On 29th June, hubby and I visited Mount Osore located in Shimokita peninsula of Aomori prefecture. Mount Osore, also known as Osorezan, is an 879 meters high caldera volcano that sits on the shores of a highly acidic lake named Usori. Osorezan is not an actual mountain but is a barren volcanic wasteland of bubbling sulfur pits, and a strong smell of sulfur permeates the air in the area. Osorezan means ‘Fear Mountain’. According to the Japanese mythology, the mountain is considered to be the gateway for the deceased souls to their afterlife. This is because the mountain features geographical elements similar to the descriptions of Buddhist hell and paradise. At the center of the sacred area of Osorezan is Lake Usori, and next to it is a large beach covered with white sand. Surrounding them are eight mountain peaks, which represent a lotus flower with eight petals, the symbol of Buddhism. In its central area there are 108 ponds of sulfurous boiling water and mud, which corresponds to the 108 worldly desires or hell. It should be mentioned that instead of 108 hells, initially volcanic gases and water used to spout from 136 locations on Osorezan, and therefore it was once called Hyakusanjuroku Jigoku or ‘136-Hells’. However at present, another analogy of the Buddhist beliefs that there are eight levels of hells called Hachidaijigoku is used to represent the hells on Osorezan. Side by side with these hellish ponds and woods, the beautiful scenery of the lake and the coastal white sand represents paradise or heaven. According to the mythology, a deceased soul has to cross the path filled with worldly desires and reach the heaven.
Osorezan is the site of Bodaiji Temple about which I have written in the previous post. After visiting the temple, we walked to the right side of the temple premises towards the hell on Osorezan. We walked along the hell trail surrounded by volcanic rocks and pebbles that took us further up Osorezan. After about fifteen minutes of walking along the trail, we started descending down the mountain. After another ten minutes of walking, we reached Lake Usori or the paradise. In today’s post, I will write in details about our walk along the trail on Osorezan.
Osorezan is considered to be the entrance to hell, and we entered this inner sanctuary hell area of the mountain through a small gate located on the right side of Jizoden Hall of Bodaiji Temple. As soon as we entered the hell area, stark scenery welcomed us. There are huge volcanic rocks all round and a strong smell of sulfur comes from these rocks. These volcanic rocks are called ‘Hell’. Roaring and rumbling sounds caused by the steam of sulfur gas comes out from the holes between the rocks and stones. We walked along the usual marked trail surrounded by volcanic rocks on either side. Along the trail, we saw one of the hells named Mugen Jigoku or ‘Infinity Hell’. Mugen Jigoku is considered to be the deepest and the most horrible eighth level hell of Hachidaijigoku concept. A person who has committed great evil will suffer in this Mugen Jigoku continuously. In addition, we saw a spirit rock named Mitama Seki around this area.
Just after entering the inner sanctuary hell area of Osorezan
I am standing next to a huge volcanic rock
Mugen Jigoku Hell
A portion of Mugen Jigoku Hell
Huge volcanic rocks along the trail
Yet more volcanic rocks
I am standing next to the volcanic rocks
Hubby standing next to the rocks
Mitama Seki spirit rock
We walked further along the trail surrounded by volcanic rocks on Osorezan, and saw a small wooden four pillared pavilion hall named Jikakudaishi Dou. This hall is dedicated to a Buddhist monk named Jikakudaishi, who was the founder of Osorezan Bodaiji Temple. Around the hall, we saw many offerings made by the worshipers to the souls of the dead. Such offerings included cute small Jizo statues, brightly colored pinwheels, and piles of stones and pebbles. We were lucky to see many priests in white robes performing several rituals and offering prayers at this hall.
Hubby is walking along the trail surrounded by volcanic rocks. Jikakudaishi Dou Hall is seen in the background.
