Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture, located at the north end of Lake Biwa is a treasure trove of Buddhist cultural properties. Notably, Kannon (Bodhisattva) statues almost equal in number to the villages are widely distributed across the city and worshipped by the villagers even now.
With many statues dating back as far as the Heian period it has become known as "the village of Kannon," and many people from all over the country come to visit to worship them throughout the four seasons. The rich and blessed beauty of nature and culture, the warm-hearted local people and the high historical and artistic value of the Buddha statues standing there has been capturing the hearts of visitors.
This region once belonged to a flourishing Buddhist cultural area centered on Mt. Kodakami (altitude 923 m), which soars in the East.
Mt. Kodakami, worshiped as a sacred mountain since ancient times, was also a key transportation route. Naturally, being influenced by plural faith cultures led to its building its own Buddhism culture based on the Kannon faith as a syncretistic cultural sphere.
The temples of Kohoku flourished after the Heian period, then weakened around the Muromachi period, when the so-called New Buddhism expanded its influence. In the turbulent Age of Civil Wars, the situation changed even further.
Many of the Tendai temples in the villages fell into decline and were desolated or abandoned. But the respected statues left behind were warmly treated by the villagers as their guardian deities regardless of sect or religion. When the Kannon statues were threatened by fire during the wars, it is said that the villagers protected them by sinking them in the river or burying them in the ground.
Today the Kannon faith is vividly alive in this region. Regardless of whether the date of production is old or recent, whether the artistic skill is high or low, and whether they or not they are damaged, the villagers cherish and protect their hotoke (Buddhist images) with the same unlimited pride and familiarity.
The reason the town is nicknamed "the village of Kannon" is not simply because there are many Kannon statues or designated cultural properties in this region. The history of the faith of the people who have dedicatedly guarded it, and its own spiritual and lifestyle culture (Kannon culture) vividly alive in this region are truly the origin of "the village of Kannon.”