Aburayama, a mountain that stretches across the southern part of Fukuoka City, is known for its great vistas. From the Katae Observatory, located halfway up the mountain, you can enjoy an exceptional panoramic view of the city, both day and night. The name Aburayama is said to have originated from the fact that a high priest named Seiga Shonin, who came from the Western Regions (parts of present-day Central Asia and India), was the first person in Japan to refine oil (abura in Japanese) from camellia fruits. The place where he did this is Aburayama Kannon, or Shokakuji Temple, located just below the observatory.
The history of Aburayama Kannon dates back to the Tenpyo era (729~748) when Seiga Shonin is said to have enshrined a thousand-armed Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) that he carved out of a white camellia tree. Originally called Senpukuji Temple, the temple once flourished to the extent that it had housing quarters for several hundred monks, but most of these were lost to fire during the Tensho era (1573~1592) of the Warring States period. The temple was later rebuilt and renamed Shokakuji Temple in 1694. Today, many people still refer to the temple as Aburayama Kannon.
The wooden seated statue of Kannon enshrined in the main hall is said to date from the Heian era (794~1185) and has been designated by the national government as an important cultural property. The temple is also home to Hibari Kannon Hall, which is dedicated to Hibari Misora, a singer from the Showa era who was considered a national icon. It is equipped with a device that plays her songs when you insert coins. Standing at the entrance to the temple grounds is a gate made of stone, which is an unusual building material for a temple gate. It is a Silla-style stone gate that was built using ancient Korean techniques by a single trainee monk in the Meiji era.
The kayu-biraki (literally, “porridge opening”) event held every year on Feb. 1 is a ritual for predicting the fertility of the year’s crops based on the state of a bowl of azuki porridge left in the main hall for half a month. It is said that Tsunamasa Kuroda, the fourth lord of the Fukuoka domain, revived the event, whose practice has been discontinued, in 1695. The precincts of the temple are also known for their fall foliage, and the bright red maples are magnificent in late fall. Here you can enjoy the beautiful autumn colors while listening to the chirping of wild birds.