Deep in the countryside of Sasaguri, Fukuoka prefecture, is one of Japan's most impressive Buddha statues. With a heatwave sweeping across the country, we ventured out to discover the peaceful beauty of Nanzoin temple and its surrounding nature.
We start our journey at Hakata station in downtown Fukuoka. Many train lines run through here, including Japan's high-speed Shinkansen trains that connect Fukuoka from it's island on Kyushu to mainland Japan. The station bustles with daily commuters and those looking to enjoy Fukuoka and its surrounding heritage attractions. Hakata station is also the perfect place to pick up a bento (prepared lunch box) for your journey. We pick out some delicious sandwiches from Evah – a deli that creates delicious macrobiotic vegan dishes. Before we board the JR Sasaguri line, we grab a couple of drinks – we'll definitely need to cool off in this heat!
It's the late morning, so luckily there are plenty of available seats on the train. The carriage is cooled by air conditioning that hums loud enough to appreciate its effort. On the opposite platform, a couple of trains come and go as we wait to depart. Small groups of families, late commuters and school children make their way into central Hakata. The platform clears and the conductors signal to each other to continue on. Our train is ready to depart. The wheels begin grinding forward and over the speaker we hear the upcoming stops. This will be a quick journey, taking only around 25 minutes (5 stops) to reach Kido Nanzoin-mae Station.
As we head East from Hakata station, the cement dwellings of downtown Fukuoka city quickly clear to reveal the lush countryside. Traditional Japanese houses appear, some overgrown with vines and all bearing the character of a life lived just outside the reach of day-to-day city living.
The train picks up speed and shuffles every now and then to the changing of the tracks. We pass through tunnels that run under mountains and begin following a river below. We catch glimpses of families splashing in the soft currents. It's the middle of summer with temperatures reaching over 40℃, and like us, it's fun to see others cooling off outside!
We're already enjoying the greenery, and it isn't long before we reach our stop. The temple is only a few minutes walk away from the station according to Google Maps. Moments after stepping off the carriage, we are reintroduced to the loud buzz of cicadas and the stunning heat. Kido Nanzoin-mae station has all the charm you would expect from a rural train-stop. The wooden beams holding up the faded corrugated roofing are worn and sun-kissed. Traditional tiles run along the plastered walls separating the wild forest from the well-lived cement platform. We've noticed the beautiful signage that welcomes you to train stations around Fukuoka, and here we are happy to see the familiar nostalgic lettering once again.
A ticket master sits in the comfort of his shaded room at the exit gate. He offers a welcoming grin and a shallow bow as we pass through. There is a colourful poster outlining the surrounding stations and train lines. Next to it is a vintage JR ticketing machine. It's easiest to navigate Japan's train lines with electronic IC cards, but it's always lovely to see the paper tickets available. A woman is taking refuge from the heat inside a wooden paneled waiting room. She fans herself while waiting for a ride.
We cross a bridge running over the river we saw from the train. The current is low, and it's nice to hear its flow under the cicada's loop. A small town sits along the main highway. The corner store has locals chatting to each other inside, while outside a Shiba-Inu takes shelter under a table selling traditional snacks. There's no doubt he's feeling the heat, but he still manages to offer us a large grin that Japanese dogs never seem to be without.
After a short 2 minute walk, we get to the base of the walkway leading up to the temple. Buddhist ornaments line the walkway, and a soft stream flows down on our way up. An elder Japanese couple point and comment on the beauty surrounding us. It's lovely to share the wonder of our surroundings with people who have perhaps enjoyed it many times before.
We pass temples tucked into small pockets on the mountainside before discovering an enormous statue and dozens of small buddha ornaments. The peaceful harmony between nature and its inhabitants offer us a chance to truly relax and get lost in slow thoughts. It's an unlikely chance to find refreshment in the summertime heat, but we're glad to have found it.
We search for the giant reclining Buddha that Nanzoin temple is renowned for. After a bit of hunting, we find the entrance thanks to a beautifully painted map outlining the surrounding paths. We continue on, following a long straight passage lined with hundreds of bronze plaques. On the other side, we pause to take in the greenery that surrounds the small town below. It's a beautiful day.
A monk passes us by on our way up to discover the Buddha statue. It's presence is immediate and impressive. Weighing over 300 tons and stretching over 40 meters in length, its stature is a striking contrast to the calm mountainside where it resides.
We slowly make our way back down the mountain and towards the station. We never tire of taking Japan's trains. Their charm and character always make for a peaceful journey. As Fukuoka city approaches, we reflect on the wonders that are tucked away around every corner of Japan. We feel revitalized, even after being under the beating hot sun and we can't wait to see where our next mountain train journey will take us.
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