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Roads of Oku: Home

Inspiration ...

Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Deep North, Translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa / Google Map: Bashō's Oku no Hosomichi ("Narrow Road to the Deep North")

Journeys ...

Spring 2004: On the Road in Kansai / Google Map
Summer 2005: Roads of Oku / Google Map
Fall 2006: Where Gods Alight / Google Map
Summer 2007: Hōkūle‘a in Yokohama / Map
Winter 2008: Snow Country / Google Map
Spring 2008: Full Bloom & Festivals / Google Map
Summer 2009: Fireflies & Sweet Fish / Google Map
Fall 2009: North Country Colors / Google Map
Summer 2010: Legends of the Land / Google Map
Spring 2011: On the Far Side of Disaster / Google Map
Summer 2012: Travels in the Fifth Moon / Google Map
Summer 2013: Far Roads: Finishing Touches / Google Map
Summer 2015: Saké-Tasting in the Kingdom of Local Brew

Memorable ...

Roads / Seacoasts & Coastal Roads / Bridges / Ferries / Walks & Hikes / Mountains / Ropeways / Rivers / Waterfalls / Lakes / Trees / Rocks / Caves / Hot Springs / Sakura / Fall Colors / Archaeology and History / Castles / Shrines / Temples / Gardens / Festivals / Food / Drinks
Photography: Dennis Kawaharada and Karen Ono

Note ...

On Driving in Japan

Roads of Oku: Journeys in the Heartland

A collection of essays on Japanese culture, history and literature. Available at (Far Roads Press, 2015).

Buddhist Temples and Statues

Updated: Summer 2015

Buddhism was a gift to Yamato (the original name of Japan) from the kingdom of Baekje on the Korean peninsula during the sixth century. A tributary of Yamato, Baekje was seeking the help of the Japanese emperor in its fight against the kingdom of Silla.

Shintō priests and aristocrats led by Mononobe no Moriya opposed the introduction of the new religion, blaming it for an outbreak of smallpox; the first bronze statue of Buddha was thrown into the Naniwa River in Ōsaka.

Despite this opposition, Buddhism established itself, supported by Emperor Yōmei (518-587), the thirty-first head of the Imperial family, and his son Prince Shōtoku, who encouraged people to adopt the new religion after his seriously ill father recovered his health following prayers to Buddha. Allied with the powerful Soga clan, Prince Shōtoku defeated the anti-Buddhist forces in a battle in 587, during which Mononobe was killed.

Despite the early opposition, Buddhism was adopted as a state religion in the Nara period (710–794), and temples were established in all the provinces to conduct ceremonies to prevent epidemics, earthquakes, and floods and to ensure an abundant harvest.

Today, about 90 million Japanese, about 70% of the population, identify themselves as Buddhist. The major sects include the esoteric Tendai and Shingon Buddhism, Zen Buddhism (Sōtō and Rinzai sects), and the popular sects of Jōdo (Pure Land), Jōdo Shinshū (True Pure Land), and Nichiren.

The head temples of Jōdo (Pure Land), Jōdo Shinshū (True Pure Land) are located in the ancient capital of Kyotō. The head temples of Tendai and Shingon Buddhism are located on mountains outside of Kyotō.

The most widely worshiped deity is Amida Buddha, who admits souls into his Pure Land (Jōdo), where they can attain Nirvana; Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy and compassion, who comforts those who are suffering in this world; and Jizo, the bodhisattva who eases the suffering of those sent to hell or left in limbo because they don't have enough good karma to proceed to the Pure Land. (See "A Temple in the Far North: Osoresan Bodai-ji" below.

Statues and Carvings of the Buddha

Tōdai-ji, Nara

The initial center of Buddhism in Japan was Yamato (Nara prefecture). Tōdaiji in Nara houses the giant bronze Buddha commissioned by Emperor Shōmu (r. 724-749) to quell a smallpox outbreak ravaging the capital. The hall has been rebuilt twice after fires; the current building dates from 1709.

