Is Oyaji (Oya Temple) worth a visit? Well, if you somehow found yourself in the vicinity of Utsunomiya (though I can’t really fathom why anyone would), then why not? As long as it’s not a Thursday, you could hit both the Oya Stone Museum (closed on Thursday, unless it’s a public holiday – then it’s open) and Oyaji down the road and the giant Kannon practically across the street from the temple.
But chances are, you’ll never make it to Utsunomiya, so no worries.
OK, what’s so special about this temple? Nothing much really, except that it’s older than most countries in the world – it was founded by Kobodaishi (a really famous guy) in 810, or so. The temple is on a pilgrimage circuit in the Kanto region, so there are always people coming and going. There’s even a bus parking lot in front of it.
So, what’s inside? A surprisingly meager collection of rock carvings, however one of those rock carvings – Senju Kannon happens to be the oldest of its sort in Japan. This Senju Kannon is the one with a whole bunch of hands, each holding an eye, which supposedly represents the desire to save mankind. Yeah, right…
Anyways, there are ten carvings altogether: Shaka Sanzon (Three Buddhas of Shaka), Yakushi Sanzon (Three Buddhas of Yakushi) and Amida Sanzon (Three Buddhas of Amida). And Senju Kannon makes ten.
What else? You can’t take pictures inside the temple, but the grounds are OK. There is a miniscule museum there with an ancient skeleton (11 thousand years old) on display and some of the oldest earthenware in Japan that was dug out nearby. Again, no photos allowed.
There’s also a nice garden. Quite lovely during hanami (cherry blossom viewing season).
Price to get in to Oyaji – 300 yen. From April to October open from 8:30AM to 5PM, from November to March 9AM to 4:30PM. There’s also a gift shop and a stinky toilet. Some information in English available. Do not attempt to take photos inside the temple – there are security cameras everywhere. When I was there, a Chinese family got asked to leave for videotaping inside.
A short walk up the street from the temple there is a gift shop selling all sorts of oya stone handicrafts. The proprietor is a grumpy old man with the personality of a constipated alligator.
Turn right by the shop (if coming from the direction of Oyaji) and you will find the huge statue of the Heiwa Kannon. This one is not ancient. It was carved out after WW2 and is dedicated to those who died in the war and to world peace.
The place is rather sad looking during winter months, but come cherry blossoms, it really blossoms, hehehe… And the best thing – it’s free and there are no opening or closing hours.
It has picnic tables and toilets nearby and on the day we were there, it was quite crowded. It’s a favorite spot for locals to view cherry blossoms. And they were quite lovely indeed.
Why am I telling you all this? Simply because the tourist office in Utsunomiya is as useless as two tits on a bull.