Urashima-Kannon Temple – Yokohama, Japan - Atlas Obscura

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Urashima-Kannon Temple

Associated with one of Japan's most famous fairy tales, this temple is home to a statue purportedly brought from the undersea palace of the Dragon God. 

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Urashima Taro is the protagonist of one of the most famous Japanese folk tales. In the story, a fisherman named Taro saves a bullied turtle on the beach and, in return, is invited to a feast held at the “Dragon Palace” under the sea. The denizens of the Atlantean world welcome him heartily and entertain him with exotic music and dancing fishes.

After spending there for a few days, Urashima Taro decides to go home, and is gifted a jewel box but warned never to open it. Back home, he finds out that 700 years have passed on land, an episode often compared to Rip Van Winkle. Distraught, Taro opens the forbidden casket, which releases a cloud of smoke and turns him into an old man.

Today, dozens of locations across Japan claim to be the setting of the story, most notably the fishing town of Ine. While most of them are found in remote locations, there is a major candidate in the vicinity of Tokyo, in the port city of Yokohama.

In Kanagawa Ward, Yokohama, lies the district of Urashima-oka, where there once stood a temple called Kanpuku-ji. Founded in the 9th century, it was known by its nickname Urashima Temple for its association with the legend, holding a treasured statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, allegedly brought from the Dragon Palace by Taro himself.

In 1868, however, the temple was lost in a fire, though the statue survived. It was relocated to another temple called Keiun-ji, not far from the site, now enshrined in a pavilion known as Urashima-Kannon Temple, flanked by statues of Urashima Taro and Orihime, the princess of the Dragon Palace. Another local legend claims that Taro’s parents are buried in the area, where turtle-related toponyms are also known, suggesting that Yokohama may just be where the legendary Urashima Taro once lived.

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June 12, 2024

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