Volcanic rocks, I, and Jikakudaishi Dou Hall in the background
Many priests in white robes gathered near the hall
Priests offering prayers at the hall
Front view of the hall along with a five storied stone pagoda, piles of stones and pebbles, and colorful pinwheels
On the backside of Jikakudaishi Dou Hall, there is a stone monument named Daishi Seppo Chi or the ‘Preaching Ground of Daishi’. Jikakudaishi had mastered the art of fasting and this is supposed to be the place where he preached for the first time. Standing at the top near the monument, we could see Lake Usori as well as the white sandy beach to our left side. There was an eerie atmosphere all around the area.
Daishi Seppo Chi monument
Lake Usori and the beach as viewed from the monument area
Surrounded by rugged volcanic rocks, it is a bit difficult to walk along the trail with volcanic gases blowing all around. So to be on the safer side, it is better to follow the regular walking trail. If we go to the interior beyond the Jikakudaishi Dou, we encounter many memorial monuments along with a variety of statues of Kannon and Jizo. First, we saw a huge stone statue named Dai-Heiwa no Kannon or the ‘Peaceful Goddess of Mercy’. It is a post World War II statue, and is built with a desire for world peace. Next to it, there is a stone monument named Eitai Muen-Hi, which is dedicated to the souls of the dead who for a long period of time have remained unidentified. Standing near the statue of Dai-Heiwa no Kannon, we got a clearer and better view of Lake Usori paradise.
Walking along the rugged volcanic rocks
I am standing in front of the statue of Dai-Heiwa no Kannon and Eitai Muen-Hi monument
Lake Usori as viewed while standing next to the statue of Dai-Heiwa no Kannon
Further along the trail, we saw a stone statue named Eirei Jizoson, which is dedicated to the soldiers who died in World War II. The statue has an appearance of wearing a military uniform along with a blue sash. The statue has a gentle expression but appears to be a bit sad. The statue must be wishing for peace and no war in this world.
Eirei Jizoson statue
As we walked further along the trail, we saw a lot of rugged volcanic rocks and stones but the atmosphere was definitely unlike the initial entrance area of the hell where we saw huge volcanic rocks. Slightly out of the usual trail, we saw a big monolith rock named Jikakudaishi Zazenseki. It is a flat rock that people can actually sit on and meditate. But visitors have piled stones and pebbles on the rock, so it will be painful to sit on it and meditate. We also saw a few orange colored sulfurous rocks around this area.
Hubby standing next to rugged volcanic rocks
A name board with Jikakudaishi Zazenseki written on it (left side) and a part of the rock (right side) are seen in the photo
Another part of Jikakudaishi Zazenseki rock
A few orange colored rocks
Continuing our walk along the trail surrounded by volcanic rocks, we reached a site which is the innermost and probably the topmost location along the trail of hell on Osorezan. Here we saw an interesting stone statue tower named Hachiyo Tou. On the top of an eight petal lotus flower, there is a huge statue of Jizo Bosatsu in seated half cross-legged posture. In fact, it seems just like the seated half cross-legged pose of Nyorai Buddha. Previously there used to be a simple monument tower at this location but it became impossible to enshrine any more bones and ashes of the deceased people at the tower, and so the older tower was modified to the present wider structure in 1999.
Hubby standing in front of Hachiyo Tou Tower
From Hachiyo Tou Tower area, we started walking down the mountain trail towards the direction of Lake Usori. After walking for a minute or so, we reached a place named Sai no Kawara. It is also known as the ‘Limbo of Children’ or the ‘Dry Bed of the River of Souls’. According to the Buddhist beliefs, the souls of the miscarried fetuses and the children who die before their parents, are condemned to eternally pile rocks and pebbles into Stupa cairn structures along the dry riverbed in an attempt to cross the hell and get to the paradise. But before the Stupa cairn structures can be completed, they are destroyed by mischievous demons on a regular basis. This place shows the futile efforts the souls of children have to make as a sort of penance and atonement for having passed on before their parents and lack of filial piety. Jizo Bosatsu is said to guard and support the souls of such children from evil demons. We saw piled up stones and pebbles everywhere in Sai no Kawara area. Along the walking trail in this area, we saw a sitting stone statue of one thousand-armed deity named Senju Kannon.
