Sightseeing in Ikuchi-shima
First on our list was Kosanji temple 耕三寺 a temple in the centre of Setoda. I thought that our visit at the local temple would be short, but we were in for a big surprise.
Not your Average Japanese Temple
We should have known that Kosanji surely this is not your average Japanese temple from the intricate, colourful gate surrounded by lotus flowers, which we had noticed a few days before when sampling the octopus at a restaurant across the road.
Information and History About Kosanji
Walking up the steps through the entrance gate of Kosanji we gazed in amazement to the vastness of the temple grounds. The vermilion coloured beams seemed an even brighter red in the sunshine in contrast to the other colours present. The detail surrounding us was so intense we had no way of focusing on a single point. We could not believe we were in Setoda anymore. This looked more like a temple you would expect in China! It was built by Kanemoto Kozo, a wealthy businessman from Osaka, as a dedication to his mother.
A Buddhist Monk
After his mother’s death he abandoned his career in steel and became a Buddhist monk. He used up a large portion of his wealth from 1935 onwards in this thirty-year project to recreate important temples and shrines beside his mother’s summer residence. He added his own improvements classic buildings found elsewhere in Japan and he created his vision of a holy place of gratitude to his mother. It is, without a doubt, a breathtakingly beautiful example of what we would call kitsch.
Entrance to the Temple
The entrance fee of 1400Yen for adults and 800Yen for children over 14 seemed a bit steep at first but after our visit felt fully justified. Jerome also received a free Goshuincho, a stamp booklet. This is a tradition in Japan, when visiting temples. Jerome collected his stamps at different stations throughout the temple complex. Goshuincho make a great past time for children and adults alike and make a memorable souvenir. You find them at many tourist sites.
The lotus blooms around the entrance were amazing and distracted us for a while from the man made sights of the colourful temple.
Straight ahead, up some steps we could see a five-storied pagoda (Kanemoto’s mother was laid to rest here), in the middle of two pavilions with religious artefacts and paintings on show. Kanemoto Kozo collected more than 2000 pieces as part of an art collection in his lifetime. Most of them can be seen in the museum across the road from Kosanji temple but many are in and on the buildings in the complex.
We walked on, up the hill, through another beautiful wooden carved gate, the design a copy of Nikko’s Yomeimon gate, with the same incredible artistry and design.
The Main Temple
Then we found ourselves in the main part of Kosanji’s temple grounds. We could not stop gazing at every thing it was unlike anything we had ever seen before in Japan.
Hill of Hope
We took the narrow winding path through a jizo-statue studded hill, which ended in a grey concrete building housing a lift and a flight of stairs. We opted for the air conditioned lift, to take in a few seconds of cool air before stepping back out onto a white marble desert, 未来心の丘 Miraishin No Oka, Hill Of Hope. How could this be part of a Japanese temple? So alien to it’s surrounding, Miraishin No Oka was designed and created over a period of 16 years by sculptor Itto Kuetani and opened to the public in 2000. Over 5000 square meter of Italian Carrera marble was shipped to Setoda to cover the mountaintop. I was totally amazed by the brightness of the white marble against the deep blue sky and the vibrant colours of the flowers planted along the path leading up to the “Tower Of Light”.
Cave of Thousand Buddhas
By now our eyes started to ache from the light reflecting off the marble and we descended back around some paths to reach the left side of the main hall, where we walked into the cool and dark 千仏洞地獄峡 Senbutsudou, Cave of a Thousand Buddhas. It took nine years to build this artificial concrete cave underneath the Kosanji’s temple complex, with a depth of 15 meters and a total length of 350 meters. The stone lining the cave is originally from Mount Fuji and Mount Asama.
Inside the Caves
We could feel the temperatures drop immediately and the dampness of the cave, which unfortunately is slowly destroying the painted reliefs of hell, which line the walls. These images might be disturbing for smaller children, as they are rather gruesome and would not recommend showing to little one as they might cause nightmares. We walked a few more turns ahead and then tunnel opened out into a cave. We could see hundreds of buddhas along the walls, standing all the way up to the ceiling. The cave spiralled up and the down again into two more grottos, one even with it’s own waterfall. It was almost unbelievable to walk through. Back up some steps and we found ourselves in the bright daylight under the bodhisattva of mercy.
We found we had enough of the brightly coloured temples and religious symbols, but before we left Kosanji temple ground I wanted to visit Kanemoto’s mothers house, the Chosaikaku Villa.
Visiting the Charming Villa
In contrast to the temple we found a traditional and, in contrast, plain looking wooden structure overlooking a Japanese garden at one end. We were the only visitors to the house and therefore could enjoy its beauty and design. Once again we were in for a surprise. The charming Chosaikaku villa fuses both western with traditional Japanese shoin-zukari architecture. We entered the mansion though the kitchen, with its earthen floor, where we had to leave our shoes behind. We then walked first into the two-storied western-style part of the house and thought we were transported back to Europe at around the beginning of the 20th century.
Attention to Detail
The rooms show an elaborate attention to detail, such as stained glass windows from Germany and a marble bathtub. It was very popular at the time to build houses with a western influence. Walking back along the corridor past the housekeeping room back into the Japanese style part of the villa we were amazed by the luxurious rooms we found here. I especially felt like I was inside a piece of artwork rather than a house built for everyday life. The villa truly stands apart from anything I have ever visited in terms of grandeur and attention to detail.
The Japanese Garden
My favourite spot at the Chosaikaku Villa was to sit on the engawa, or veranda, just inside the foyer, overlooking the pond in the Japanese garden, listening to the cicadas hum and watching the dragonflies. I could have stayed here forever – in fact I would have loved to move in straight away. Maybe I had found my dream home? The boys pulled me back into reality, we had totally forgotten to keep an eye on time and with our tummies grumbling went off to have lunch before the best cafes stopped serving for the afternoon.
Our stomachs filled we cycled over the bridge to Takaneshima the next small island trying to find a beach away from the more popular Sunset beach. From the bridge we could spot some local children on a platform jumping into the clear water, a great spot to spend a few hours.
On the Beach
The beach was backed by a high concrete wall; providing us with shade. The beach appeared to be popular with local children due to the platform. Jerome had a lot of fun jumping off, as did Chris. I took to reading my book instead with a dip now and again to cool down.
Where to Stay on Your Tour of the Shimanami Kaido:
Onomichi: The uber cool U2 Hotel Cycle, even Paul Smith stayed there…
Innoshima: Hotel Innoshima somewhat dated but a truly authentic experience and very helpful staff offering amazing views
Ikujijima: Tsutsui, a lovely, modern ryokan in the heart of Setoda
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