Osorezan Bodai-ji (恐山菩提寺) was the first place I got to visit outside of Hirosaki.
This place is seriously worth the visit.
Mount Osore is on the Shimokita Peninsula of Aomori Prefecture, and is one of the most sacred mountains in Japan. This is because it is thought to be the entrance to the afterlife. You’ll be surprised by the reactions of your Japanese friends, and coworkers when you say you went there. They are typically very frightened by this place…it is after all, the entrance to hell.
The area surrounding Bodai-ji is rich in volcanic activity, even though the volcano hasn’t erupted in about 10,000 years. As you drive to the temple you’ll quickly discover the nauseating smell of sulfur which permeates the air. This scent helps to invoke the images of hell. Seriously, it smells like eggs have been rotting since the last eruption. The ground is also gray and barren and there are many openings in the ground which release stream, bubble, and blow hot water. Mt. Osore is a stark contrast to the typical vibrant greens of Aomori’s blue forest.
However, juxtaposing the hellish landscape that is Osorezan is Lake Usori, the lake’s serenity evokes images of Buddhist paradise. Lake Usori is colored various shades of blue, and you can see traces of yellow on the bottom, due to the high sulfur content.
It is said that Osorezan Bodai-ji temple was founded in 862 by En’nin. He had a divine dream that told him to go eastward on foot from Kyoto for 30 days, then he would discover the entrance to hell. There he would construct a statue of Jizo by hand. When he came upon Lake Usori, he knew he had discovered the sacred grounds.
The temple also allows visitors to use an onsen (hot spring bath) surrounded by the fragrance of sulfur. There are a total of four baths: two for women, one for men, and a mixed bath. The onsen isn’t like other onsen, meaning there are no showers to clean yourself before you get in. The purpose of the onsen is to cleanse yourself after your journey to Osorezan.
At Osorezan you will see many statues of Jizo, and piles of stones. The piles of stones, as well as, the brightly colored windmills are offerings to Jizo by the parents of dead children. They place them there to help the children cross over into the afterlife.
Osorezan is a very beautiful and a wonderful place to see, but please remain respectful if you visit. Even though this may not be your religion or you may not even be religious. Just respect the fact that many people go to Osorezan to pray for their loved ones who have passed away.