Buddhism temples in Nikko, around Koyasan, Iwami and Hiraizumi

Temples in Nikko, Kii Mountain Range, Iwami Ginzan, and Hiraizumi

Certainly, these sightseeing spots would  less attract attention from the tourists comparing to Kyoto or Nara.


But you can enjoy the temples as well as the scenery surrounding them. The leaders in each period built temples in the capitals to protect the city and the nation. On the other hand, high priests and the lord of a manor established the Buddhist buildings as to harmonize with nature.



Japanese people had believed the religion of nature that formed Shinto since the ancient time. So they thought nature had a special power and tried to coexist with the mountains, the seas, and the rivers. When they wanted to aim hight of the spirituality with Buddhism, it was natural to seek the environment in the holy mountains.





Nikko, Tochigi prefecture

Rinnoji temple(輪王寺)



Likely to be mistaken, the name of Rinnoji does not mean a single temple including the Shinto shrines. It is a general term of the main hall, the Zigen(慈眼) hall, Chuzenji(中禅寺), and other structures on Mt.Nikko. The temples have two precinct yards, Sannai(山内) and Oku-Nikko(奥日光). 


People had worshiped Mt.Nikko as a sacred mountain before the construction of the temples. In 766(Nara Period), Saint Shodo(勝道上人)  established the Buddhist temple of Shihonryuji(四本龍寺). 


The Kamakura Shogun’s became believers of Rinnoji. And during that period, the syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism on the mountain had proceeded as seeing three mountains(Nantai0san, Nyohozan, and Taro-yama), three Buddha statues(Senju-kannon, Amida-nyorai, and Bato-kannon) and three shrines(Shingu, Takio, and Hongu)  was same things.


In Edo Period, the Buddhist priest of the highest order, Tenkai(天海), became the chief of the temple. He deified Tokugawa Ieyasu(徳川家康) as the god at Toshogu on Mt.Nikko. 


Yomeimon Gate of Tosho-gu Shrine


The Imperial Family gave the name of “Rinnoji” to the temple in Edo Period too. 



Kii Mountain Range, Wakayama and Nara prefecture



The Main Hall of Kongobuji Temple (photo by ttshr1970)


After learning Buddhism in China, Kobo Daishi(弘法大師, Kukai 空海)  opened Koyasan and Kongobuji given by Emperor Saga(嵯峨天皇) in 816. He had hoped the place for praying the peace of people and nation, and for trainning of esoteric Shingon Buddhism.


Though he also received Toji  as a Buddhist trainning temple from Emperor Saga, he returned to Koyasan and died there in 835. Still today, the sacred mountain have an outstanidng presence in Buddhism world in Japan. The 117 temples including Kongobuji form Koyasan and the areas of Danjo Garan Sacred Temple Complex(壇上伽藍) and Inner Sanctuary(奥の院) play a central part.


Konpondaito Pagoda (photo by ttshr1970)


In Danjo Garan Sacred Temple Complex, we found a remarkably bright structure, Konpondaito which is the oldest two-story pagoda in Japan. And the monks hold the important Buddhism event at Kondo containing the ( rarely shown to the public) Buddha statue of Yakushinyorai


According to Koyasan, Kobo Daishi have stayed at the mausoleumin in Inner Sanctuary. The monks go to the mausoleumin and serve meals for him twice a day(serving for the living 生身供).


And Kongobuji is the place for the whole works of Koyasan, and you can see the rock garden “Banryutei”(蟠龍庭) and the screen pictures of Kano school.




Fudarakusanji temple(補陀落山寺)

The Main Hall (photo by 663highland)


As with Nikko, Kii mountain Range is the place of unique faith which combines Buddhism and Shinto(Kumano belief). Therefore the Shinto shrine Kumano Sansho Daijinja(熊野三所大神社)  stands beside the Buddhist temple. The main hall of Fudarakusanji(upper photo) contains the Buddha statue of Senju-kannon (important cultural property) made in Heian Period.


But above all, the temple has been known for the characteristic training. Fudaraku means the southern Pure Land where  Kannon-bosatsu lives in.  The idea of Fudaraku(Potalaka in Sanskrit)  spread not only Japan but also China and Tibet. So the believer decided the position of the land with each of where they lived. 



As a matter of course, Japanese people thought the Pure Land must be the other side of the southern sea. If they wanted to go to Fudaraku, they needed to take a one-way ship to sea. People called the practice as “Fudraku voyage”. According to the record, 25 monks rode in a boat at the Nachi Beach, near to the temple, from Heian Period to Edo Period. 


The replica of the ship for the Fudaraku Vayage (photo by 663highland)


They must have know the ship never reached any land and just hoped the parise in the afterlife.


