Walking Through Living Heritage and Culture

(A special tour of the shrines and temples of Omori )

Hi! My name is Shun and today I gave a tour of Omori to 魚樹虎 and Yanagi-san with my friend Tomoko. During out introductions, I found out that both of our guests were students of Chinese literature and Buddhism. They had an interest in the temples and the history and culture of this town, so I decided to take them around on a more historic tour of Omori. Although the town of Omori is currently a small of 400 people, in the past it was an active silver mining town which produced a third of the worlds silver for a period. As such, there are many spots within the town which show the remnants of this rich past history.

We first headed to Gohyaku Rakan, which is where there are 500 stone arhat statues inside of these caves dug into the side of a mountain. Apparently, it took one of magistrates of Omori over 20 years to complete this project. Usually we do not visit this spot too often, but because our guests today were especially interested in Buddhism I decided to take them here first. Inside, there were many stone statues, each with a different face and pose. Because there are so many statues, it is said that you can find your own face or even those of lost loved ones as well. I’m not sure if I was able to find one which looked like me, but we all had fun looking at all the statues and commenting on what they looked like or could represent.

As we walked through the town, we took a quick detour to look at a certain house located inside of the town. Although all the houses in Omori look very old, only a few of them are from the edo period. One of the very few houses from the edo period is this one in the picture above. It is said that all the houses from the edo period have these barred windows on the second floor. The reason being, during the edo period Japan was a caste-based society where people were grouped into different categories of status starting from samurai, then farmers, artisans, and merchants at the very bottom. These bars were attached to the windows to prevent lower caste members to physically look down upon the samurai who would be walking in the streets below. So, when walking through Omori, try to look up at the second floor of houses to find ones from the edo period!

The next stop was Abeke, a refurbished 200 year old samurai residency which is now an inn. The owner of the inn kept the integrity of the house by keeping the house looking as it did in the past. The walls are all tsuchikabe or dirt walls, the storage huts are reused as rooms or even as a bar, and the kitchen still has a traditional wood stove. Much of the material used to rebuild the house was recycled from closed elementary schools and even from old vacant houses as well. Our two guests seemed impressed with how the inn was seemingly protecting the integrity and culture of Japanese architecture, all the while providing something desirable for people in the modern age. I think they were also impressed that the interior changes depending on the season to fit the lifestyle appropriate for that time.

One of our last stops was at Kanzenonji Temple where we looked at the architecture of the temple and its meaning. This temple in particular is important to Omori because this was where the magistrate would come to pray for the lives lost in the silver mine, as well as good fortune for the silver mining as well. The gate to this temple is quite grandiose with two statues of Buddhists deities guarding the entrance. When we were looking at the temple itself, Yanagi-san gave us a quiz about the meaning of the shachihoko ontop of the temple. A shachihoko is a mythical creature that is half lion and half orca. You can see the statues on the top of the temple in the picture above. According to Yanagi-san, these statues were placed on top of buildings to protect it from fires. Even as a guide of Omori, you learn something new every time from the guests as well!

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