Hakuun-san Torii Kannon, Hanno, Saitama Prefecture
Hakuun-san Torii Kannon, Hanno 白雲山 鳥居観音 飯能市
by Johannes Schonherr
One very pleasant road is Route 70, starting in Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture. Once leaving inner Hanno City, the suburban center at the end of the Seibu Ikebukuro Railway Line, the road runs parallel to the Iruma River, below densely forested mountains on both sides and through decidedly old-fashioned countryside villages. Small temples and shrines dot the roadside, tiny soba noodle restaurants offer local food.
Turn onto Route 53, the road towards Chichibu. Entering the village of Naguri, about 40 minutes driving after leaving Hanno proper, and looking to the left, you suddenly see three huge stone sculptures standing on top of a mountain, Mount Hakuun or Hakuun-san (460 meters tall). Even just briefly glancing at them while navigating the narrow road, you can make out that those are Buddhist statues.
The statues mark the top of the Hakuun-san Torii Kannon site, an area of scenic beauty in all seasons though it is most famous for its autumn foliage colors. The site is dotted with various Buddhist monuments which very well compliment the beauty of the area.
Hakuunsan Torii Kannon History
I would call the Hakuunsan Torii Kannon site a site because despite its obvious dedication to the ancient Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Kannon, it is neither a temple nor a monastery affiliated with any Buddhist sect. In fact, it was entirely privately build.
Yataro Hiranuma (1892-1985) was a banker, entrepreneur and politician whose economic and political networks reached deep into the inner circles of the Tokyo power elite. In short, he was a very rich and influential man.
His family hailed from Naguri Village, owning the Hakuun-san area that now comprises the Torii Kannon site.
Yataro's mother was a devoted believer in the power of the Goddess Kannon. On her deathbed, her last wish was that her son would erect a Kannon statue.
Soon after, Yataro received his draft notice for World War II. Feeling the horrors of war drawing close to him, Yataro erected the first building of the site, the Onjuudo, translating to "Hall of Gratefulness", in 1940.
It took him until 1970 for the whole site to be completed the way it is shaped today.
Visiting the Hakuun-san Torii Kannon
The whole Hakuun-san Torii Kannon site is open to the public. Pay a small entrance fee and you can hike all the paths, pay a slightly higher fee and you can drive all the way up to the big three Guze Dai Kannon statues, translating to "Salvation of the World" Kannon statues.
Driving up can however result in long waiting times. Parking is very limited within the site and only as many cars as parking lots are available are allowed to enter. It would be a much better option to park the car at nearby Sawarabi Onsen. There is plenty of space, there is a sort of Michi-no-eki shopping outlet and yes, there is a real onsen hot spring bath.
No food is sold at the Torii Kannon site. If you plan to have a snack, stack up at the Michi-no-eki.
It's a short walk from Sawarabi Onsen to the entrance of the Kannon site. You walk through Naguri Village, all along the Naguri River, a pleasant walk through an old-fashioned, mountain village.
You arrive at the main hall, the Hondo, before you get to the entrance of the Kannon site. Inside the Hondo, many hand-carved wooden Kannon statues are on display. Yataro Hiranuma himself carved them. He studied with the leading Buddhist wood carving masters of his time to get them right. Yataro proved quite talented in the craft.
Pay your admission fee at a little booth behind the Hondo and decide the way to walk. One option would be to hike up the narrow vehicle driveway, the other would be the hiking path to the left. Most visitors choose the hiking path.
The hiking path starts out steep and leads straight to the Niomon Gate, a gate in old fashioned Buddhist style with two guardian gods staring down the visitor to the right and left.
Pass through the gate and hike up to the wooden Onjuudo, the first building erected on the site in 1940.
Continue uphill and you will soon arrive at the Heiwa Kannon statue. Heiwa Kannon translates to "Peace Kannon". A Kannon goddess statue stands on top of a giant globe.
A staircase leads you up to right below the globe. From there, you get a good view over to the Guze Dai Kannon, the other attractions of the site as well as the surrounding mountains.