Early Morning, Spring 2004

Early Afternoon, Winter 2013

The statue housed in Tōdaiji is 14.98 m or 49.1 ft high. Various parts have been recast over the centuries because of fire and earthquake damage.

Kōtoku-in, Kamakura, Kanagawa

A smaller bronze Buddha statue (13.35 m, 43.8 ft high) is found at Kōtoku-in, a Jōdo temple in Kamakura, west of Tōkyō. Kamakura was the seat of government during Kamakura Shogunate (1192–1333); Buddhism flourished there. The original statue dates from 1252; it's uncertain if the present statue is the original.

Kōtoku-in. Spring 2008

Nihon-ji, Mt. Nokogiri, Chiba

A statue of Yakushi, the medicine Buddha, 31 meters (102 feet) high, was carved in 1783 from volcanic tuft at Nihon temple on Mt. Nokogiri, in Chiba prefecture:

The Buddha's hands holds a medicine bowl:

Mt. Nokogiri is known for its trails like with 1500 statues of rakan (followers of Buddha):

A 100-foot high bas-relief of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy:

Buddhist Rock Carvings, Usuki, Kyūshū

The stone buddhas on the hillsides of Usuki were carved into the volcanic tuft during 12th-14th centuries.

Buddhist Rock Carvings. Spring 2011

Temples of Northern Honshu

On a 1689 pilgrimage from Edo to northern Honshu and down to Ogaki, on Lake Biwa , the poet Bashō visited famous shrines and temples. At Nikkō he praises, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kūkai (774-835, posthumously Kōbō Daishi, or Great Teacher), for helping to establish a temple here and bringing enlightenment to the land: "the light from here illuminates the heavens, its beneficence fills the whole land, with the four classes living in peace.

miraculous! / green leaves, young leaves / in sunlight (Nikkō)
ara tōtō / aoba wakaba no / hi no hikari

Rinnoji Temple, Nikkō, Tochigi

Although Kūkai is credited with found temples in the Nikkō area, the first temples are said to have been established by Shodo Shonin (735-817), who climbed to the top of Mt. Nantai and saw an image of Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy and compassion, reflected in the lake below.

The first temple, which eventually became known as Rinnonji, was established in 766; Tōshōgū shrine, the mauseleum of the deified Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan from 1603-1868, was built in 1617 farther up the hillside, above Rinnoji.

Rinnoji enshrines Amida Buddha and two versions of Kannon ("thousand-armed" and "horse-headed"); the three Buddhist deities are considered to be the original deities of the three mountain kami worshipped at Futarasan Shrine nearby. (Under Buddhist-Shintō syncretism, kami were said to be earthly manisfestations of buddhas.)

Rinnoji, Fall 2009

Ungan-ji, Nasu, Tochigi

Unganji was founded in the twelfth century. Basho located the meditation hut, “perched on a ledge up against a cave,” where his Rinzai Zen teacher Butcho (1642-1715) had meditated while serving as a priest at this temple.

Ungan Temple, six miles east of Nasu town, Fall 2009

Bashō wrote after his visit:

even a woodpecker / can’t destroy this hut / summer’s grove
kitsutsuki mo / io wa yaburazu / natsu kodachi

“Woodpecker” alludes to the angry spirit of Mononobe no Moriya (d. 587), who opposed the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. (See the introduction.) After his death, Mononobe’s angry spirit is said to have become a woodpecker in order to destroy Buddhist temples.

Io-ji, Iizaka, Fukushima

Basho stopped at Ioji, the temple where the Sato family tombs are located, on 5.5, Boys’ Day, 1689.

