Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

May 26, 2012

Votive Paintings - Naritasan Reikokan Museum, Chiba (Museums)

Long before it became known as the site of Tokyo’s international airport, Narita was famous as the temple town that grew up around the imposing Narita-san Shinshoji Temple. One of eastern Japan's most important temples, Shinshoji is approached along a street lined with shops, restaurants and inns. Although the main hall is modern concrete construction, there are also several traditional buildings, including a three-story pagoda. Behind the temple, visitors find a pleasant park, with a pond, luscious woodland, meandering footpaths, and two museums.

Shinshoji Temple, Narita - Tahoto pagoda
[The Daito Pagoda houses the Reikokan Museum. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

The first of these two is the temple museum, the Naritasan Reikokan Museum (est. 1947), which stands behind the only temple building in the park, the Daito Pagoda, a modern construction in traditional style, where five fiery deities of esoteric Buddhism are honored. The museum is dedicated to the history of the temple and its ‘town before the gate,’ as well as the archeology and folk crafts of the area, and has armor, mirrors, lacquer utensils, screens and temple documents on view. As already from the Edo-period the temple counted actors and Sumo wrestlers among its fervent devotees, there are also prints of actors and wrestlers as well as material related to Kabuki actor Danjuro VII. One gallery is in use for this permanent collection, another one is reserved for the two special shows the museum hosts annually.

The same ticket is good for entry to the annex of the temple museum, which is housed on the first floor of the Daito Pagoda itself (and therefore called Daito Reikoden).In fact, it is here that one finds the pride of the temple: 600 large ema or votive paintings. Besides the usual pictures of horses, there are representations of Fudo Myo-o (the main deity of the temple), actors, figures from Chinese legend, and so on. One can spot several famous names among the painters, such as Utagawa Toyokuni, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Tani Buncho and Kawanabe Kyosai.

Kyosai painted a dramatic votive plate called Omori Hikoshichi and the Devil Woman on behalf of the villagers of Oyata in 1880. While working on it, he lodged in the local sake store, so it is no wonder that it took him seven months to complete! The museum also displays works of calligraphy (mostly contemporary Chinese) and has an excellent collection of tea-ceremony objects. In fact, with its vivid ema this annex is artistically and historically more interesting than the main museum.
Tel: 0476-22-0234

Hrs. 9:30 – 16:00; Cl Mon.

Access: 25 min. on foot from both JR and Keisei Narita Stations. Walk through the temple grounds, keeping to the right of the Main Hall to enter the park. Head for the Daito Pagoda. The Daito Reikoden is in the basement of this pagoda, the other museum stands on the far side of the small road that runs behind the pagoda and is a traditional-style building.

Shinshoji Temple, Narita - Main hall and Three-storied Pagoda
[Pagoda and Main Hall of Shinshoji Temple. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

Inside the park, beside the Sanno Pond, we find the other museum, the Naritasan Calligraphy Museum (est. 1992), which displays calligraphic art dating from the end of the Edo period up to modern times. On the first floor is a special exhibition room with a very high ceiling to accommodate works of unusual size. The second floor is a corridor style gallery. The calligraphy may be shown in combination with paintings and craft works.
Tel: 0476-24-0774

Hrs. 9:30 – 16:00; Cl Mon (next day if NH), NY (12/29-12/31 & 1/4, 1/5), between exhibitions.

Access: 20 min. on foot from both JR and Keisei Narita Stations.