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.
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