Ioji. Fall 2009

Bashō composed this haiku for the occasion:

pannier and sword / display them in the fifth moon / with paper banners
oi mo tachi / mo satsuki ni kasare / kami-nobori

The warrior priest Benkei’s pannier (a wicker pack for carrying Buddhist paraphenalia) and Yoshitsune’s sword were two treasures housed at Ioji. Kami-nobori, or paper streamers, with the names of kami (gods) and prayers for children written on them, were raised on bamboo poles to honor boys and encourage them to become strong and brave, like warriors. But Basho’s praise of warriors is tempered by its tragic context: the poet wept at the graves of the widows of Sato Shoji’s two slain sons, Tsugunobu and Tadanobu, who fought and died acting as “substitutes” for Yoshitsune in the twelfth-century Gempei War between the Genji and Taira.

Zuigan-ji, Matsushima, Miyagi

Zuigan-ji is a Zen temple that was revived Ungo (1582-1659), a Rinzai Zen master who was a teacher of Basho’s teacher Butcho.

Zuigan-ji (Internet Photo)

Chuson-ji, Hiraizumi, Iwate

Chusonji is a Tendai temple established in 850 north of Hiraizumi. The Konjikido, or “Golden Hall,” also called Hikarido, or “Hall of Light,” is a small, beautifully gilded mausoleum inlaid with mother of pearl and jewels housing the mummified remains of three generations of Fujiwara rulers – Kiyohara, Motohira, and Hidehira – who ruled the north country from Hirazumi in the eleventh and twelfth century. Basho visited the site three centuries later and noted the survival of Hikarido:

fifth-moon rains / have left untouched / the Hikarido
samidare no / furinokoshite ya / hikarido

The fifth-moon rains of Basho's poem represent time and change that destroys all that’s impermanent; the gilded hall represents Amida Jodo, the Pure Land of Amida, a place beyond time and change where worshipers go after death to be instructed by Amida in achieving Nirvana and to escape the karmic cycles of rebirth.

Today, a concrete building houses the Hikarido.

Chusonji. Summer 2005

No photos are allowed of the Golden Hall, but a photo of it (below) appeared in the online Japan Times (Kyodo/Cultural Affairs Agency, Yoshiaki Miura), when Hiraizumi was being considered for a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in June 2011.

Ryushaku-ji (Yamadera), Yamagata

Twenty miles south of Obanazawa, Ryushaku-ji, founded in 860 by Tendai priest Ennin (Jikaku Daishi), was also known as Yamadera (“Mountain Temple”). It was an “unusually well kept quiet place,” atop a hill pitted with caves, overlooking a small valley north of the town of Yamagata.

Ryushaku-ji (Yamadera), Yamagata. Summer 2010

When Basho climbed the hill (“massive rocks piled up, old pines and oaks, old earth and rocks moss-smooth”), the halls at the top were locked, and no one was there, so he circled around the brink of a cliff and crept over some rocks to the main sanctuary.

The lonely desolation cleared his heart and mind:

in the calm hush / permeating the rocks / a cicada’s voice
shizukesa ya / iwa ni shimiiru / semi no koe

Cicada is a summer kigo, or season word. This insect emerges from the ground in the warm summer weather to mate, lay eggs, then die in one or two weeks. Their brief appearance in summer, like that of fireflies, became a conventional symbol for the transiency of human life.

Kanmanju-ji, Kisakata, Akita

Origin of this temple, located across the street from Kisakata Station, is unknown; it's believed to be over 1000 years old. One legend has it that Empress Jingu, wife of Emperor Chuai (r. 192-200) and the mother of the Emperor Ojin (r. 270-310), visited the temple after she led an invasion of the Korean peninsula. She she dedicated two stones, kanju, which brought the tide in, and manju, which brought the tide out, hence "Kanmanju." The area was once a lagoon with small islands, but an earthquake associated with an eruption of Mt. Chōkai in 1804 raised the land and today the temple is surrounded by rice fields.

Front gate. Summer 2005

Mt. Chōkai from the cemetery at Kanmanju-ji. Fall 2009

Nata-dera, Ishikawa

Six miles south of Komatsu, the temple of Natadera was founded in 717 by the priest Taicho (682-767), a shugendo ascetic said to have the powers to fly and to disappear before one’s eyes, then appear elsewhere.

