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Buddhist Temple in Nara Japan


A few weeks ago I was wandering around the hills southeast of Nara proper when I stumbled across the following abandoned, decrepit temple. This weekend my friend Tom and I visited it, camping out in the courtyard before poking around and inside it. (It's a bit of a hike, and we came from something else earlier in the afternoon, so we arrived there just as it was getting dark. Absolutely NO nerve whatsoever to venture inside this terrifically creepy building way out in nowhere without at least a little bit of the light of day.) The following are the pictures I snapped with a cheap Cybershot digicam.

First, a rough diagram of the temple layout to give you an idea of what you're looking at:

It's a relatively small affair, being set way up in the mountains and all, and was probably maintained by a single family when it was still active.

Here's the marker at the base of the hill; you have to hike up a set of stone steps after this sign to get to the temple itself. The name, highlighted in red, is "Kankiten," and it is apparently an offshoot of the Nara-based Koufuku-ji (temple); also, it says that it is the oldest in Japan (oldest offshoot, not oldest temple):

This is the view from the top of the stairs (pieced together from two separate shots, thumbnailed so I don't break the table):

The belltower:

A closeup of the belltower door, the paper long ago ripped out:

Looking up at the bell (camera flash makes it bright). One of the ropes that holds the striker was broken, so it's just dangling there, mostly useless:

The courtyard and our tent. And my friend Tom:

A mostly dried-up pond:

Artsy shot of a stone lantern; the section labeled "kitchen" is behind it:

The outdoor, and possibly only, crapper. We didn't see any toilets inside. I think the spring that fed the pond was then directed to flow beneath this toilet. Ewww...:

A closeup of the hondou, or main hall:

The hondou doors were openable, and we stepped in to see this, the main altar. The priest would sit up there on the red cushion and hit the bell, etc., as he chants sutras or whatever. Notice the thick layer of dust and grime on everything and the torn up light fixture in the upper left:

The hallway leading from the hondou to the home. Behind that door was a wall, as I've indicated on the diagram. The ceiling is... not in the best shape:

One of my favorite pictures is this wavy tatami. I'll try to take some more shots of this the next time we go back. It gives you some idea of how long this temple has gone unused:

Closet full of old zabuton, seat cushions:

A reception room for visitors, this is adjacent to the wavy tatami room. It doesn't show up in the picture, but this floor was also in terrible shape. I was worried about falling through it, so I didn't go across this room:

This is looking BACK down the side passage towards the door that opens onto it. To the left is the hondou:

Moving farther around the backyard to the other side:

Coal chute (or ash dump or whatever) leading from the kitchen:

The circuit breaker box. Interestingly enough, the switch leading into the box was set to "on," but the house switches were "off":


Great shot of the decayed floor around the hibachi heater. This would be the living room; the kitchen is next door, and the family would have gathered here to eat or whatever:

Shot into the kitchen. I was afraid to go across this floor, too (the one in the previous image), because it was so rotten:

Those are the most interesting shots of the house and temple. On the very top of one of the boxes of stuff in the belltower, we found this newspaper clipping dated Showa 32. It's from September 2nd, 1957. Obviously I don't know if that's the year the temple went out of commission, but the fact that it was on the very top of the box makes me wonder...:

This is the back side of the clipping. The large caption is "This Fall's Ladies' Hats":

The night we spent there was really interesting. The temple in the dark is really, REALLY atmospheric, which is another way of saying "kind of terrifying." There's nothing inherently horrible about the place; it's just the idea of it, I guess, and the feeling the disarray gives off. On the other hand, it was enormously peaceful, and after tossing an offering in the box and "praying" or whatever briefly, a sense of well being really comes over you, and you feel better about being there, whatever time of night it is.

And then the noises start.

To be honest, they didn't start until after we'd turned in for the night and zipped up the tent. We're both laying there, kind of talking and half falling asleep, and all of a sudden CREEEEAAAKKKK. Stock still, both of us checking to see if we'd shit our pants. What sounded like a really rusty door opening (which the temple had none of, being pretty exclusively sliding doors), was some sort of animal cry. The bushes rustled, a stick broke, water rippled over by the pond... fortunately all the way on the other side of the compound from where we were camped. Then it happened again. This time, shortly after the prolonged growl/cry, came a loud YIP. Only that word doesn't do it justice... In retrospect, it's much the same noise you get when you step on a dog's tail. But that didn't do much to crowd out the images of long-haired decaying bodies in white dresses pulling themselves from the pond and dragging their way over to the tent to devour us.

About then, the bushes on the other side of our tent, the side with the steep incline, started to rustle, and something responded to the first call. We got used to it after a while, reminding ourselves that we were, after all, in primeval forest here, that it's where animals live and all. I'll tell you, though-- getting out of the tent to take a piss was one of the most unnerving things I've done in a while, standing there thinking "hurry up hurry up" and straining my eyes and ears for whatever was making those noises.

I told the same story to my host mom the next morning (though much less verbosely, of course...), and she suggested that it might have been foxes. Foxes! Geez. We were about to have our mortal souls devoured by harmless little FOXES. Heh.

Anyway, it was a good time. I'll probably be back there this weekend if anyone has any requests. Also, if anyone knows what that "calsos" machine is, please enlighten us. Thanks for reading!


  Update time! I went back to the abandoned Kankiten temple this past Saturday with another friend of mine. The weather was gorgeous and the hikers were out in force, or at least compared to last week, when it was overcast and drizzling; a few small groups of tourists or hikers or whatever had made it up to the temple, and one old guy and his two old friends showed up while we were in the temple. Not a place I'd like to be "caught" messing around in. We had no problems, fortunately.

Enough of that-- on with the pictures!

Someone correct me in my thinking that this is a carnivorous pitcher plant. I've never seen one growing in the wild before... pretty cool:

Closeup of the handle and body of one of the fire extinguishers (not the one in the other picture, but one in much the same shape. Dates, if written, were completely faded out or otherwise illegible, so no luck there.):

This time we braved the floor and crossed over to the hallway behind the tatami and what I called the reception room. Here's a closet off of it:

Looking out from that hallway (thumbnailed for size):

A random shelf/table thing:

I was also really excited to be able to get over one of the most rotten-looking floors in the house and make it into the kitchen. Pictures of everything and the...

That was a stupid joke. Here are more pictures of the kitchen:

The corner of the kitchen was completely falling apart. My poorly executed picture compilation shows that to some extent:

The house was a lot chillier than it was outside, especially this hallway. Yeah, I know, I know, but I kept expecting something like the scene from Miike's Chakushin Ari:

Fortunately, though, the bath was filled with nothing but dirt and pieces of ceiling. We also figured out that the picture I described as "coal chute" or something like that was actually the port into which the family would have fed wood to feed the fire that heats the bath. Ahhh technology...:

Remember what I labeled "treasury"? This is one of those boxes. We're going to hell for opening it, so please enjoy this picture to the fullest extent of the law:

Annnnd that's it! I'm headed back to the 'States in two weeks so I doubt I'll have another chance to get back there. As a bonus, here's another random abandoned thing not two miles farther back on a trail running behind the temple.


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