A Chichibu Pilgrimage
Tucked away along mountain paths or in small rural villages, the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temple Circuit (秩父札所三十四巡り) is an ancient pilgrimage route, stopping at 34 different temples in Saitama's Chichibu area. Since the 13th century, pilgrims have been hiking up mountains, wandering through beautiful forests, getting directions from locals, and making their way to these many Buddhist temples, all in white robes (called hakui, 白衣) and straw hats (sugegasa, 菅笠). If you love tranquil hikes, amazing views of eastern Japan, temple visits, or collecting goshuin, here are some of the spots to visit first!
① Temple #13 ・ Jigenji Temple (慈眼寺)
With 34 temples on the pilgrimage, there are 34 different options, so where do you even start!? Well, only seven minutes from Seibu Chichibu Station, Jigenji Temple is the most accessible of the 34 different temples. Because of this convenient location, many travelers will begin their pilgrimage from Jigenji, and the temple makes it especially appealing by selling many of the items that pilgrims take with them as they go.
The Buddhist image at Jigenji Temple is said to provide protection to the eyes, so many people will write their wishes and prayers on the temple's ema (絵馬) votive tablets painted with "め," which means "eyes." They even offer tea brewed from the "megusuri no ki" tree (目薬の木), which is said to be good for the eyes!
② Temple #32 ・ Hoshoji Temple (法性寺)
Hoshoji Temple: the only temple on the pilgrimage with a bell tower. But that's not all this temple has! Visitors can try meditation at Hoshoji to purify the mind and body, and climb the rather rugged path to the inner sanctuary. It's a taxing journey, but the beautiful view, peaceful atmosphere, and Buddhist figures waiting at the end of the road make it worth all the trouble.
③ Temple #23 ・ Ongakuji Temple (音楽寺)
"Ongaku" means music in Japanese, which makes this the temple of music. Ongakuji is a popular destination for musicians, who come to pray for a hit single, but it's also home to 13 stone statues, who represent the 13 Buddhas who established this pilgrimage in 1234. Those same Buddhas are said to have given the temple its name, declaring that the sound of the wind rushing through the surrounding pine trees sounded like the music of the bodhisattvas.
④ Temple #26 ・ Enyuuji Temple (圓融寺)
Make the difficult climb up 300 stone steps through the beautiful forest, and you'll be rewarded by a spectacular view, a little like the famous Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyotoーyou'll forget all about your aching muscles.
⑤ Temple #27 ・ Daienji Temple (大淵寺)
Climb a mountain path, or hop on over along the hiking course from temple #26 (Enyuuji), and you'll find Daienji Temple's panoramic view of the city of Chichibu, and the 16.5 meter Hakui Kannon statue. This Kannon statue is sometimes nicknamed the "Gokoku Kannon" (護国観音), essentially the "national defense Kannon," because it's holding a sword instead of a lotus flower!
⑥ Temple #28 ・ Hashidatedo Temple (橋立堂)
On the western edge of Chichibu's iconic Mount Buko, built below a giant rock wall towering 75 meters overhead, Hashidatedo Temple is said to be home to the "horse Kannon," and many people visit the temple to pray for safety on the road. After taking in the view of the overwhelming rock wall, you can relax and take a break from your busy pilgrimage with a surprising cup of coffee at the neighboring Jurin's Geo Cafe.
Enjoy the Beauty of Chichibu and the Peaceful Pilgrimage
Of the six temples we've recommended today, many have been hidden in beautiful natural enclaves at the end of rugged paths and mountain trails. But the fantastic feeling of finally arriving at these gorgeous destinations, finding yourself both exhausted and spiritually refreshed, is like nothing else. Give it a try next time you're in Saitama!