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Go to Hell! Tours depart daily!

Although interpretations vary depending on the region and sect, Buddhist tradition typically holds that after a person dies, their spirit must cross the Sanzu River, the Buddhist equivalent of the River Styx. After crossing into the realm of the dead, the spirit must meet with Yama (called “enma” in Japanese), the Buddhist king of the underworld. For a period of seven days, the spirits must receive judgement from the 10 rulers of the afterlife, and they must repeat this process seven times for a total of 49 days until they are released back into the circle of transmigration to be reborn again. However, those who are judged to be full of sin are condemned to penitence in one of eight levels of hell, which vary depending on the nature of the sin. The levels include the hell of burning flames, the frozen hell, the hell of screams, the hell of futility and for the worst of the worst, the hell of unending suffering.

Some of the things folks might experience in these various levels of hell include being suspended by their tongues, having their eyes gouged out, their hands melted off, their skin torn away, being dipped into molten lava, or worse.

Luckily for us, it is possible to get a glimpse at all the horrors of hell without having to die, or convert to Buddhism. Shokanji, in Tokushima prefecture is a Kegon Buddhist temple, that has also become a rather infamous roadside attraction due to it’s gruesome “tour of the eight hells.” Likely intended to scare people into belief, the cheap effects and excessive blood splattering lends a B movie aesthetic to the whole affair. Perhaps it is that charm that has made this a popular off-beaten-path destination. Here are some highlights from the tour.

For the taking of any life, souls are condemned to Sañjīva (等活地獄) where they are constantly torn to pieces and revived over and over.
Adding theft to the sin of murder, souls are condemned to be sawed and chopped with redhot blades, and whipped with redhot iron cables.
Shugo Hell (衆合地獄) is for sexual deviants. In this hell a beautiful women tempts the souls from the top of a tree made of swords. Once the souls climb to the top they find she is waiting for them at the bottom. They continue this until fountains of blood pour from their body, and finally they are crushed by a giant steel elephant
Drunkards are sent to the next level, called the “hell of screams” (叫喚地獄). Here they are boiled and set aflame. The more they scream and plead, the more the demons torture them. If they run, they are chased along a redhot iron floor and shot with flaming arrows.
Add the sin of lying to all of the above and the sinners are sent to the “great screaming hell.” Disappointingly, this is just like the previous hell except with bigger pots and utensils.
Those who deny the teachings of Buddha are cast into the inferno where the flames are said to be so hot as to make all the other flames of hell seem like snow. Here the eyes, nose, hands and feet are cut off and incinerated and the body is fried on a giant skillet. One speck of fire from this hell is said to be enough to instantly burn the entire Earth.
For those whose lewdness involves a nun or priestess, get ready for the “great inferno.” While descriptions are somewhat vague, it is said the screams from this hell can be heard from thousands of kilometers away.
The lowest level of hell, “The Hell of uninterrupted suffering,” is reserved for those who kill their mother or father, or harm a monk or priest who has attained Nirvana. Just a few of the tortures to be found include having 100 metal spikes driven through the tongue, being tortured with poisonous insects and snakes, and being forced to climb a mountain made of molten steel. The suffering is said to be 1000 times worse than the other 7 hells combined, and makes the previous levels seem like a happy dream.

The 8 levels of Buddhist hell are almost enough to put Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy to shame, and you can preview it all for the price of a cup of coffee.

Shokanji Temple 正観寺 八大地獄
Open daily from 8:00am~4:30pm
Admission: Adults 400 yen, Children 200 yen

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