Taicho climbed the sacred mountain Hakusan (“White Mountain,” 8,865 feet high), twenty-two miles east-southeast of Natadera, and at the pond below its peak, had a vision of the mountain goddess Kikuri Hime, who is worshipped at Shirayama Hime Jinja (“White Mountain Princess Shrine”), the main shrine in Kaga.

After emerging from the waters, the princess turned into Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy and compassion. Taicho enshrined an image of the eleven-headed, thousand-armed Goddess of Mercy in one of the caves at Natadera. (Another tradition says that the emperor Kazan enshrined the figure. Emperor Kazan (968-1008), the sixty-fifth head of the imperial family, named Nata-dera from the first syllables of the first and last temples in the tour of thirty-three temples dedicated to Kannon in the Kinki region: “Na” from Nachi temple in Kii (Wakayama) and “Ta” from Tanigumi temple in Mino (Gifu).

Natadera, Ishikawa. Winter 2008

The temple is noted for its cliff-side cave:

Bashō visited the temple on his journey through Tōhoku in 1689 and composed a haiku on its cliffs:

whiter than / Ishiyama’s stone / autumn wind
ishiyama no / ishi yori shiroshi / aki no kaze

Bashō's haiku uses synesthesia to link the color white, which in Asian tradition is associated with death, with the wind, which represents the transient world of suffering. The stones of Ishiyama temple (see below) resemble Natadera's.

Today, Natadera is dedicated to world peace and natural harmony. Visitors can enter one of the womb-like caves to light a candle in worship, wash away the impurities of life, and be symbolically reborn. Below the famous caves is a garden, with a swan pond, representing the Pure Land, where Kannon resides.

Natadera, Summer 2010

Eihei-ji, Fukui

One of the two head temples of Sōtō Zen (the other is in Yokohama), Eihei temple was founded in 1244 by the monk Dōgen. After returning from his study in China, Dōgen advocated shikantaza "nothing but sitting" as a simple but rigorous way to achieve enlightenment.


Eihei-ji. Winter 2008

Bashō visited this temple on his 1689 journey to the north country. He notes that Dōgen had a profound reason to retreat "a thousand li from Hoki" to a remote place in the mountains to establish this temple. Hoki, “imperial capital,” is a reference to Kyotō, where the powerful Tendai sect opposed Dgen’s teachings as heresy. To escape petty arguments and persecution, Dōgen left Kyotō to practice meditation in peace and solidtude in the forested hills above Fukui town.

A Temple in the Far North

Osoresan Bodai-ji, Mutsu, Aomori

Bodai Temple is set inside the volcanic crater of Osoresan. Walkways through the sulphur fields lead to Lake Usori.

Piles of stones are made at sites around the lake by parents and friends to assist the spirits of children who died before they could accumulate enough good deeds to enter the Pure Land. The souls of the children are protected by Jizo, a bodhisattva. During the summer, itako, or blind mediums, gather at Bodaiji to assist grievers to communicate with the spirits of the deceased.

Osoresan Bodai-ji. Summer 2005

On the shore of Lake Usori: stones piled for the souls of children

Statue of the bodhisattva Jizo

Temples in Kyotō and Central Japan

Jōdo-shū and Jōdo Shinshū (Pure Land Sects)

Nishi Hongan-ji, Kyotō

Nishi Honganji is the headquarters of the Jōdo-Shinshū sect, which has the largest number of adherents of any religious sect in Japan. The original temple, located in Higashiyama (eastern Kyotō), was founded in 1272 by the daughter of Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jōdo-Shinshū.

Nishi Honganji. Summer 2012

Chion-in, Higashiyama, Kyotō

The original temple was constructed in 1234, Chion-in serves as headquarters of the Jōdo (Pure Land) sect founded by Hōnen; buildings destroyed by fire in 1633 were rebuilt by shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, whose family crest (three hollyhock leaves) decorates the roof beams.

The 74-ton temple bell at Chion-in, ast in 1633, is the largest in Japan. The bell sounds 108 times at midnight on New Years' Eve to drive away the 108 desires that plague humanity.

