Otagi Temple

Sublime Bliss

Some thirty years ago the Otagi Temple offered its members an opportunity to come and carve stone figures as part of a fund raising drive to enable the temple to make much needed repairs.  Aside from some basic guidance and carving instructions – and the block of stone they were given – the sculpturers, amateurs all, were handed few constraints on what to carve.  Judging from the results it’s obvious they all took full advantage of the creative freedom given them.  The carvings are surprisingly varied, many whimsical, and not at all solemn.  Each one is a unique expression, yet they all look as if they came from deep within the author’s vision of nirvana.   According to my mother, who was one of the early group of members to come and carve a rakan, some people came from afar to spend a couple weeks in Kyoto to complete their work; others made several trips over a longer period of time.


On her rakan here, my mother says that she had her mother – my grandmother – in her thoughts when she completed the figure. I am not so sure that the carving has the likeness of my grandmother, but she has full cheeks and very generous earlobes, both of which, I believe, speak of contentment and happiness.

mom and her rakan

Here is my mother and her rakan. In my limited understanding of Buddhism, upon death each one of us attains a state of peace and enlightenment, becoming a disciple of Buddha – a rakan. I think it was important for my mother to do this for her mother, and to bring my father and I here.

When I first proposed a trip to Kyoto with my parents, and a visit to this temple, I had no idea that this was where she had made the stone carving, which she had talked about from time to time (but was never clear about where it was or insist that we visit). It would be like her to say that she was waiting for me to ask that we come here (very roundabout, typical Japanese passive-aggressive mode of communication, of course) It also turned out that the last time my parents visited Kyoto together was during their brief courtship – which would have been more than 50 years ago in the post WW2 years! It’s hard to explain, but there was a certain serendipity to this visit.

Here are more images and a slide show of our visit to the Otagi rakans.

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