Unchanging Beliefs in the Northernmost region
The other world of Japanese Buddhism

Osorezan: The land of the departed

Osorezan: The land of the departed
Gokurakuhama, which means “sacred beach” on the shores of Lake Usori.

Aomori sits on the northernmost part of the main Honshu Island. Its location and size make it a perfect home for Japan’s dramatic seasons and variety of landscapes. One example is Osorezan, or Dread Mountain.

Osorezan’s hellish landscape is covered in ashy grays from volcanic activity. The sulfur permeating through the area gives Lake Usori a vivid blue tint, providing contrast to the harsh, dreary surroundings. Rocky trails lead visitors around Osorezan’s otherworldly geography as cracks spew steam and bubbling water out onto the jagged, lifeless earth. Despite all of the rough edges, Dread Mountain is still strangely beautiful.

Osorezan, one of Japan’s three most sacred mountains, was discovered by a Buddhist priest over 1,000 years ago in a search for sacred areas around Japan. It became a special place as the bridge between the living and the dead because the mountain has features that resemble both the Buddhist hell and paradise. Osorezan Bodaiji Temple was founded in 862 and is now occupied by priests of the Soto-sect of Buddhism, but people of all religions can come here to pray and witness the striking scenery.

Occasionally, the pale backdrop is lifted by vibrantly colored pinwheels and other gifts presented to Osorezan’s many red-capped Jizo statues that are peppered throughout the area. These chubby-cheeked characters are the guardians of children. From July 20 to 24, the annual Bodaiji festival takes place at Osorezan. It is a large festival where a memorial service remembers those who have passed away. In this place, Itako, women who have spent years studying and training in spirituality, contact the souls of lost loved ones. In fact, three months before the Bodaiji festival, the Itako perform kuchiyose (mouth spiritualism for communication with the spirit) for reconnecting people with the dead.

Osorezan monk Minami Jikisai explained that the unreal landscape makes the mountain uniquely suitable for such spirituality, as hallowed grounds should always feel separate from the world inhabited by our daily lives. Away from the usual trouble and surroundings, connection with your spirituality and emotions comes naturally. It is not uncommon to hear people calling out the names of their lost loved ones around Osorezan. To be clear, visitors to Osorezan are not calling out to “ghost”, but the “departed”. The departed still exists, just in a different way from the living. They are very much alive because the living still care for them.

Life and death are two sides of the same coin. To be “living” also means to be “dying”. Living is an expression of death because death is a part of everything that is alive. This is likely something people sense when they take in the scenery at Osorezan.

The Showa Daibutsu in Seiryuji Temple: Learning spirituality at Tohoku’s largest Buddha statue

The Showa Daibutsu in Seiryuji Temple: Learning spirituality at Tohoku’s largest Buddha statue
Showa Daibutsu in Seiryuji Temple

Aomori is blessed by the presence of Japan’s largest seated bronze Buddha statue. At 21.35 meters, it is even taller than Nara’s famous Great Buddha. As I approached the figure resting in its eternal pose, the Showa Daibutsu emerged gently from the snowy haze, as if it had been waiting patiently for hundreds of years. However, the monument wasn’t built until 1984 in Showa period. Inside the statue, there are many paintings and Buddhist proverbs to lift your spirit and teach you about one of Japan’s two major religions.

Buddhist priest Oda Ryuko founded Seiryuji Temple in 1982 which also has a five-story pagoda made totally from Aomori Hiba (white cedar). It is the fourth tallest pagoda in japan. The priest’s belief is “A temple itself preaches to us in a silent manner”. In fact, the grounds are pristinely maintained to reflect the beauty of Japanese Buddhism. In addition, you can try sutra copying and Zen meditation in the morning at the temple.