Zenrin-ji (Eikandō), Higashiyama, Kyotō

At its founding during the Heian period, Zenrinji was a Shingon temple, but in the 13th century, under the influence of Chion-in, the nearby headquarters of the Jōdo sect, Zenrin-ji was converted to a Jōdo temple. The temple is a favorite place for viewing momiji, or autumn colors.

Entrance to Zenrin-ji. Fall 2014

Zen Temples

Tenryū-ji, Arashiyama, Kyotō

Tenryūji, a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple, was completed in 1345 by Ashikaga Takauji for the repose of the spirit of his rival for rule of Japan, Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339). Takauji's brother had a dream of a golden dragon in the Hozu River, which flows from the west and joins the Katsura River near Tenryūji. The "Heavenly Dragon" (Tenryū) in the river was said to be the emperor's unhappy spirit, which had to be placated and set to rest.

Tenryū-ji, Spring 2014

A garden and walking paths extend behind the temple

Nanzen-ji, Higashiyama, Kyotō

The area was formerly the site of the retirement villa of Emperor Kameyama (1249-1305), but he later converted his villa into a Zen temple in 1291.

The main gate of Nanzen-ji, built by the Tokuguawa family in 1628. Spring 2014

A large brick aqueduct passes through the temple grounds at the back end, part of a canal system to transport water from Lake Biwa to Kyotō.

Ryōanji, Kyotō

The villa of an artistocrat during the Heian Period, the site became a Rinzai Zen temple of the Myoshinji school in 1450. Ryōan ("Dragon Peace") is noted for its rock garden representing islands in an ocean.

Spring 2004

Kinkaku-ji, Kyōto

The "golden pavilion temple" in northern Kyotō was a villa of a statesman and later of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1368-1408), who donated it as a Zen temple after his death. The current structure was rebuilt in 1955, with the two upper floors covered in gold leaf.

Kinkakuji aglow in morning sunlight. Winter 2013

Shingon Temples

Daigo-ji, Fushimi, Kyotō

Founded in 874 by the monk Shōbō, the Shingon Buddhist complex of Daigoji (the grounds extend to the top of Mt. Daigo) developed with Imperial family support, including that of Emperor Daigo (r. 897-930), who entered the priesthood there after he became ill. The five-story pagoda, the oldest building in Kyotō, was completed in 951 for the repose of Daigo's spirit.

Kongōbu-ji, Kōyasan, Wakayama

Kōyasan, a mountain temple south of Kyotō, in Wakayama, is the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism, founded by the monk Kūkai (774–835, posthumously Kōbō Daishi, or Great Teacher). Kūkai brought the teachers to Japan from China, where he traveled with Saichō, the founder of Tendai Buddhism. In 816, Kūkai was given permssion by Emperor Saga to establish a temple on Koyasan.


Left: Daimon (“Great Gate”) at the entrance to Kōyasan. Right: the entrance to Kongōbu-ji. Summer 2009

Located at the end of a pathway through a cedar forest and cemetary is Okunoin, the mausoleum of Kōbō Daishi. The Great Teacher is thought to be in eternal meditation in a cave at Kōyasan. (No photography allowed: the woodblock print below is by Tomikichiro Tokuriki [Sept. 1941]).

On the way to Okunoin is the largest cemetery in Japan, where the faithful are interred to be near the spirit of the Great Teacher.


Jingo-ji, Mt. Takao, Kyotō

A Shingon temple, Jingoji was established in 824. Kūkai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, lived at this temple for 14 years; Honen, the found of Tendai Buddhism lectured here.

A 300-step stone stairway leads up from the Kiyotaki river to the temple, which is a site for viewing momiji (autumn colors).

Mt. Hiei: the Tendai Head Temple

Enraku-ji, Mt. Hiei, Shiga

Atop Mt. Hiei near Kyotō, Enraku temple is the headquarters of Tendai Buddhism, founded by Saichō (767-822) in 807 after he studied Tiantai Buddhism in China.

