Katsuo-ji Temple: Osaka's well-kept secret

by Nano Betts
TRAVELWITHNANOB.COM

You see, Osaka leaves an impression of this contemporary, vibrant and a bit boisterous city. It has a reputation for being a food mecca and entertainment central with tons of great restaurants and the famous Universal Studios attracting lots of crowds. Compared to its neighboring Kyoto and Nara there seem to be less culturally and historically significant landmarks. I mentioned it before that I personally prefer Tokyo over Osaka, but I need to give the city a huge credit: both times I came here I discovered shrines that left me spellbound and amazed to an extent that I was on the brink of not sharing the treasures I found with anyone (but I’m not a mean blogger like that). 

On this trip, I yearned for rural adventures and my primary goal was to escape the urban scape as mush as possible and see what’s out there beyond the bustle of major Japanese metropolises. A 15-min train ride followed by a 30-minute bus ride in the mountains north of Osaka, brought me to Katsuo-ji Temple, a temple of the winner’s luck. 

Founded in 765, this Buddhist temple makes you oooh and aaaah the moment you step off the bus. I probably arrived at a perfect time of the year as the foliage-drenched hills behind provided a breathtaking backdrop. The flaming red and yellow of the momiji leaves created a magnificent contrast against the splendid greens of the forest. Although, the brochure they give you at the ticket booth informs the visitors that the grounds are equally stunning during cherry blossom as well as hydrangea (ajisai) blooming seasons.  As I stood at the entrance staring at the massive complex, I let my initial spine-tingling excitement pass before I proceeded to explore. 

The temple grounds are filled with elaborate gardens, ponds with colorful koi fish, fountains and even beautiful pagoda. One of the most prominent features of the temple are the daruma omikuji of all sizes and colors. People bring them back after having it at home for a year of luck and put them down anywhere and everywhere. You’ll see them stacked, tucked away and perched in the most unassuming corners all over the place. It’s like a little daruma city, and you are on a treasure hunt to find these little guys hidden in every nook and cranny.  

In addition to being associated with good luck, the daruma represents future goals. With the New Year approaching, which is the biggest winter holiday in Japan, it was a perfect reminder that I should commit to my resolutions and aspirations for 2017. Many people buy a new daruma for the new year with a certain goal in mind, and at the end of the year they bring back them back, with both eyes filled in, and they burn them in a big New Year’s bonfires that many shrines perform.

Sweet smell of incense, the sound of the priests chanting, vibrant foliage colors, breathtaking grounds and views, mist atop the pond, colorful koi, daruma planted everywhere. The place is incredibly atmospheric and charming.

It was so much fun to wander and take it all in, definitely one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in Japan. I bought a little daruma statue for myself to take home. It will go on a shelf by my computer desk and remind me to keep working on my goals.

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