Continuing on your hike, you eventually have to join the driving path. You soon arrive at a Buddhist bell tower. Stairs lead up to the actual bell. Again, that's a good viewpoint. More importantly however is that visitors are free to bang the large wooden beam at the huge copper bell. Many visitors do so. This results in the sound of an old-fashioned Buddhist temple bell frequently heard all over the site. A sound that greatly adds to the atmosphere on the mountain.
Genjo Sanzo Tower
Next up is the Genjo Sanzo Tower, one of the main buildings of the site. It is dedicated to Genjo Sanzo, a 7th century Chinese Buddhist monk better known under his Chinese name Xuanzang who undertook a 17 year pilgrimage trip to India to study Buddhism at its roots. A small statue of Genjo Sanzo stands in front of the tower.
The area outside the Genjo Sanzo Tower was used as a location for the 2002 Takeshi Kitano movie Dolls.
In case, you got thirsty hiking, outside the Genjo Sanzo Tower you find the only drink vending machine on the Torii Kannon site.
Guze Dai Kannon
It's a short walk from there to the Guze Dai Kannon, the giant statues that can been seen from the road below. On weekends, the main Dai Kannon statue is open for visitors. You need to pay another 200 yen to enter. The hall on the ground floor displays more wooden Buddhist statues carved by Yataro Hiranuma.
Walk up the narrow winding staircase and you can reach the top of the 33m high statue. Through the wire-mesh fence at the viewpoint right at the back of the head of the Dai Kannon, you get a wide view over the surrounding landscape.
Returning to the ground floor of the Kannon statue, you might notice that the clerk selling the entry tickets also sells small round wooden chips called wagiri.
At many temples and shrines, ema are sold, small wooden tablets imprinted with some temple / shrine imagery. Usually, you write your personal wishes onto the ema and hang it at a designated place.
Here however, you buy a wagiri chip. You write your wishes onto the wagiri, then walk down to the viewing platform below the Kannon statues and fling it down towards the valley below. Let it fly high in the air, before the background of the distant blue mountains framed by the green valley.
(The Kannon statue is open only on weekends. You can however buy those same wagiri chips during the week at the little temple shop next to the Hondo before entering the Torii Kannon grounds.)
There is more to explore on the mountain. Steep steps lead to small Shinto shrines off the beaten path.
Most visitors however walk down the driving road (if that narrow path can be called a road at all). Towards the exit, you encounter a gate in old Chinese style, the Gyokkamon. Especially when surrounded by autumn foliage, that gate is a beautiful site all by itself.
Exit the Ken-O Expressway at Sayama Hidaka, drive to Hanno City, then follow Route 70, then turn onto Route 53.
Park either at Sawarabi Onsen or drive straight to the Torii Kannon entrance. In the latter case, pass by Sawarabi Onsen on Route 53, then turn left at the next intersection after the Sawarabi Onsen crossing.
By train & bus
Take the Seibu Ikebukuro Line from Ikebukuro Station to Hanno Station (by Limited Express 43 minutes).
From bus stop 2 outside Hanno Station, take a Kokusai Kogyu bus bound for Naguri, Yunozawa or Sawarabi Onsen. Get off at Sawarabi Onsen or at Kajiyabashi stop (the stop after Sawarabi Onsen). The bus trip takes about 50 minutes and costs 680 yen. SUICA / PASMO cards can be used on the buses.
Hakuun-san Torii Kannon
Opening times: daily 9am to 4pm, closed on Wednesday.
Admission: adult 200 yen, children 100 yen, entry by car costs an extra 500 yen.
The Dai Kannon statue is open only from April 1st to end of November, only Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. From 9 am to 3 pm. Admission: adult 200 yen, children 100 yen.
Address: 3198 Kaminaguri, Hanno, Saitama Prefecture
Tel: 042 979 0666
Website: http://www.toriikannon.org/index.html (Japanese)
Hakuun-san Torii Kannon on google maps