Along with Osoresan in Aomori and Koyasan in Wakayama, Mt. Hiei is counted as one of the three most sacred Buddhist mountains in Japan. The temple sits on a mountain northest of Kyotō and serves to guard the capital against spirits bringing illness and misfortune from that direction. On the day we drove up the winding toll road to Enraku-ji, Mt. Hiei was shrouded in an eerie mist.

Mt. HieiRinging the bellMist

Enraku-ji. Spring 2008

Kannon Temples

Kiyomizu-dera, Higashiyama, Kyotō

Established in 778 and located halfway up Mt. Otowa, Kiyomizudera (Temple of Clear Water) enshrines Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy and compassion. Water from a spring on Otowa flows from a pipes at the temple; visitors line up to drink the water for good health and long life.

Spring 2008

KiyomizuderaThe water

Spring 2004

Ishiyama-dera, Otsu, Shiga

On the west bank of the Seta river, near Lake Biwa, in Shiga Prefecture, Ishiyamadera (“Stone Mountain”), like Natadera and Kiyomizudera, enshrines Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy and compassion.

Ishiyamadera is the thirteenth temple in the tour of the thirty-three Kannon temples in the Kinki (capital) region.

Ishiyama-dera. Summer 2012

The shrine is depicted in a Hiroshige wood-block print, “Autumn Moon over Ishiyama,” in Eight Views of Ōmi (1834).

Temples of Syncretic Sects of Buddhism

Kinpusen-ji, Yoshino, Nara

Founded by the mystic En-no-Gyoja (634-706), Kinpusen-ji is the headquarters of shugendō ("way of discipline and training") a syncretic religion that developed in the 7th century. Shugendo incorporates beliefs of esoteric Buddhism (Tendai and Shingon sects), Shintō, Taoism, and folk animism into its practice.

Enshrined in the temple is Zao, a fierce-looking, blue-skinned protector of the Buddha and a manifestation of three buddhas representing the realms of past (the original Buddha who achieved enlightenment); the present (Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion for human suffering),;and the future (Miroku Buddha). The practice of shugendō involved rituals, ascetic practices, and mountain pilgrimages through the three realms of past, present, and future to achieve enlightement.

Kinpusen-ji. Spring 2008

Ibuta-ji, Matsuzaka, Mie

Ibuta-ji is a Buddhist temple in the Suzuka Mountains above Matsuzaka where shugenja (mountain ascetics) train. At the beginning of a trail to the top of the 1300-foot Mt. Ibuta is a fifteen-minute climb up a steep cliff, with a climbing chain in one section, to a hilltop shrine on a ledge beneath an overhang.


Ibuta-ji, Mie. Summer 2012

Kuramadera, Mt. Kurama, Kyotō

Located on Mt. Kurama, north of Kyotō, Kuramadera was originally a Tendai Buddhist temple, but became independent and syncretic, blending Buddhism with the esoteric mountain worship of three deities: Bishamonten, guardian of the north; Kannon, bodhisattva of mercy; and "Defender Lord," a deity who came from Venus millions of years ago.

The temple is accessed via cable car, a mountain trail, and stairways.

Mt. Kurama is the site where the famous swordsman Yoshitsune (1159-1189) learned combat skills from the King of the Tengu, long-nosed mountain demons who protect the good and punish evil doers.

Kuramadera, Spring 2013

Zenko-ji, Nagano

The first Buddhist statue brought to Japan is said to be housed here. A tunnel of darkness below the floor of the temple, allows visitors to walk through the realm of darkness and emerge in to the light of Buddha.

Zenko-jiStatuesCenserZenkoji temple

Zenko-ji. Winter 2008

Of this temple, Bashō once wrote:

moonlight / four gates, four sects / simply one
tsuki kage ya / shimon shishū mo / tada hitotsu (“Sarashina Journal” 48)

The poem alludes to the fact that at Zenkō-ji, four sects worshipped together – Tendai, Jōdo, Zen, and Ji, which was founded by Ippen Shonin (1239-1289) as an off-shoot of Jōdo. Today, Zenkōji is still managed jointly by Tendai and Jōdo priests.

