Nanzoin Temple is in the Sasaguri area of Fukuoka Prefecture and is home to an enormous reclining Buddha that dwarfs the more famous giant bronze seated Buddha statues of Kamakura and Nara . The temple is more famous still for its connection to the Sasaguri Pilgrimage and many of the million or so visitors that come to the temple to complete this sacred walk every year.
Nanzoin Temple is a three-minute walk from Kido Nanzoin-mae Station on the JR Sasaguri Line. Express trains from Hakata Station take 21 minutes, while local trains take 24 minutes.
Built in 1995, Nazoin's bronze Buddha is impressive. Known as Nehanzo, it is 41 meters in length, 11 meters in height, and weighs around 300 tons, approximately the same weight as a jumbo jet. The statue was built to house ashes of the Buddha and two of Buddha's adherents, Ananda and Maudgalyayana. The ashes were donated to the temple by the Buddhist Council of Myanmar following the temple's donation of medical supplies to the children of both Myanmar and Nepal.
Unlike most Buddha statues in Japan, its pose is reclining rather than sitting. The reclining pose is far more common to Buddha statues of south-east Asia and was the pose assumed by the Buddha as he met his death and entered Nirvana. The more common sitting pose found across Japan represents the Buddha meditating.
The reclining Buddha is reached by walking through the Shichifukujin Tunnel, which is dedicated to Japan's seven gods of fortune. At the statue, visitors are supposed to grasp the colored ropes that hang from the Buddha's left hand and say a prayer. Following this, it is customary to walk around to the ornately decorated feet of the Buddha and place a coin on the decorations for luck. For a 500 yen fee, visitors can enter the prayer room inside the statue.
Nazoin Temple moved from Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture to Sasaguri in Fukuoka Prefecture in 1899 after anti-Buddhist authorities in Wakayama threatened to destroy the temple in 1886. The temple occupies a large site that sprawls across the hillside. As well as the Nehanzo statue, there is a large statue of Fudo Myoo (a protective deity in the Shingon sect of Buddhism), 500 statues depicting the Buddha's disciples and an Inari shrine.
More than a million people visit Nanzoin each year, many of whom come to the temple to complete the three-day Sasaguri Pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage is 44 kilometers long, and many of the sites en route are located on the slopes of Mt. Wakasugi, which is located near Nazoin Temple. There are 88 sites along the pilgrimage route, 26 of which are full temples, while the rest tend to be smaller features such as memorial stones and small statues. Many of the temples have tea rooms and rest areas for those on pilgrimage.
Every year before the New Year, hundreds of Buddhist faithful come together to clean the statue using bamboo leaves tied to five-meter poles.