Report by Isla Phillips for Fukuoka Now
Nestled in a peaceful countryside town, Nyoirinji Temple is my favorite temple in the Fukuoka area, second only to the spectacular Dazaifu Tenmangu. It may be small but Nyoirinji is unforgettable.
The temple was founded in 729, making it the oldest temple in the Ogori area. It houses a standing Nyoirin Kannon statue, a particular delight, as Kannon statues are usually seated. It is also home to a wooden Nyoirin Kannon statue, which was designated as an important cultural property and only publicly displayed every twelve years (the next viewing is in 2025 so get your diaries out!). The feel and flavor of this historic place is not the reason I love Nyoirinji however, rather its crooks and crannies, are the home to over 5,000 frog statues, big and small.
The collection was started 25 years ago when the chief priest returned from China. Inspired by the pun of kaeru, which means both return and frog in Japanese, he brought back a small Jade frog figurine. This was the beginning of something spectacular. Wanting to make Nyoirinji a fun place to attract visitors, he then began to collect statues of frogs.
From teeny-tiny to extremely overgrown, there are frogs chilling absolutely everywhere. Some frogs come with messages, like the frog couple who pronounce “have fun being a married couple.” Others are busy amusing themselves like the flute-playing frog and the waltzing frogs. There are even a gathering of frogs worshipping Kumamon! You’d have to be a very dour person to stroll through this froggy paradise and not find yourself smiling by the end. If you’re feeling glum, maybe because of some bad luck, there is still a frog for you. You can dive through the mouth of one of the big frogs to turn your luck around! Thankfully this frog’s mouth is larger than the nostril of the buddha at Nara’s Todaiji, so more of us have the chance of accruing some good fortune. If you’re not feeling nimble you can still get yourself some luck from the wishing frogs, which are gathered at the entrance to the temple.
If the frogs aren’t enough of a lure to make you visit this wonderful place, then the temple’s events will surely entice you. In January they have a fire festival and in the summer there is a wind-chime festival (mid-June until September)! I for one have never been to a wind-chime festival before and am certainly excited to go. Beside from fire-breathing and wind-chimes, the temple is also a lovely spot to experience the colors of each season, with plum blossom trees, maple trees, cherry blossom trees, and hydrangeas filling up any spaces not already occupied by the frogs.
The lovely Cotswolds boutique
Reve de Bebe
Just beside the temple, there’s a small shop called “Cotswolds”, which sells accessories handmade by a cooperative of ten local artists. Next door to this there is a cafe, Reve de Bebe. They have a covered outdoor terrace and they sell lots and lots of delicious cakes and deserts in their patisserie. So you can visit this quirky temple in the countryside and then enjoy a sweet-treat – what’s not to love! If you really want to bulk out your trip you can even go strawberry picking at a farm about two-minutes on foot from Nyoirinji.
Cafe de Liliana’s delicious dessert buffet
I can also recommend both Morrow Coffee and Cafe de Liliana, which are nearby to Nyoirinji. Morrow Coffee roast their own coffee and offer a variety of beans from 25 different countries. If you’re really into coffee, this is a great place to visit because they’ll let you try the different beans and can guide you towards one to suit your tastes. You can also buy some gifts for the coffee lovers in your life, whether coffee beans themselves, home-brewing paraphernalia or Morrow-land souvenirs. Cafe de Leliana is more of a restaurant than a casual coffee shop, although they do also serve barista coffee and homemade cakes. They have a seasonal menu and cook with local produce, specializing in French cuisine and duck-based dishes in particular. You can choose a variety of set courses for either lunch (¥1,600 ~ ¥2,480) or dinner (¥3,800 ~ ¥5,800) and also offer a dessert buffet (¥1280) if you’re not there for the main meal.
Mikunigaoka’s park, situated between the Nishitetsu station and frog temple
All in all, I think a trip out to the lovely countryside from Fukuoka City is a great way to spend a Saturday. You can get to the temple very easily by train. Take the Nishitetsu line to Mikunigaoka, on the express. It’s a journey from Tenjin and costs ¥460. From the station, it’s a walk towards the temple. Head out towards the park (which has a lovely lake by the way) and then turn right. Turn left once you get to the post office, then turn right once you get to the end of that road. You’ll pass a 7-Eleven before reaching Cafe de Liliana, then Morrow Coffee and finally Reve de Bebe, which marks the back entrance to the shrine. If you drive, all the places mentioned in this article have parking facilities.