Yakushi-ji Temple is located in Nishinokyo in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, and one of two head temples of the Hossou religious sect. The principal image of Buddha is Yakushinyorai. Yakushi-ji Temple is the first temple of the Yakushi Pilgrimage of 49 Temples in Western Japan. The temple is also one of the Seven Great Temples of Nara. It was built by the Emperor Tenmu in 680.
Tou-tou or the East Pagoda, towering inside the temple complex, is 33.6m in height. The pagoda is believed to have been renovated in 730 to make it a good counterpart to the West Pagoda. This was done when the capital was relocated to Heijyou-kyo and the whole temple was moved to the capital. The East Pagoda has been designated as a National Treasure. The most notable feature of the East Pagoda is that, although it has three stories, its three additional lean-to roofs called mokoshi, make it look as if it has six stories. On the upper part of the tower, there is an openwork ornament called Suien (the Water Flame). There 24 heavenly beings were carved, some of which are playing flutes or planting flower seeds and some offering prayers. Suien is a charm to protect the pagoda from fire.
The East Pagoda of Yakushi-ji Temple is the only structure that has survived intact for a very long period of time, since the original foundation of the temple.
Monzen-machi is a town that was established around the prominent temples and shrines as stores and business developed to serve visitors to the temples and the shrines.
A town that is developed around a shrine is called aTorii-mae-machi (a town in front of torii) and a town established by religious followers is called Jinai-cho or Shake-machi, all of which are widely categorized as Monzen-machi.
Some noted Monzen-machi are: Narita City, Chiba Prefecture, - developed around the Shinshou-ji Temple, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture - developed around theTosho-gu Shrine, Futarasan Shrine and Rinnou-ji Temple, Ise City, Mie Prefecture - developed around the Ise Shrine, Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture - developed around the Izumo Taisha Shrine, located in Kotohira-cho and Nakatado-gun, Kagawa Prefecture - developed around the Kotohira-gu Shrine.
Monzen-machi is sometimes defined as a religious city. It embodies the urban culture (chounin bunka) born and developed during the Edo Period when society was relatively peaceful and people’s lives were influenced by and served by temples and shrines.
Ishibaji (Stone Horse Temple) in Gokasho Ishibaji Town in Higashiomi City on the eastern side of Lake Biwa is a historic temple belonging to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect. The principal object of worship is Juichimen Senju Kanzeon Bosatsu (Kannon with 11 faces and 1,000 arms). The temple is famous as the Horse Temple.
Legend has it that when Prince Shotoku visited this village in 594, his horse was turned into a stone and sank in the pond while he was away. Deeply impressed by this incident, Prince Shotoku built up a temple at this place. Beside the ruins of the Daimon gate at the foot the stone steps is the pond where the stone horse sank. You can see the horse back through the water.
The temple belonged to the Hosso Sect of Buddhism until the Middle Ages. As a temple of the Tendai sect, it fought with Oda Nobunaga in the Warring States period (1493-1573) and was burnt down by his forces. The temple was restored in 1644, as a temple of Rinzai Sect of Buddhism, by Zen monk Ungo.
The temple possesses a lot of cultural properties including the wooden plaques on which three kanji characters representing Ishibaji Temple were written by Prince Shotoku himself and the statue of Prince Shotoku on the horseback.
Other than Gioji Temple in Oku-Sagano in Kyoto, there is a temple named Gioji in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. Yasu City is said to be where Gio and Ginyo in Tale of the Heike were born.
After her father’s death, Gio went to Kyoto and became a Shirabyoshi, a dancer that performed traditional Japanese dances dressed as a man. In time, Taira no Kiyomori, the ruler of the country, was captivated by her good looks and tenderness and they fell in love with each other.
Gio asked Kiyomori to construct a canal for the people in her home town, which was suffering from droughts. Thanks to the canal, this area recovered from a bad harvest and became one of the largest rice producing centers in the country. Local people named the canal the Gioi River in token of their thanks.
However, one day, Kiyomori was fascinated by another Shirabyoshi named Hotokegozen. Grieving over Kiyomori’s change of mind, Gio and her younger sister Ginyo and her mother became Buddhist nuns and returned to their home town. Hotokegozen, who knew this and became enlightened that the same thing could happen to her and the rising sun would set in due time, left Kiyomori and visited Gio to become a nun herself.
