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Rock visages of Buddhist monks carved to honor those lost at sea

On the shores of the Sea of Japan and in the shadow of Tohoku's tallest volcano, Mt. Chokai, is a tranquil and mysterious spot known as Rakan Iwa . The faces of 22 Buddhist figures are carved into the rocks—including one of the Buddha himself—serenely gazing out across the sea.

These silent guardians watch over the ships as they have done every day for 150 years, ever since a priest at Fukura Kaizen Temple named Kankai proposed creating them to mourn lost fishermen and sailors and to pray for the safety of those at sea.

Don't Miss

  • The 22 unique monuments to lost local seamen
  • The annual ceremony in late July when the sculptures are lit up at night
  • The Miharashi Observatory's stunning view of the sculptures

How to Get There

The best way to get to Rakan Iwa is by car or taxi.

The site is only a five-minute drive from JR Uetsu Honsen Fukura Station.

The faces of compassion and piety

Carved by stonemasons over a period of five years, the figures are remarkably well preserved, each one with a unique expression. It is not uncommon for these faces to be surrounded by small piles of coins left by well-wishing travelers.

From the sandy and stony grounds below, you can see and admire the meticulously carved figures. Just don't be surprised if you can't find them all, since several are well concealed.

Notable sights just minutes away

On a rocky beach just a five-minute walk away is Dewa Futami, twin rocks linked by a rope. Watching the sun go down between the two—which often happens, especially in May and August—is breathtaking and reportedly lucky.

Just five minutes away by car is Kamaiso Beach, most notable for a small freshwater spring bubbling from beneath the sands. Standing in the cool spring waters is particularly pleasant in summer.

Sunset gazing and an island hop

Throughout the year this is one of the best locations to see the sun setting over the Sea of Japan. In July, the area is especially spectacular, as the sculptures are illuminated at night.

On clear days you can see the island of Tobishima on the horizon, 40 kilometers out to sea. For adventurous travelers, the island is a worthy day trip. You can explore the area on foot or by bicycle, or relax and do some fishing in the clear waters while enjoying spectacular views of Mt. Chokai.

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