Eighty-Eight Temple Pilgrimage of Shikoku

The pilgrimage starts in Tokushima and goes clockwise around Shikoku island. Walking the 745 mile route takes 1-2 months; spring and fall the most popular times for making the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage is associated with the wanderings of Kūkai (774–835), posthumously Kōbō Daishi, or Great Teacher, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Kūkai was born on at Zentsū-ji, Marugame (temple 75) and achieved enlightenment near Hotsumisaki-ji, Muroto (Temple 75).

Temple 1. Ryozen-ji, Tokushima

Ryozen-ji is located on the east coast of Shikoku, across the Kii Channel from Koyasan, the headquarters of Shingon Buddhsim, in Wakayama, on Honshu, where Kūkai is said to be in eternal medication. Pilgrims may go to Koyasan before crossing the channel to Tokushima; at Ryozenji, they purchase white clothings, walking sticks, straw hats, and souvenir booklets to document with stamps the temples they visit.

Ryozenji. Fall 2006

Temple 23. Yakuoji, Hiwasa

On the east coast of Shikoku, south of Tokushima, Yakuoji overlooks Hiwasa.

Giant sandalStairs

Yakuoji. Summer 2009

Temple 24. Hotsumisaki-ji, Muroto

Hotsumisaki-ji is located on a bluff above Cape Muroto, at the southeastern tip of Shikoku.


Hotsumisaki-ji. Summer 2009

WalkHotsumisaki stone

Below the shrine, on the coastal road, is the cave where Kōbō Daishi is said to have achieved enlightenment.

Muroto caveAltar

Temple 38. Kongofuku-ji, Ashizuri

Kongofuku-ji is near Cape Ashizuri, the southwestern point of Shikoku island. The turtle in the courtyard of the temple is said to bring you good luck if you rub its head.

Cape AshizuriSea turtle

Kongofuku-ji. Fall 2006

Temple 51. Ishite-ji, Matsuyama

Ishite means "stone hand," based on the legend of Emon Saburō, a wealthy man, who repeatedly turns away a beggar said to be the spirit of Kōbō Daishi. Soon after his sons die, his fields wither, and he falls ill. He seeks out the beggar to repent, traveling from temple to temple repeatedly (the original Shikoku pilgrimage route around Shikoku) but can't find him. Finally, he dies, clutching a stone in his hand which contains a promise of rebirth for his life of pilgrimage so he can help the poor. His wife then gives birth to a baby with a stone in its fist.

The day we visited Ishite-ji, a festival was taking place: a boat was set on fire with prayers for the dead, and newly harvested rice was being distributed.

Ishiteji statueStatue of monk

Ishite-ji. Fall 2006

Temple 75. Zentsūji, Marugame

Kōbō Daishi is said to have been born at this temple in Marugame, Shikoku, in 774.

Zentsū Templestatue at Zentsū Temple

Zentsūji. Spring 2011

Temple 84. Yashima-ji, Takamatsu

Yashima temple is located atop Mt. Yashima just east of Takamatsu. The temple offers a view of Takamatsu City and the Inland Sea.

Yahima-jiTakamatsu City

Yashima-ji. Summer 2009

Family Temple, Hiroshima

Sennin-ji, Tomo, Hiroshima

The Kawaharada family is registered at Sennin-ji, in Tomo, just outside of Hiroshima. (Registration was required by the Tokugawa shogunate.) Sennin-ji is a temple of Jodo Shinshu, a Buddhist sect founded by Shinran Shonin (1173-1263), based on the belief that faith in Amida Buddha alone brought salvation, that salvation was a gift from Amida rather than the result of an individual’s effort to achieve salvation through ritual practices, meditation, good works, or invocations of Amida's name.


Sennin-ji. Summer 2009