After their death, village people built Gioji Temple to express their gratitude to these nuns as well as to mourn for them. The statue of the four nuns stands quietly in the precinct.
Looking as if it has no connection to this world, Kannonshoji Temple stands quietly near the top of Mt. Kinugasa, a 433 meter high mountain located on the eastern side of Lake Biwa. The temple is the 32nd of the Saigoku 33 Pilgrimage Temples, which are located in 6 prefectures in the Kinki region and Gifu Prefecture. This pilgrim route is said to be Japan’s oldest pilgrim route.
According to the temple record, Kannonshoji Temple was founded by Prince Shotoku (574-622). Then, in the Kamakura (1192-1333) and Muromachi (1336-1573) periods, it thrived under the protection of the Rokkaku clan and gained power of influence. During these periods, there were as many as 33 attached temples in the mountain.
In the later periods, the temple was involved in wars and relocated to another place. However, in 1597, it was moved again to its original location. Though having receded into the background today, the temple is visited by a lot of worshippers who offer prayers for good relationship in life.
Ganjoji Temple in Gamo Town in Shiga Prefecture is a historic temple pertaining to Prince Shotoku. It was one of Ganjojuji temples, which were established in 46 places all over the country to fulfill Prince Shotoku’s wishes to bring stability to the nation. It was originally a Tendai-sect temple, but was converted to the Soto sect in 1625 when the temple was restored by the Zen priest Sanei Honshu.
It is the 26th temple of Gamo Kannon Holy Sites, the 9th of Shaka 32 Zensatsu (Zen Temples) and the 24th of the 27 Meisatsu (Fine Temples) in Omi-Koto.
The principal image is a secret Buddha, which is open to the public once every 33 years. It is said that the face was modeled after Prince Shotoku’s mother.
In the Kannon-do Hall, what is believed to be a mermaid mummy is enshrined. According to an old story, the mermaid fell in love with a beautiful nun and visited the temple every day, disguising himself as a young man. A lot of stone art objects made in the Middle Ages are preserved in the main hall.
Hie Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Nagatacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. The enshrined deoty is Oyamakui-no-kami, the god of Mount Hie in Shiga prefecture. It is said that when Ota Dokan constructed Edo Castle in 1478, he erected a Sanno-Hie Shrine in the compound for a guardian deity of the castle. When Tokugawa Ieyasu was enfeoffed with Edo (present-day Tokyo), he relocated it to the grounds of Edo Castle, and worshipped the deity as the protector of Edo. The citizens of Edo also had strong faith in Hie Shrine as the founding god of their town. In 1607, when Ieyasu’s son, Tokugawa Hidetada, planned to make improvement on the castle, he moved the shrine out, so the people of Edo could worship there.
Sanno Festival held in June every year is one of the three great festivals of Edo; the others are Kanda Festival at Kanda Shrine in Chuo-ku and Fukagawa Hachiman Festival at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in Fukagawa in Koto-ku. In the Edo period (1603-1868), Sanno Festival and Kanda Festival were also called “Tenka Matsuri,” which means the Shogun’s Festival, because the festivals were protected by the Tokugawa Shogunate and the festival processions were allowed to enter the grounds of Edo Castle for the Shogun to view them.
The high-spiritted Edokko (natives to Edo) would have said, “Sanno Festival is too refined, isn’t it?” Any way, why don’t you try experiencing one of these great festivals of Edo, if you have time?
Oshu Zenkoji Temple is located in Atagoyama Park in Kurihara City, Miyagi Prefecture. Together with the ones in Nagano City and Kofu City, it is counted as one of the three greatest Zenkoji temples in Japan. Oshu Zenkoji Temple was founded at the end of the Heian period (794-1192) by Fujiwara no Motohira, the 2nd head of the Oshu Fujiwara clan, to mourn for his late father, Kiyohira. The principal image of worship is Zenkoji Nyorai, which is a replicated image of Nyorai at Nagano Zenkoji Temple.
There is a huge weeping cherry tree presumably over 800 years old in the precinct. It is known as “the Cherry Tree in Atagoyama” and a lot of people come to view cherry blossoms in the middle of April every year. Zenkoji Taisai (Grand Festival) is also held during this season. The garden of the temple is crowded with people enjoy walking in flattering cherry petals.