Shoshazan Engyō-ji (書寫山圓教寺, "Temple of Complete Teachings") is a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism located northwest of Himeji City.
Engyō-ji was founded in 966 on top of Mount Shosha (371m) by the priest Shōku Shōnin (性空上人, 910-1007) in what was then known as Harima Province (modern-day Hyōgo Prefecture). It is the twenty-seventh station of the Thirty-Three Temples of the Western Pilgrimage (西国三十三所 Saigoku Sanjūsan-sho) in the Kansai region of Japan, of similar fame as the Shikoku Pilgrimage. As is the case with many of the magnificent temples and edifices of Japan, it was destroyed by fire several times (in the 14th century, in 1898, and in 1921), but a pagoda from 1184, the Daikōdō (lecture hall) and a shōrō (bell tower) from the 14th century, as well as the Kongodō dating back to the 16th century, have survived.
Engyō-ji, also known as the "Mt. Hiei of the West" (西の比叡山), is one of the three most eminent training centers of the Tendai school and was also used as a location for the movie "The Last Samurai" starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe as well as for the NHK series "Musashi". The temple complex can be reached by bus (28 minutes from Himeji Station, see below) and by ropeway. There is also a 1.5km hiking trail leading up to the hilltop for to those who prefer a scenic walk.
Niomon Gate 仁王門
The Niomon Gate is the main entrance to Engyō-ji. The temple ground beyond the gate is considered sacred and in its heyday comprised some thirty subtemples that were visited by the aristocracy and even the emperor himself.
The Maniden (摩尼殿) was initially constructed in 970 and holds the four-armed Nyoirin-Kannon (如意輪観音), the temple's honzon (本尊) or principal image which is annually on public display on 18 January. The Nyoirin-Kannon is a wish-granting statue of Buddha in a cross-legged pose; while his right knee is raised, his right foot resting in his left foot. Similar to the Kiyomizudera in Kyōto the Maniden is built halfway over a cliff in the butai-zukuri style (舞台造, stage or platform style). It was destroyed in a fire in 1921 and reconstructed in 1933.
The wooden structure supporting the Maniden
The main entrance to the Maniden
Pindola Bharadvaja (in Japanese 賓頭盧, Binzuru, or 賓度羅跋囉惰闍, Bindora Baradaja) was one of four arhats asked by the Buddha to remain in the world to propagate Buddhist law (dharma). An arhat is a "worthy one" that has attained nirvana. Binzuru is said to have excelled in the mastery of occult and psychic powers; Buddha once reprimanded him for misusing his powers to impress the simple-minded. Followers can be seen rubbing wooden statues of Binzuru - often in the Lotus position - with long wooden sticks or touching them with their hands as the effigies are said to have healing power. Other temples renowned for their Binzuru are Todaiji in Nara and Zenkoji in Nagano.
The Daikōdō (大講堂) lecture hall at Engyōji, an Important Cultural Property of Japan, was built at the request of Emperor Kazan in 986 and served as a practice hall for the monks. The current structure was constructed in the early Muromachi Period and was completely restored in 1959.
The Jikidō (食堂) Hall, also known as Nagadō Hall, is 40 meters long and two storeys high and served as the refectory. It is an Important Cultural Property of Japan.
The Jōgyōdō Hall (常行堂) was rebuilt in the Muromachi Period and used for meditation practice. It is an Important Cultural Property of Japan and was restored in 1965.
Reconstructed in 1671, the Kaizandō (開山堂) is another Important Cultural Property of Japan and enshrines Shōku Shōnin, the founder of the Engyōji.
Dating back to the early 14th century, the Shōrō (鐘楼, bell tower) is one the oldest remaining in Japan.
More photos in the Shoshazan Engyōji album.
Access and admission:
The Engyō-ji can be reached by taking Bus No. 8 from the Shinki Bus Terminal at the north entrance of JR Himeji Station. Get off at the terminal "Shoshazan Ropeway" (書写山ロープウェイ); the bus fare is 270 JPY one way. The cable car runs from 08:30 to 18:00 (17:00 from 11 October to the end of February) on weekdays and from 08:30 to 18:00 (19:00 from 1 April to 10 October, 17:00 from 1 December till the end of February) on Sundays and public holidays. The fares are 900 JPY for the return ticket (500 JPY single ticket) and 450 JPY (250 JPY) for children. Group discounts are available.
Admission: 500 JPY, entrance to the Jikidō Hall is free.
Lodging: 7,350 JPY per night and person incl. breakfast and dinner; reservation required.
Shōjin ryōri (精進料理): Buddhist (vegetarian) meals served in Honzen style (set meals served on personal trays or tables) 5,000-10,000 JPY; reservation required.
Address: 2968, Shosha, Himeji, Hyogo 671-2201; 〒671-2201兵庫県姫路市書写2968
- Engyōji Official Website (in Japanese)
- Shoshazan Ropeway (in Japanese)
- Nationwide Pilgrimages Sacred to Kannon (Japanese Buddhist Statuary)
- 円教寺の詳しい情報 (photos taken at the Engyōji)
- Deal, William E./Ruppert, Brian, A Cultural History of Japanese Buddhism; Wiley-Blackwell 2015