing their roles are precious national treasures that are irreplaceable”.

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

Tip: There is a narrow stairway at the back of Hondō. It leads to the temple’s entrance, which passes the Niō Gate.

Rokakudō (六角堂)

There is a small ritual you can try at the temple’s Rokakudō, completed at the end of the 17th century. It is where six Jizo Bodhisattva (地蔵菩薩) is enshrined. As the Bodhisattva is said to look after the six realms of Hell, Hungry Ghosts, Animals, Asura, Human, and Celestial Realm, the temple that enshrines him is of a hexagon shape.

Ⓒ 水澤寺
Ⓒ 水澤寺

By turning the Jizo Bodhisattva statues in a clockwise direction three times, it is said that what you truly wish for will come true! As each of the six Bodhisattva statues is large in size, turning the base will require a lot of strength! As you spin it, remember to make a wish!

After spinning the statues, don’t forget to check out Rokakudō’s ceiling decoration. They all look different, with the 12 zodiacs drawn/carved! On the second floor, Vairocana (大日如来) is enshrined.

Next to Rokakudō, there are 8 Buddha statues. These statues are the guardian of the 12 zodiacs (十二支守り本尊). So how about following suit and joining hands in front of the one who looks after your zodiac for good fortune and to help fulfil your personal goals?

Ⓒ 水澤寺

Iiduna Daigongen (飯縄大権現)

There is a red torii gate close to Hondō. It is the gate to Iiduna Daigongen’s shrine. He is the god that has guarded Mt. Mizusawa since ancient times. Due to age, the shrine was renovated in 1994.

Ⓒ 水澤寺
Ⓒ 水澤寺

If you love hiking, the trailhead of Mt. Mizusawa’s hiking trail is close to the shrine’s torii gate. It takes around 90 to 120 minutes to reach the summit at 1,194 meters. On a clear day, you can even see Mt. Fuji!

Ryūō Benzaiten (龍王辨財天)

Ⓒ 水澤寺

Between the Niō Gate and Mizusawa Temple’s main hall is a small pond with a female celestial statue enshrined on the other side. She is Ryūō Benzaiten, who is known for bringing luck and fortune. In particular, the water of this pond is said to be the miraculous spring of Mizusawa Kannon. Many pilgrims would visit the temple to draw water from the fountain next to the pond.

Apparently, the Mizusawa Udon sold at the restaurants surrounding Mizusawa Temple all use this mountain spring to make the noodles. It is no wonder that the noodles are so delicious!

There is a small frog in the water fountain that is also known as an object of worship. Apparently in the past, the locals would eat frogs whenever there was a food shortage, so a frog statue was enshrined there to thank it for keeping many people alive. You can kindly pull water over the frog and make a wish while doing so! (^_-)-☆.

Shakadō (釈迦堂)

Shakadō is Mizusawa Temple’s museum. Completed in 2001, the building’s main purpose is to preserve the precious Buddha statues and hanging scrolls.

The red Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja (賓頭盧尊者) statue is placed at Shakadō’s entrance. If any part or parts of your body are unwell, stroke the same body part or parts of the statue. It is said that by doing so, you will soon recover from your illness.

If Shakadō is closed when you visit, there is another Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja statue at Hondō.

Ⓒ 水澤寺

Mizusawa Udon (水沢うどん)

The Mizusawa area is infamous for Mizusawa Udon. The udon is one of Japan’s three most famous udons!

© photo-ac.com

The chewy and slightly thick noodles are made with only flour, salt, and Mizusawa’s fine water. The noodle with a smooth texture was first made for worshippers of Mizusawa-dera Temple. This was why the udon was named Mizusawa.

If you are tempted to try it, refer to our Tamaruya and Other Vegan-Friendly Mizusawa Udon Restaurant article!

Discover Other Attractions in Ikaho Onsen

Not too far from Mizusawa Temple, Ikaho Onsen is one of the most well-known hot spring towns in Gunma Prefecture. Not only does it have mineral-rich hot springs and is filled with delicious cafes and shops, but the onsen town also offers amazing scenery!

So refer to our Best Guide to the Must-Visit Spots in Ikaho Onsen to plan your visit!

Ikaho Stone Stairway Ikaho Onsen Shibusawa Gunma Japan
Click the photo for more information about Ikaho Onsen’s attractions!