Seigantoji temple(青岸渡寺)



Seigantoji Temple and Nachi Waterfall


Before Asuka Period, the holy priest Ragyo(裸形上人) who arrived at Kumano-nada Beach from India shut himself up Nachi mountain and made the practice sitting under the Nachi waterfall for a hundred days. And he watched the shining golden Buddha statue of Kannon-bosatsu in the water. It made him establish the temple and worshiped the image.


The main hall of the temple holds the statue of Nyoirin-kannon, The holy priest Shobutsu(生仏上人) produced the image and put the Ragyo’s statue into it in Asuka Period. 


The landscape of the three-story pagoda with the Nachi waterfall touches the visitors’ heart.


Kinpusenji temple(金峯山寺)

The buildings of Kimpsenji Temple (photo by неон)


The three main Buddha statues in the main hall of Kinpusenji are Shaka-nyorai, Senju-kannon, and Miroku-bosatsu. But the features absolutely show the differences from the others.



As you see the upper photo, they look like a Myoo with anger face and vivid color. We can’t find any calm atompsphere and affection love in spite of the images of Nyorai and Bosatsu.


Because Enno-gyoja(役行者) established the temple in Hakuho Period, and he asked the gods appearing the suitable figure for the troubled time. So the appearances are temporary. Enno-gyoja started Shugendo(修験道) that Japanese mountain asceticism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts.


We can only see the Buddha statues in one period a year.
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Oominesanji temple(大峰山寺)

The Main Hall of Ominesenji Temple (photo by Mass Ave 975)


The temple stands on the top of Oomine mountain. As the traditional religion reason, only Oominesanji prohibit a woman to enter the area in Japan. The temple also belongs to Shugendo and was established by Ennogyja in 672.


But man monk also couldn’t always step into the precinct yard. From May 3 to September 23, not only the practitioners of Shugendo climb up to the steep but also the ordinary women and men may walk around the mountain trail.


Iwami Ginzan, Shimane prefecture


Rakanji temple (羅漢寺)

Rakanji Temple (photo by 663highland)


Iwami Silver Mine produced a large amount of silver that occupied one-third of world at its peak. A lot of people work for digging rock in the mountain from Adzuchi-Momoyama Period to earlier Edo Period. As a danngerous working, not a few lose their lives with a roof-fall accidents.


For consolating their soul and praying the worker’s safety, monk Gekkai-join(月海浄印) planed to build this temple. it took 25 years to complete with the donation by many people in 1766. 


Rakan(羅漢) means the disciples of Buddha. After he passed away, the 500 disciples met together and compiled his teaching to make a sutra. The temple and the Buddha statue of Shaka-nyorai, Monju-bosatsu, and Fugen-bosatsu guard the Rakans.


Hiraizumi, Iwate prefecture


Chusonji temple(中尊寺)

The Main Hall of Chusonji Temple, photo by Daderot


In 850, the high priest of Enryakuji, Zikakudaishi Ennin(慈覚大師円仁) established the temple. And 150 years later, Northern Fujiwara Kiyohira(奥州藤原氏清衡) ordered to add the structures on a large scale. He became the ruler of the Tohoku region through the long war losing his father, wife, and child.


Kiyohira deeply believed the teaching of Lotus Sutra and hoped to realize the Buddhist land on the Hiraizumi. So he designed Chusonji based on the one scene of the sutra.


The temple holds the 17 structures in the area but there were 40 before they got disapeared by fire. The golden hall contains the bodies of Kiyohira, his son Motohira(基衡), grand-son Hidehira(秀衡) , and great grand-son Yasuhira’s(泰衡) head.

Motsuji temple(毛越寺)

The Main Hall of Mōtsūji Temple (photo by Takahashi J)


The same as Chusonji, Zikakudaishi Ennin started Motsuji. He founded a white deer when he walked around there in the thick fog. Approaching the deer it desappeared into the fog and an old man with gray hair showed up.


He instructed Zikakudaishi to build a temple and it would spread the teaching of Buddha. The monk thought Yakushi-nyorai changed the figure into the man and decided to follow the words. This is the story of the origin of the temple.


Most of the constructions were made by Motohira and Hidehira. The scale of the temple exceeded Chusonji. It verified the culture of Hiraizumi, encouraged by Northern Fujiwara, was comparable to Kyoto.


The visiters for Motsuji look forward to seeing the beautiful Pure Land style garden. 


The pure land garden of Mōtsūji temple (photo by Nerotaso)


No one knows who designed the garden. But the Shinden-dzukuri(寝殿造り) garden was really devised and Ooizumigaike Pond  reflects the forest and mountains surrounding it.



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