Mount Nokogiri (鋸山 Nokogiriyama, lit. "sawtooth mountain") is located in the Bōsō Hills in southern Chiba Prefecture and faces the Uraga Channel, the waterway connecting Tokyo Bay and the Gulf of Sagami. Composed of sandy tuff, Mount Nokogiri's distinctive features are its sawtooth-shaped ridges created by the extraction of building stone during the Edo period. The cliff-like western side of the hill is the location of Nihon-ji (日本寺 Nihonji) temple, officially called Kenkon-zan Nihon-ji (乾坤山日本寺), founded in 725 by the priest Gyōki (668–749) at the behest of Emperor Shōmu. In Kantō, Nihon-ji is the only temple from the Nara Period built by imperial decree (such temples were known as 勅願所 chokugansho). According to ancient records, the emperor endowed the temple with 18 tons of gold, an imperial tablet written by the emperor himself and a scroll depicting 33 images of Buddha personally embroidered by Empress Kōmyō.
Initially, the temple belonged to the Hossō sect but was later transferred to other sects: to the Tendai sect, the Shingon sect, and to Sōtō Zen in the early Edo Period when it became a centre of Zen practice. According to historic stone monuments that still exist today, the temple consisted of seven shrines, twelve monastic buildings and one hundred lodges for priests. In its early days, it was visited by several famous monks: by Rōben (良弁 689-774), by Kūkai (空海 774-835), and by Ennin (円仁 793 or 794-864). Nihon-ji was rebuilt several times; by Minamoto Yoritomo in the 12th century, by Ashikaga Takauji in the 14th century, and in the 16th century by the Satomi clan, the local warlords of Awa Province. The temple's fame reached its peak in Edo period, in particular under the rule of the third shōgun, Tokugawa Iemitsu. It was in 1774 that Guden (愚伝), the chief priest of Nihon-ji, enlarged the temple and turned Nokogiriyama into a sacred mountain. The Nihon-ji Daibutsu and the 1,500 arhat were added to the southern hillside in that same period. The temple suffered considerably in the wake of the Meiji Restoration, when haibutsu kishaku (廃仏毀釈), an anti-Buddhist movement, resulted in great destruction of temple property. Many of the arhat were decapitated, but later restored.
Mount Nokogiri can be reached by Nokogiri Ropeway (from JR Hamakanaya Sta., 500 JPY for adults, 930 JPY for the round trip, 250 JPY for children under 12, round trip 450 JPY), by climbing the over 2,600 stairs from Nihon-ji temple (20-minute walk from JR Hota Sta.), or by car via the Nokogiri Toll Road (see below; motorcycles, bicycles, and hikers are not permitted to use the road).
Situated in a deep gorge, the Hundred-shaku Kannon (百尺観音 Hyaku-shaku Kannon) is a statue of the Goddess of Mercy, carved into the walls of the quarry. Shaku (尺) denotes a unit of length equivalent to one foot or 30.3 centimetres. Seen from the bottom of the gorge, Jigoku Nozoki, the "View into Hell", hangs suspended high above the visitors' heads.
Jigoku Nozoki (地獄のぞき), the "View into Hell", the most famous and spectacular viewpoint of Nokogiriyama, offers breath-taking views over the Bōsō Peninsula and the Uraga Channel. Across the bay, the Miura Peninsula and - on clear days - Mount Fuji can be seen. Jigoku Nozoki can be climbed over a flight of stairs leading up to a small plateau where visitors queue up on weekends or holidays to wait for their turn to peep into hell.
Kanaya Port seen from the ropeway station.
The 1,500 arhat (千五百羅漢Sen-gohyaku Rakan) were commissioned by the head priest Guden (愚伝) and created by master sculptor Ōno Jingorō Eirei (大野甚五郎英令) who also carved the Nihonji Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Nihon-ji temple). He and his apprentices created the figures between 1779 and 1798 of special stone brought from the Izu Peninsula. Arhat (in Japanese arakan 阿羅漢 or rakan 羅漢) are stone statues of individuals who have attained enlightenment. They are scattered all over the cliffs of Nokogiriyama, in groups of up to a few dozens or individually in their own carved niches. During the anti-Buddhist movement incited by the Meiji administration between 1868 and 1874, many of the arhat were decapitated, but most of them were later restored.
Asekaki-fudō (あせかき不動), the sweating Fudō. Acala (Sanskrit for "immovable") is primarily revered in Vajrayana Buddhism. He is seen as a protective deity particularly in Shingon traditions of Japan where he is known as Fudō Myō-ō. He is classed among the Wisdom Kings and pre-eminent among the Five Wisdom Kings of the Womb Realm. In Japan, Acala is highly venerated in the Shingon Buddhism, Tendai, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism and in Shugendō. This particular Acala statue, with two different eye colours, has been given a remarkably stern and intense facial expression.
Nihonji Daibutsu (日本寺大仏), a 31-metre tall statue of Yakushiji Nyorai (薬師如来), the Buddha of healing. It was created in 1783 by Ōno Jingorō Eirei (大野甚五郎英令) and his 27 apprentices and was the largest stone-carved Buddha statue in pre-modern Japan. Ravaged by erosion and earthquakes, it was restored in 1966.
More images in the Mount Nokogiri album.
- By train: JR Chuo Line from Tokyo to Chiba; from there, JR Uchibo Line to either JR Hamakanaya Station (for the ropeway) or JR Hota Sta. (for those who intend to climb the stairs from Nihon-ji temple)
- By car: easiest by Aqua Line and Tateyama Expressway (Kisarazu Junction), at Futtsu - Kanaya exit off and south along coastal route 127. The access to the Nokogiri Toll Road (1,000 JPY) is right after a half tunnel at the base of Mount Nokogiri. It is very inconspicuous and can be easily missed.
- By ferry: take the Tokyo Wan ferry from Kurihama in Kanagawa Prefecture. Kurihama can be reached by train (Keikyu Main Line from Shinagawa Sta. to Horinouchi , change there to the Keikyu Kurihama Line, exit at Keikyu Kurihama Station, then by bus No. 7 or 8 or by taxi to the ferry port). It takes about 40 minutes from Kurihama to Kanaya Port. Fare: 720 JPY for adults (return ticket 1,320 JPY), 360 JPY for children (return ticket 660 JPY). The fare for cars and motorcycles depends on their size. Details here (in Japanese).
- 〒299-1901 Chiba Prefecture, Awa District, Kyonan, Motona, 184−4; phone: 0470-55-1103
Hours and admission:
- 08:00-17:00 (05:00-17:00 on New Year's day); 600 JPY (adults); 400 JPY (children)
- Official website of Nihon-ji (in Japanese)
- Tokyo Wan Ferry (in Japanese and English)
- Nokogiri Ropeway (in English)
- The cutting edge of Chiba (Japan Times, 13 April 2007)
- Mount Nokogiri: a breathtaking climb to enlightenment (Japan Times, 6 Feb 2016)