Aizu Sazaedo Temple
Unique temple pagoda in a scenic, historical setting.
Aizu Sazaedo is a unique three-story pagoda-shaped temple located on scenic Mount Iimori near Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima. Entirely constructed of wood, the almost 17-meter tall structure looks a bit unusual when seen from the outside. But that’s nothing compared to what you’ll find inside.
33 statues of Kannon
A spiral ramp-like staircase leads up to the top and goes straight back down. There are no floors, so it’s one continuous walk. Since visitors are only allowed to move in one direction, you won’t even have to bother with other people making their way out.
The temple’s intricate layout was the brainchild of a monk named Ikudo. Under his direction, Aizu Sazaedo was erected in 1796. He had a very special purpose in mind for its design. All along the spiraling staircase are 33 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Visitors can pray at each statue and complete the entire Bando Kannon Pilgrimage by visiting just one building.
On the sacred Bando Kannon Pilgrimage, pilgrims visit 33 temples in the Kanto region dedicated to Kannon. This journey would take weeks to accomplish, as most of the temples are quite far from Aizuwakamatsu.
Aizu Sazaedo provided a very convenient shortcut to spiritual salvation for the residents of the region. Unfortunately, the Kannon statues in the temple today are replicas. The originals were removed during an anti-Buddhist drive in the early days of the Meiji Period.
White Tiger Brigade Statue
One of the highlights of Sazaedo Temple is a statue erected in 1883 to commemorate the tragic fate of the young samurai in the Byakkotai (White Tiger Brigade).
The Meiji Restoration in 1868, heralding the start of modern Japan, brought with it the Boshin War between the old feudal Tokugawa Shogun forces and the newly installed western-oriented Tokyo government. Tsuruga Castle in the Aizu Domain was the site of the last stand of the Tokugawa forces.
On the one day of the castle’s siege, they saw it burning after heavy artillery shelling. Believing the war to have been lost, the cadets committed seppuku, Japanese ritual suicide.
But the samurai were mistaken. Tsuruga Castle held out for another two weeks until it finally succumbed to the attacks. The White Tiger Brigade, many of them just 16 years old, became martyrs for their sacrifice in the name of the samurai spirit of absolute loyalty.