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Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku

 
 

Following the tsunami, earthquake, and nuclear disaster of 2011, the Tōhoku region of Japan became widely known as people around the world followed the events presented in various news outlets. Since that time, little has been presented in the media about northern Japan outside of the events related to the disaster and its aftermath. The photographs in this essay center upon one aspect of the culture of northern Japan: its complex and varied religious sites. From the mountain Buddhist temple complex at Hiraizumi, which dates back at least 1,000 years, to the tiny Shinto shrines that dot the countryside, the region provides visitors with a tremendous variety of locales dedicated to the memorialization of ancestors and expression of concern about nature through the kami or Shinto deities.

Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
A komainu, or lion-dog, guards the entrance to the Buddhist temple Bishamon-ten in Iwate prefecture.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
Stairs leading to the mediation hall at the Soto Zen monastery known as Shōbōji, which was established in 1384 and continues to train monks today.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
A statue of Bodhidharma, who lived in the 5th or 6th century in China and who is considered the patriarch of Zen. Visitors to Shōbōji rub the statue and offer coins in hopes that the ritual will help to relieve physical ailments.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
A shrine at Shōbōji showing the tendency in Japan to mix Shinto and Buddhist symbols and objects.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
A lotus flower at Shōbōji.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
Box for collecting coins offered when people pray at a small Shinto shrine in the town of Kanegasaki.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
Messages to the kami or Shinto deities written at a shrine in Kanegasaki, Iwate prefecture. The messages request success in school and other areas of life.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
Bishamon-ten, a Buddhist temple built into a cave near Hiraizumi in Iwate prefecture.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
The face of the Buddha watches over a shrine at Bishamon-ten.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
Narrow Road to the North: Religious Sites in Tōhoku
Stone lanterns at Bishamon-ten in Iwate prefecture.
Image Credit: John W. Traphagan
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