Tokyobling's Blog

Fukusenji Temple – Yugawara

Posted in Places by tokyobling on May 28, 2015

On the western edge of Kanagawa Prefecture (which neighbors Tokyo to the south west) lies Yugawara Town (湯河原町) right between the Pacific Ocean and the glorious hot springs of the mountains. Even in Japan Yugawara is famous for being a town catering to old people, due to the many hot springs who specialize in the elderly and since 2008 the town has no high schools, although three elementary and junior highs. There are quite a few interesting temples in the town though, not least being the pretty little Fukusenji.

Although technically not in Yugawara Town, as the border to Atami City and neighboring Shizuoka Prefecture lies just about 50 meters to the east of the temple, along the Chitose River, it is for all practical purposes completely a Yugawara temple. The main temple building has a gorgeous straw roof which is getting quite unusual these days. Although being more or less loaded with beautiful statues the temple is mostly famous for it Kubi Daibutu, or Big Buddha Head, a rather crude statue of a buddha head! This ceramic head used to be located inside Nagoya Castle but was moved here in 1945.

There is an interesting story behind how the statue came to be, in a legend from the early 17th century. The Daiymo (Lord) of Owari (modern Nagoya) was passing through a town in his grand procession just as a rather deaf lady was taking her bath in front of the family house. Her horrified daughter pushed her mother complete with bath tub and soaps into the house. Seeing this very humble act of daughterly devotion, the Daimyo Tokugawa Yoshinao (1601-1650) forgave the family their indiscretion and commanded her to take up a position as a castle maid. However the Lord’s interest in her were a little bit more rustic, and a year later the poor girl gave birth to a son whom she promptly dispatched of with with the excuse that such a lowly born girl as herself could not possibly be the mother of a child from such an exalted lord. In pity on the girl and the child it was decided that the Buddha Head statue would be created, to remind both the Gods and the Lords of the tragic story (or, unconventional humbleness on the part of the girl).

I might have mistranslated the story, but I think this was what happened. The story was put in very vague terms to say the least! Another explanation, although much less colorful, is that the head was an offering to the spirit of the Daiymo’s favorite son who died at the age of nine.

In the middle of trying to make sense of the legend, I completely failed at finding out just how old the temple itself is!

Yugawara Town is just one stop on the train to Atami, a trip that takes between 90 to 140 minutes from Tokyo, depending on how fast you need to go (with ticket prices to match).

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