A seemingly mysterious building turns out to be much more.
Anyone who has been to Tokyo’s Yomiuri Land amusement park may have spotted a white pagoda nearby. If you go from the train station to Yomiuri Land, you might even mistake it for an amusement park attraction, but actually it is a part of it Hana Biyoria flower park next to Yomiuri Land.
In fact, there are two pagodas in Hana Biyori that opened in 2020 – one red and one white. Both pagodas have been there since the opening of Yomiuri Land in 1964, but now they are part of Hana Biyori, which is located in an area of the flower park called “the sacred forest. Our reporter Mariko Ohanabatake decided to pay him a visit and investigate further.
The Sacred Forest is certainly an unusual name for an area of a floral park, but Mariko soon found that to be the case a suitable one. The white pagoda is made of Pakistani marble and called Shaka Nyorai-Den (or “Shaka Hall of the Buddha”). It was said that that Hair (Śarīra) and bones (stupa) of the Buddha are enclosed within. Śarīra is the term for relics found in the cremated ashes of Buddhist spiritual masters, and stupa refers to a shrine containing the remains of a holy person. In other words, this pagoda was definitely a sacred place for those who practice Buddhism.
The stupa was enshrined in the former Mahintale Temple in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and was gifted to Japan by the Ceylon government in April 1964. Similarly, the Śarīra was preserved in the Monastari Buddhist temple in former East Pakistan (now-day Bangladesh) and was gifted to Japan in September 1964 extremely unusual having both a stupa with the bones of the Buddha and a Śarīra with sacred hair in the same place.
It is forbidden to take photos inside the pagoda, but Mariko spotted what appeared to be two golden bells inside the temple that contained the sacred relics.
The Sacred Forest is also home to a whole host of other things to see, such as this statue of Myoken Bosatsu, also known as the God of the North Star. The statue was created in 1301 by order of a Buddhist priest and was designated as an Important Cultural Property in 1950.
Myokan Bosatsu is said to bring blessings for safety at sea, marriage, safe childbirth, prosperous business and good luck. He is also believed to be the keeper of horses, and in ancient times samurai prayed to him to provide them with good horses for battle.
▼ While it looks like the statue is making a peace sign, it’s actually a sign meaning “sword”.
Besides the white pagoda, the Sacred Forest of Hana Biyori also houses a red pagoda. The Red Pagoda was believed to have been built in the 17th century and was relocated near Yomiuri Land in 1964.
But near the Red Pagoda is another notable sight – the statues of the eight patriarchseight individuals believed to be founders of major Buddhist sects.
The statues were created by Sri Lankan sculptor Soma Pala along with former members of the Japan Art Institute’s Sculpture Department and depict Saicho from the Tendai sect, Kukai from the Shingon sect, Honen from the Jodo sect, Shinran from the Jodo Shin sect, Eisai from the Rinzai sect, Dogen from the Soto sect, Nichiren from the Nichiren sect, and Ryonin from the Yutsu-Nembutsu sect. Mariko had read about these men in history books and it was a real pleasure to see all eight of them here in one place.
Mariko couldn’t believe that such a sacred place existed so close to a huge amusement park like Yomiuri Land. The vivid contrast between the Japanese-style red pagoda and the white bell-shaped pagoda was so striking that Mariko felt like she was in another time or even another country. Not only that, just a stone’s throw away you can see roller coasters and Ferris wheels from Yomiuri land, and sometimes you can even hear cheers and screams from the people riding them. It’s a surreal combination that feels straight out of a comic book.
But why is there such a sacred area so close to Yomiuri land? Well, the answer to that lies in the founder of Yomiuri Land, Matsutaro Shoriki. In addition to being the founder of the national newspaper Yomiuri Shinbun, the Yomiuri Giants baseball team and the Nippon television station, Shoriki was also a man of strong Buddhist faith and as such created the Sacred Forest with Buddhist facilities when Yomiuri Land opened.
Although Hana Biyori is technically part of Yomiuri country, if you are interested in visiting the Sacred Forest, all you need to do is purchase a Hana Biyori ticket. Tickets are 1200 yen ($9) for adults, but you can get a 200 yen discount if you order a ticket on the Internet.