Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Buddhist and Shinto sites in the city of Fukuoka. Fukuoka is a city residing in the Kyushu region of Japan, known as much for its beautiful landscapes as it is for its nightlife. During the day, our group visited Kushida Shrine and Nanzo-in Temple. Kushida Srhine is a popular site for festivals and ceremonies in Fukuoka, while Nanzo-in Temple resides just outside of the city. It is famous for housing the largest copper reclining Buddha statue in the world.

First, we set out for Kushida Shrine (櫛田神社). Located in the middle of downtown Fukuoka, this Shinto shrine is dedicated to Amateratsu (天照), the goddess of the sun and the universe. It is also dedicated to Susanoo (須佐之男/スサノオ), god of the sea and storms. It is said that this shrine was founded in 757 A.D.

During our visit, a wedding was taking place at the shrine. With slots in the main shrine open, visitors were invited to share in the occasion by praying and offering coins for luck to the new couple. From our place outside the main shrine, we could see the newly wedded couple being blessed by the Shinto priest. We also got to participate in the blessing prayer being bestowed on the couple. I feel grateful to have been able to participate in such a special occasion.

Behold the festival float for Hakata Gion Yamakasa! The festival is held July 1-15 in Fukuoka, and it’s been a part of the community’s history for 700 years. It is said that the festival began to call the gods to ward off a plague in the region. This float is carried each year during the festival. It is built a year in advance, and it weighs close to one ton. This float was a sight to see, and I can only imagine how amazing it would be to see it paraded around the streets of Fukuoka.

This Ehoban disk represents the twelve Chinese zodiac animals, found on the ceiling of the entrance to the shrine. I found it interesting to see Chinese influence in a Shinto Japanese shrine. I was able to locate the animal representing my birth year: the year of the monkey. Seeing this Ehoban disk brought an interesting conversation about the differences of the Chinese zodiac years between my friends and I.

After grabbing lunch at a nearby cafe, we set out for a long and rewarding journey at Nanzo-in Temple (南蔵院), which houses the largest copper reclining Buddha in the world. Unlike Kushida Shrine, Nanzo-in Temple is situated in the countryside of Fukuoka. Resting on a hill and surrounded by lush forestry, it is truly a spiritual experience to weave in and out of the many altars and statues on the path leading to the great reclining Buddha. We learned that sometimes shrine-goers will knit hats for the Buddhas to wear. This is to protect them from the rain and wind.

This photo was taken at the beginning of our walk. This ritual is performed to wash the heads and feet of the Buddha statues. My friend and I had a great deal of trouble (and a lot of fun!) trying to get water onto the heads of the tallest Buddha statues.

On our walks around Zanzo-in, we came across many natural waterfalls and bridges. The beauty of these waterfalls, with the Buddha statues scattered throughout, contributed greatly to the feeling of spirituality experienced here.

This photo was taken at the base of one of the many waterfalls, where a hundred Buddha statues were grouped together. It was awe-inspiring to see all of these happy Buddhas sitting side by side, and weaving through them to approach other parts of the temple felt like a spiritual journey.

My friends and I got a good workout going up and down all of the stairs to the various smaller altars in this temple. This particular trail led to a small red altar which matched the Torii gate.

At long last, we arrived at the great reclining Buddha: 41 meters long, 11 meters high, and weighs nearly 300 tons. This pose depicts the Buddha’s ascension to the state of nirvana. Standing next to this gigantic statue, we became aware of how small we are! We also enjoyed visiting a booth next to the temple, which sold small good luck charms and Omikuji – small paper oracle cards which predicted the buyer’s fortune.

In contrast to the immense size of the reclining Buddha is this tiny Torii gate constructed at a turtle pond near the shrine entrance.

I have been living and sight-seeing in Japan for the last month. Visiting the shrines and temples has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me. I highly recommend that all Japan travelers take the time to visit these historic and important sites!

For more information on Kushida shrine, please visit:

For more information on Nanzo-in temple, please visit:


A graduate student at the University of Michigan conducting research & traveling in Japan.
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