The temple of 260 monks’ statues in Hakone
Choan-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple located in the Sengokuhara area in the north of Hakone. It was founded in 1356 to host studying monks, who are depicted as stone statues distributed all over the temple’s grounds on the mountainside. They give an original touch to the place that is also one of the area’s beautiful autumn spots.
Choan-ji temple is worth the visit at least for its two hundred and sixty monks’ statues, each with a unique appearance, spread in the neighboring woods. The sculptures represent prominent scholars of the Soto school, the most common Zen Buddhism branch in Japan. These students are called Arhat in Sanskrit, and Rakan in Japanese, to mean that they have reached a higher level of wisdom.
There is no specific rule governing the creation of the Gohyaku-rakan (五百羅漢 "500 disciples of Buddha") statues. Since 1985, several artists from all over Japan have worked on the sculptures, in an endeavor to give each of them a specific expression reflecting said monk’s personality. As it is a contemporary project, the artists never met the monks, so they resorted to their imagination and talent to depict them. The stone statues thus pull various faces, displaying either stern, dreamy, funny, playful aspects, and even angry looks. All human emotions are depicted, which makes for a fun visit with kids who can try to find their favorite mood.
Part of the pleasure also consists in looking for all the statues during a walk between the trees, and it is not an easy task as some are covered in moss. The temple is rather small, but its grounds are relatively wide, which allows for the displaying of so many statues. It is a very pleasant and easy stroll especially since the tourist’s frequentation is rather low considering Hakone's popularity.
Autumn 🍁 is the best season to enjoy the beauty of Choan-ji temple, as its grounds are filled with maple trees that turn red when winter draws near. The temple is indeed well-known and appreciated by Japanese people who love to pay it a visit particularly in fall, as a side contemplation of the nearby susuki’s fields, the maiden silvergrass of a beautiful golden glow in November.