"Gohyaku Rakan" means the Five Hundred Rakan Buddhist Saints. They were the immediate disciples of Buddha Shakyamuni, who actually lived in old India in the sixth century B.C. He was born to the Royal Couple of a small nation in India. That means he was the crown prince.
Shakyamuni often wondered why the life was full of sufferings in his youth. The suffering of birth, the suffering of sickness, the suffering of aging and the suffering of death. At the age of 29, he decided to set out on a journey to search for the answer to that question. He performed the extreme asceticism that no one had ever done before him, he said. He tortured himself in various ways day and night, night and day eating only a grain of rice and a grain of sesami a day.
Shakyamuni finally found the answer to that question after six-year hard discipline and became the enlightened one. And those five hundred monks followed him faithfully and they finally became saints, Rakan. It means the One to be Respected.
Along the approach to the Image of Buddha Sakyamuni, which is in the center of the enclosure, stand the statues representing the Ten Greatest Disciples of Buddha and the Sixteen Great Disciples.
The most popular part of Kitain is the enclosure that holds the 500 Statues of Rakan. As the name indicates, these lichen-covered stone sculptures depict rakan, which in early Buddhism were saintlike figures, somewhat like bodhisattvas in later Buddhism. The modestly named 500 Statues (there are actually 540) are meant to represent the full range of human emotion, and it is said that if you enter the enclosure in the dead of night and touch all the statues you will find one that is warm. Mark it, return in the morning and you will discover the statue that most resembles yourself.