Japanese Tourism and History: Negoro-ji and Buddhism in Stunning Wakayama
Tomoko Hara and Sarah Deschamps
Modern Tokyo Times
Japan is blessed with amazing nature and the cultural reality of this unique nation means that you have so many stunning places to visit. Wakayama prefecture is located in the Kansai region and throughout this part of Japan you have many amazing landscapes. Also, Wakayama is near to Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto, and Nara. Therefore, it is a great base to visit many places that are extremely rich in history and culture.
The Negoro-ji area in Wakayama is blessed with many Buddhist temples, exquisite architecture, lovely gardens and this is equally matched by the rich heritage. On top of this, the mountainous area provides a stylish backdrop and for tourists who adore culture, religion, history, and heritage, then Negoro-ji will certainly appeal.
Kyoto and Nara often spring to mind when you think about special religious places in Japan. However, in truth, Wakayama is equally blessed because of Negoro-ji, Koyasan, Nachi Katsuura, and the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage area that runs throughout the Kii Peninsula. On top of this, you have many other amazing places to visit in order to soak up spirituality.
The richness of Negoro-ji in history is abundantly clear because the foundations of this important Buddhist retreat began in 1087. En no Gyoja and Hofuku-Choja laid the foundation stones for this important area for Buddhism in Japan. Indeed, while today the area is called Negoro-ji, in the past it was known by the name of Hofuku-ji. This name was given in honor of one of the main individuals who gave birth to this amazing part of Wakayama. The stunning view of the Katsuragi Mountains also enhances the entire area because religion and nature appear entwined naturally.
Lee Jay Walker, Modern Tokyo Times, says “The Buddhist leader Kakuban (1095-1143) is also a very powerful person in the early period of Negoro-ji. This holy Buddhist leader was a firm follower of the revered Kukai who was the founder of Shingon Buddhism. However, Kukai (774-835) belongs to a different period of time in history because now schisms had emerged within this Buddhist branch. Therefore, while it is true that Kakuban developed Negoro-ji to a different level, he couldn’t prevent schisms within the Shingon Buddhist faith.”
Lee Jay Walker further comments, “Irrespective of the religious intrigues within Shingon Buddhism the religious leader Kakuban was instrumental in the construction of Enmyo-ji and Jingu-ji. These two holy places further enhanced the growing power of the Negoro-ji area throughout this period of history. The death of Kakuban didn’t alter the continuing power of this remarkable place because more temples were built in and around this vibrant place for Buddhism.”
In another article by Modern Tokyo Times, it was stated “…for hundreds of years the chants of Buddhism were powerful because many amazing temples were built. Also, Japanese gardens will have enhanced the serenity and the mountain peaks were deemed to be sacred. This period of history also witnessed the growing power of high culture within elite communities. Therefore, for several hundred years after the death of Kakuban, the future of Negoro-ji looked promising.”
The same article continues, “However, just like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi also clashed with Buddhist sects who had military prowess and political ambitions. In 1585 the forces of Hideyoshi burnt nearly every temple to the ground apart from the odd exception. Also, the main Pagoda survived the devastation based on power concentration policies that would follow the sacking of this spiritual place. Sadly, in this period of history in Japan, it is clear that the central forces of Nobunaga and Hideyoshi feared the power concentration policies of several Buddhist sects.”
Luckily for Negoro-ji, Tokugawa Yorinobu in 1623 changed everything because now Buddhism would play an instrumental role during the Edo period. Alternatively, while the rise of Buddhism flourished in the Edo period the Christian faith faced a major inquisition whereby all converts to this religion faced the death penalty. However, some crypto-Christians survived by hiding their faith and by going underground. Also, some Buddhist temples didn’t support the state edicts of Tokugawa, therefore, they allowed Christians to worship in secret inside the closed doors of Buddhist walls.
Returning back to Yorinobu he allowed the reconstruction of Negoro-ji to take place. Therefore, the Edo Period would witness the regeneration of Negoro-ji, from the utter devastation that had engulfed this holy Buddhist place. Turning the clock forward, then for the vast majority of tourists – or individuals who go on religious pilgrimage to this lovely part of Wakayama – it will be difficult to imagine the carnage that once took place in Negoro-ji. After all, the stunning architecture, temples, gardens, and amazing backdrops are of complete serenity. Yet in the sixteenth century it is clear that major leaders in Japanese history feared the power of Buddhism. Given this reality, the serene Negoro-ji suffered greatly and the same applies to other parts of Japan including Kyoto.
Today in modern Japan the area of Negoro-ji is once more at peace and thankfully living Buddhism continues to flow. Overall, Wakayama is a very beautiful part of Japan to visit because of Koyasan, Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route, Nachi Katsuura, Wakayama Castle, the lovely beaches of Shirahama and so much more.
Lee Jay Walker provided vital information in support of both writers because of living in Wakayama in the past.
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Some Japanese cultural and historical articles by Modern Tokyo Times are republished in order to inform our growing international readership about the unique reality of Japan.