The road to hell isn’t paved with good intentions, but with fruit stalls and toy shops.
Finding your way to the heaven or hell temple, Senko-ji, is like navigating your way through a bizarre purgatory in Osaka Prefecture.
This mysterious temple is about a 30-minute train ride from Osaka City, and then the winding 10-minute walk is part of the journey. The road to heaven or to hell goes through a non-distinct residential area with few signs or markers. It is almost impossible to imagine that the gateway to hell lurks amongst stores selling shoes and children playing games like kendama.
It seems the sages were wrong, we now know that the road to hell isn’t paved with good intentions, it’s paved with fruit stalls and toy shops.
Finally arriving at the temple, visitors usually make a point of traveling to the hell half of the temple before going to heaven. In the hell part, you can enjoy macabre thrills such as putting your head in a rock and hearing the sounds of the accursed suffering in fiery damnation and getting your photo taken with demon horns.
After enjoying some schadenfreude, the courageous should head for the nearby hut that represents the entrance to hell. Appropriately, the entrance to the accursed land is dark, hot and crowded and features a huge devil statue that looms over you.
Next to the Archfiend is a Japanese horror called the Yamauba (a mountain cave-dwelling hag). While Beelzebub may be the more imposing figure, it’s the Yamauba that has the voice. The hag cackles its story of taking stray children over the sound system while the foul creature’s words are animated on a nearby video screen.
Instead of a devil and a rotting hag looming over you, the door to heaven is dotted with the friendly faces of lucky gods such as Daruma, Saigyou, Jyorojin and Hotei. Intriguingly, while the entrance to Hell is above ground, in order to get to heaven, you have to head into a cavern buried underground.
Looks like the sages got that one wrong, too! Heaven is actually deep below ground. Thankfully for people visiting in the summer, the heaven temple is water-themed and full of mandalas and candles in the water which makes for both a cool and tranquil experience.
What’s your fate?
Whether you decide to head to heaven or hell first, you will get a very different experience. If you are torn about which afterlife awaits you, you can actually let the temple itself decide your fate. Near the entrance there is a machine where you can answer questions based on your personality, and the machine will tell you whether heaven or hell is your most likely direction.
The best part about Senko-ji is at least whichever one you end up at will be an amazing experience.
Dig this scenery? Check out more temples in Japan.