Quite unbeknownst to most visitors, Nagasaki is a historic centre of pilgrimage for Japanese Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. The city centre is quite literally bursting with temples of all kinds, particularly around the foot of the various hills in the city.
The greatest concentration of temples – some 15 of them in the same area – is in Teramachi, which literally means Temple Street. The two oldest and most famous temples in the city – Kofuku-ji 興福寺 and Sofuku-ji 崇福寺, both of which appeared in the post just before this one – are located on this street, alongside a dozen other temples.
But to get the full sense of just how overwhelming Nagasaki’s temple quarter is, one must begin the tour about a kilometer away at the ancient Honrenji 本蓮寺, located just adjacent to the Memorial to Japan’s 26 Catholic Martyrs. Here sit four of the city’s most fascinating temples – Honren-ji, Fukusai-ji 福済寺, Shofuku-ji 聖福寺 and the Suwa Shrine 諏訪神社 (unfortunately I only managed to visit the third of the four). From the Suwa Shrine, cross over the river to check out another smaller shrine – the Isemiya Shrine 伊勢宮神社, before heading south to Teramachi proper, with its 15 temples.
Many of the temples were first established in the 1600s, but were then severely damaged by the atomic bomb in 1945, and rebuilt thereafter. So there is a variety of architectural styles here, some temples being built in an entirely contemporary style, and others reconstructed in a more traditional form.
The entire journey will take you a full day, if you walk fast and are efficient with visiting each of these temples. Ideally, one would take this in slowly, over the course of three days, just like pilgrims of yore must have done in Old Nagasaki.
Enjoy the gilded splendour of this Pilgrim’s tour of the temples of Nagasaki.