the … temple of otagi nenbutsu-ji 愛宕念仏寺 located in the hills near arashiyama in the prefecture of kyoto, is a little off the beaten track for most tourists on a three or four day visit to the great city, which is the repository of so much of japanese historical culture and tradition. visitors who make the effort will find a surprisingly entertaining and cheerful aspect of japanese buddhism. the present incarnation of the temple was built in 1922, although its institutional origins can be traced back to the heian era; the eighth century AC.
it is famed for its collection of over 1200 rakan or carved figurines representing disciples of the buddha. the figurines are a continuation of mahayana indian buddhism where devotional statues of disciples who have attained enlightenment ; nirvana, or satori in japanese, known as arhat are displayed in temple grounds. what’s different about these figurines is that they are contemporary although they appear, covered in moss, to be as ancient as some of the more well-known zen temples in kyoto. whereas the arhat of older buddhist traditions are somewhat sombre or formal, the rakan figures are notable for their whimsy and humour.