Walking along the trail in Sai no Kawara area
Stone Stupa cairns
Another view of the stone Stupa cairns
Sitting statue of Senju Kannon
Further along the trail, to our left side, we saw a place named Mizukokuyo Osamefuda Sho. This place has a stone statue of Jizo Bosatsu and a lot of colorful pinwheels. The statue and the pinwheels are for the memorial services and paying respects to the souls of the miscarried fetuses.
Mizukokuyo Osamefuda Sho
Next to the walking trail, opposite Mizukokuyo Osamefuda Sho, we saw an octagonal wooden hall named Hakkaku Endo. The architectural design of this hall is superb. In front of the hall there is a beautiful wooden four pillared pavilion adorned with Karahafu roof. The pavilion holds a large cauldron for burning incense sticks. Inside Hakkaku Endo Hall, there is an enshrined statue of Jizo Bosatsu wearing red clothes. A lot of clothes and footwear worn by the dead people are placed in this hall.
A four pillared pavilion with Karahafu roof
A large cauldron for burning incense sticks is placed inside the pavilion
Front view of Hakkaku Endo Hall
Side view of the octagonal hall
Adjacent to Hakkaku Endo Hall, we saw a small pond named Chinoike Jigoku or ‘Blood Pond Hell’. It is one of the eight Hachidaijigoku Hells that I described earlier in this post. Nowadays the color of Chinoike Jigoku is not blood-red probably because the volcanic activity has weakened recently. In fact, we noted that the pond has very clear water. In the center of the pond there is a cute stone statue of Jizo Bosatsu in seated cross-legged posture sitting on a lotus flower.
Chinoike Jigoku Hell
While walking along the hell trail, we saw seven Jigoku Hells out of the eight Hachidaijigoku Hells. We saw the hells named Mugen Jigoku, Juzai Jigoku, Chinoike Jigoku, Kanabori Jigoku, Shioya Jigoku, Douya Jigoku, and Shura-oh Jigoku. I should mention that we noticed some of these hells on our way back to Bodaiji Temple. But we could not locate a hell named Tobaku Jigoku. We appreciated the volcanic rocks, the hells, and the smell of sulfur all around us on Osorezan. We were too involved in appreciating our surroundings and sceneries, and forgot to take photos of many of the Jigoku Hells. However, I compiled a video of our walk along the hell trail on Osorezan.
A compiled video of our walk along the hell trail on Osorezan
After almost 30 minutes of leisurely walking along the hell trail and seeing numerous Jigoku Hells and volcanic rocks on Osorezan, we reached Lake Usori and its white sandy beach named Gokurakuhama Beach. According to the Buddhist beliefs, Lake Usori is considered to be the heaven, where the deceased souls reach after crossing the hell area. We were a bit shocked to note that the atmosphere around the lake area is drastically different from the hell area. In stark contrast to the hell area, the scenes around the lake area are extremely beautiful and very relaxing for the body as well as the mind. In fact, seeing the magnificent lake, pure white glowing sandy beach, and the greenery all around us, we really felt as if we were in paradise. While walking along Gokurakuhama Beach, we realized that the smell of sulfur that we got all along the hell trail, still hangs in the air. Well, I guess it is natural because the heaven rests alongside the hell on Osorezan. That day was a cloudy overcast day and therefore the color of the lake seemed rather dull bluish-grey. However, depending on the weather and the angle of the sunlight, the color of the lake varies from cobalt blue to splendid emerald green. This is because the lake is highly acidic (pH 3.5) in nature as it is a caldera lake made from crater. The high sulfur content makes the lake too poisonous to sustain any aquatic life except for a kind of small fish. We took several photos of the magnificent lake and the beach.
