Count them! Once in a while one disappears and you’ll never guess the number of statues! 70 you say? Or 71? Start again, but you’ll never know the answer…
Nikko National Park is known for its Unesco World Heritage with a number of important temples and shrines. And of course you can take beautiful walks here that will keep you busy all day. But if you’re looking for a short walk with a bit of mystery, go to Kanmangafuchi Abyss (憾満ヶ淵). This is a walk of about 30 minutes along the Daiya River and close to the world famous temples of Nikko. But that walk could take even longer if you count the statues with red clothing…
What is the story behind these ‘disappearing figurines’? And what is the meaning of these males that you see all over Japan? Here you can read the story about the mystery of the Kanmangafuchi Abyss…
Reading tip: Discover 7 historical sites with a special story in Nikko National Park. Want to know more? Then read the article Nikko National Park | 7 x see and do in Japan’s most beautiful park.
Start of the Kanmangafuchi Abyss at the Shinkyo Bridge?
Officially the Shinkyo bridge is not the start of Kanmangafuchi Abyss, but of the Futarasan shrine. But if you walk from the station towards the temples you can’t miss this famous bridge at all.
This is where the famous monk Shodo Shonin (735-817) crossed the river in the 8th century A.D. with the help of two snakes that formed a bridge and founded a number of temples. In 1636 it was decided to build a bridge here to honour the monk. However, the current Shinkyo bridge dates back to 1907, when it was completely wiped out after a major flood. Against payment it is possible to walk over the bridge. Or you can take a beautiful picture of this iconic wooden monument from the car bridge.
If you turn left after the bridge and follow the river you come to the place where the great mystery is waiting for you….
Kanmangafuchi Abyss and 70 mysterious statues?
Once I crossed the river It looks I have entered another world. At least a quiet world, because a lot of tourists don’t come here. 7000 years ago this gorge was created when mount Nantai was erupting. Furthermore, it is only a few hundred meters long.
And quite at the beginning of the gorge I come across statues with red clothes. Try to count them. It is said that there is always one that disappears when you try to count them. The name for these statues is therefore “Bake Jizo” (Spirit Jizo) or “Narabi Jizo” (Jizo in a row).
A Jizo is a Bodhisattva who takes care of travellers and is the guardian of the children. A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who wants to become a Buddha, but postpones it to help the living people.
And then those red bibs…
So in Buddhism, Jizo is an important Bodhisattva. The story goes that all young children go to Sai-no-kawara after their death. In the underworld this is the dry bed of the river of souls. Because they have little experience (karma) they have to build turrets from stones. Each tower stands for a prayer.
But every evening the oni, the devils, come and knock down these turrets. The young souls have to start all over again. But then Jizo is the savior in need. He wanders around and hides the children in his red bibs. They are now in good hands with Jizo. But why then only red bibs?
The colour red probably refers to an old tradition in the Asuka period (522-645 AD). Children with diseases like chickenpox were given red clothes to distinguish them from other children. But red is also seen as a color that represents safety and protection.
Why Kanmangafuchi Abyss is worth a visit?
For those who still have an hour left, the Kanmangafuchi Abyss is a great walk. Don’t forget to sit down along the river for ultimate relaxation. But don’t be fooled if the number of statues is not right. Enjoy nature without meeting many people.
Tip: In Nikko I stayed at Nikko Guesthouse Sumica. This hostel is located near the two train stations. The owners are very nice and for a bunkbed I paid around €17 euros. The only disadvantage is that it is a 30 minute walk to the temple area and the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. But fortunately there is also something they call a bus.
Plan a visit to Kanmangafuchi Abyss?
How do I get there? The Shinkyo bridge is traditionally the gateway to the various holy temples in Nikko National Park. From JR or Tobu Nikko Station it is 10 minutes by bus, get off at Tamozawa bus stop. Walking from the station it is about 30 minutes. The access to walk over the bridge is 500 yen. To get to the Kanmangafuchi Abyss it is best to walk from the Shinkyo bridge to the right along the river and cross the bridge. Entrance is free.
Google Maps: Kanmangafuchi Abyss Nikko National Park
Would you like to read more about Nikko National Park?
- Nikko National Park – 7 x to see and do in the most beautiful park of Japan
- Kegon Falls | 200 suicides in Nikko National Park
- Toshogu Shrine, Nikko | Visit the Golden Temple
And what’s your opinion about the Kanmangafuchi Abyss? Please feel free to leave a message below!
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