London is extremely multicultural – even influences from countries as far away as Japan can be found in our city. Enter: the Battersea Peace Pagoda.
Words from Sam Jeans
There’s no shortage of green space in London, but with its tranquil location on the River Thames, Battersea Park is arguably one of the prettiest.
Like other London parks, Battersea Park has a few hidden gems. Head down Carriage Drive on the park’s north side and you’ll come across a fairly fine example of traditional Japanese Buddhist architecture.
Built in 1984, the Japanese Peace Pagoda was gifted to the city by the Nipponzan Myōhōji Order of Japanese Buddhism. With its rich history and enduring message, this wondrous pagoda holds more allure than meets the eye.
Why should you visit Battersea Peace Pagoda?
Locals, joggers, early morning commuters and dog walkers may be used to the otherwise incongruous sight of a Buddhist monk in traditional dress beating a drum at dawn next to an authentic Japanese pagoda in Battersea Park.
Who is the monk we hear you ask? That man is Reverend Gyoro Nagase, who came to London from Japan in 1978 to help build Britain’s first Peace Pagoda. Ironically, Milton Keynes installed (more on that later).
Reverend Gyoro Nagase has stayed around ever since, and today there are about 80 of these pagodas around the world.
The Peace Pagodas are the life’s work of Nichidatsu Fujii (August 6, 1885 – January 9, 1985), a Japanese monk who founded Nipponzan-Myōhōji in 1917.
Although clearly Buddhist in architecture and origin, the Peace Pagodas are said to promote peace between any religious, non-religious, cultural or ethnic group.
Many people go to the pagoda to just sit and think, read a book, relax, people-watch, etc. There is nothing complicated about visiting the pagoda, and anyone can participate, which is what the Nipponzan myōhōji intended.
In the words of Nagase himself: “It’s a very spiritual place. It’s peaceful, there’s no confrontation. People don’t even need to pray, they just find peace here”.
The Peace Pagoda has an excellent view
Perhaps one of the main reasons why you should visit Battersea Park is the stunning view over the River Thames from the Peace Pagoda.
If you’ve never been there, try going there on a foggy morning when it’s calm and the sun is first rising – you’ll be transported away from the stresses of everyday life.
The pagoda represents the Buddhist tradition
The pagoda features four bronze statues depicting Buddha throughout his life. They progress from birth through enlightenment, teaching and death.
The pagoda has a plaque describing each statue and what they represent in detail.
Events at the Peace Pagoda
The Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park hosts an annual celebration and commemoration with a floating lantern ceremony in mid-June for Hiroshima Day and Nagasaki Day, which take place on August 6th and 9th respectively.
For a complete calendar of Nipponzan-Myōhōji events, visit their website.
The Order regularly participates in peace-related events around the world. Reverend Nagase made headlines in 2016 for protesting the construction of the new Wylfa Newydd power station in Wales.
Outdoor tai chi classes are held nearby, and Baji Zhandao kung fu classes are held south of the pagoda, though not affiliated with the order.
The History of the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park
The Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park is a Buddhist stupa, a traditional form of Buddhist architecture.
Despite being the only Peace Pagoda in London, there are over 80 of these structures built around the world, from Japan to India, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Latvia and the USA.
Each pagoda was donated by the Nipponzan-Myōhōji, a peace-promoting branch of Japanese New Buddhism founded by Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii (1885-1985), also known as Guruji, a nickname bestowed on him by none other than Mahatma Gandhi.
Interestingly, the London Peace Pagoda has an older sibling elsewhere in the UK.
In fact, Milton Keynes saw the first Peace Pagoda in the entire western world, built in 1980. Nearby is a temple of the Nipponzan Myōhōji Order, which remains the center of Nipponzan Myōhōji in Britain today.
“Civilization does not consist in killing people, in destroying nothing, or in making war; Civilization consists in cultivating mutual affection and respect for one another.’ – Nichidatsu Fujii.
Nichidatsu Fujii, the founder of Nipponzan-Myōhōji, was born in 1885 in the wilderness of the Aso Caldera in southern Japan.
After spending his early life practicing Buddhism and helping others with charitable works, in 1933 he met Mahatma Gandhi, who included Daimoku (a chant of the Lotus Sutra) in his prayers.
With his undying motive to promote world peace, Fujii protested throughout the Pacific War of World War II, and after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, he began his life’s work to advocate for disarmament.
The Peace Pagodas provided a vehicle for establishing the Nipponzan Myōhōji message on the world stage, but Fujii remained an activist for most of his life, and the order frequently took part in anti-war protests during the Cold War.
Although Fujii died in 1985, the order continues to be involved in peace activism.
construction of the pagoda
The first Peace Pagodas were appropriately erected in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Fujii then returned to India and erected the World Peace Pagoda in Rajgir in 1965.
In 1978 Reverend Gyoro Nagase of the Order joined a team of 50 other volunteers to help build the first Western Peace Pagoda in Milton Keynes and in 1984 London.
Nagase remained on site after the pagoda was completed, but the site remains London’s spiritual center for the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order.
Milton Keynes was first chosen for a pagoda when one of the town planners leading the building of the city visited Sri Lanka where he saw a Peace Pagoda.
On his return he campaigned for a pagoda to be built in one of Milton Keynes’ parks. The city planning team and the Nipponzan Myohoji agreed.
Then, coincidentally, the wife of a local cameraman who filmed the pagoda’s memorial service gave birth in a hospital bed next to a woman who worked for the Greater London Arts and Recreation Committee.
She was looking for ideas to celebrate the upcoming London Year of Peace. After watching camera footage of the pagoda in Milton Keynes, she lobbied for one in London and the rest is history.
Architectural style and design
Sure, the pagoda is pretty impressive – but what does the design mean? Allow us, um, enlighten you, friends.
The Peace Pagoda houses four relic statues of Lord Buddha.
Each of the four gilded bronze statues depicts a hand gesture symbolizing the progression of Buddha’s life through birth, enlightenment and the first sermon of dharma and parinirvana (aka nirvana).
The building itself is 33.5 m high and has a traditional double roof. While the lower level of the building is open to the public, the upper level is not, and the statues are sacred.
London Peace Pagoda: Practical Information
Address: Battersea Park, Dr. N, London SW11 4NJ
opening hours: 24 hours
tickets: For free