Beautiful views to our left side while walking towards Lake Usori
Pleasing views to our right side while walking towards the lake
Several mountain peaks, Lake Usori, and Gokurakuhama Beach as viewed to our left side
View of the mountain peaks, the lake, and the beach right in front of us
Mountain peaks, the lake, and the beach as viewed to our right side
I am standing on the beach
The mountain, the lake, the beach, and I
Yet another photo of me standing on the beach
Hubby walking along the beach
While walking along Gokurakuhama Beach, we saw a memorial tower named Higashi Nihon Daishinsai Giseisha Tsuito located on the beach. This stone memorial tower is rather new and was constructed in July 2012. It is a memorial to pay respect to the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. The memorial tower has a statue of Jizo Bosatsu in the center, Chinkon no Kane or the ‘Bell of Requiem’ to the left side of the statue, and Kibo no Kane or the ‘Bell of Hope’ to the right side of the statue. In addition, there is a four pillared wooden pavilion erected adjacent to the memorial tower. The pavilion has a wooden bench where we took rest for some time. Sitting on the bench and looking over the lake, we could see the eight peaks of Osorezan. The scenery of the white sandy beach and the mountain peaks towards the hell trail side seemed equally magnificent. Seeing all the views around us, we understood why Monk Jikakudaishi chose Osorezan for making Bodaiji Temple. We feel that it is an ideal location for hell and paradise concept of the soul’s afterlife.
Higashi Nihon Daishinsai Giseisha Tsuito memorial tower
Statue of Jizo Bosatsu at the center of the memorial
Chinkon no Kane bell located to the left side of Jizo statue
I am ringing Kibo no Kane bell located to the right side of Jizo statue
Hubby relaxing on a bench in the pavilion
White sandy beach and the mountain peaks towards the hell trail side
After enjoying walking along Gokurakuhama Beach for about half an hour, we turned around and walked back towards the hell again. We are still alive and so the probability of entering the heaven was unlikely. The only way to return back to the temple premises and car parking area was through the hell. So we walked along the hell trail again but this time we took a slightly different walking trail. On this return trail, we saw several hells named Juzai Jigoku, Kanabori Jigoku, Douya Jigoku, and Shura-oh Jigoku. As I have written earlier in this post, we forgot to take photos of these hells but all were really amazing.
Near the end of the return trail, we saw a huge standing statue named Enmei Jizoson or ‘Life Prolonging Jizo’ located on a slightly elevated area on Osorezan. This statue is the largest stone masonry on Osorezan. The offerings of stones, pebbles, and pinwheels are piled very high around the statue. In front of the statue of Enmei Jizo, we felt a sense of security probably because it is the God of Longevity. This tallest statue on Osorezan seems to be watching over all of us, including the souls in the hell.
Enmei Jizoson statue
The facial features of the god is so perfect, kind, and calm
After about 15 minutes of walking, we reached back to the entrance area of the hell on Osorezan. We were again welcomed by huge volcanic rocks and a strong smell of sulfur all round us. We walked back into Bodaiji Temple premises, and once again enjoyed viewing the architectural designs of various buildings of the temple. After some time, we left the temple premises and walked back to the car parking area.
We almost reached back the entrance area of the hell on Osorezan. The walking trail is surrounded by volcanic rocks.
Volcanic rocks and a walking trail near Mugen Jigoku Hell area along with the roof of Jizoden Hall of Bodaiji Temple
Volcanic rocks and Lake Usori as viewed from around the entrance area of the hell
Bodaiji Temple premises as viewed from the hell trail on Osorezan
Hubby and I really loved viewing Bodaiji Temple as well as walking along the hell trail on Osorezan. We stayed at a nearby hotel that night. The next morning, we returned back to our home in Yurihonjo City. On our way, we visited Lake Tazawako in Akita prefecture. The weather was really nice, and we enjoyed viewing Lake Tazawako and its surroundings. We had visited this lake five years ago in July 2008 about which I have written a blog post earlier. Please have a look at the post.