Onsenji Temple (温泉寺), formally known as Bekkaku Motoyama Matsudaisan Onsenji (別格本山末代山温泉寺), is a Buddhist temple of the Koyasan Shingon sect located on Daishiyama in Kinosaki, Toyooka City, Hyōgo Prefecture. Its principal deity is the Eleven-Faced Kannon Bodhisattva. Onsenji is the guardian temple of the Kinosaki hot spring village.

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According to legend, the temple was founded in 738 by the Buddhist priest Dōchi Shōnin (道智上人), the founder of Kinosaki Onsen, while the mountain and temple names were chosen by Emperor Shōmu (聖武天皇, 701-756). The main hall, built in the early Muromachi Period, is the oldest wooden structure in Tajima and is designated an Important National Cultural Property (国の重要文化財 Kuni no jūyō bunkazai).

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Niōmon Gate (仁王門)

It is said that the hot springs of Kinosaki were discovered between 629 and 641 when a stork was seen healing its wounds in the warm waters of Kō no yu. According to another legend, the onsen was discovered by Dōchi Shōnin, who had visions and prayed for 1,000 days until a spring arose from the ground. Later, visitors frequented the hot springs to cure their ailments. Before treatment, they would visit Onsenji and pray to Dōchi Shōnin.

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Niōmon Gate (仁王門), also known as Sanmon (山門), and Yakushidō (薬師堂, see below) are located at the foot of Daishiyama. Niōmon was constructed in the Meiwa Period (1764-1772) and is an eight-legged double gate (八脚二重門). Yakushidō, the hall enshrining Yakushi Nyorai, dates back to the Bunka Period (1804-1818).

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The temple buildings on the top of Daishiyama can be reached either by footpath or by cablecar. Onsen-ji's Main Hall (本堂 Hondō) faces south on a hillside overlooking Kinosaki Onsen. Built by Seizen Hojin (清禅法印), the founder of the temple, during the Shintoku Period (1384-87), the five-room hall is an eclectic blend of Japanese, Chinese and Buddhist styles. It is one of the most beautiful buildings of the Nanbokuchō Period and a perfect place to enshrine the Eleven-Faced Kannon statue.

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The Eleven-Faced Kannon Bodhisattva (十一面観音 Jūichimenkannon), the principal image of Onsen-ji, is made the same wood as the Kannon Bodhisattva of Hasedera Temple (長谷寺) in Nara. It is an important cultural property that is over two metres tall, with a strong yet gentle face. The statue of Kannon, carved from a single piece of Japanese cypress, is a masterpiece among Tajima's Buddhist statues. It is a secret Buddha statue that is opened every thirty-three years and on the 23 and 24 April every year. During the Spring Festival, the door of the Main Hall is open, so that visitors can admire the statue. Currently, the statue is on display from 23 April 2018 to 31 October 2021.

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The Kannon's hands are tied with five different coloured threads known as the "Strings of Virtue" (善の綱 zen no tsuna). By touching these threads, worshippers can directly connect their whole being with the universe, thus tightly tying their fate together. The strings extend down to the bottom of the mountain, for visitors who cannot make the hike up to the temple.

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The Strings of Virtue (善の綱)

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The Eleven-Faced Kannon Bodhisattva (十一面観音 Jūichimenkannon)

The principal image of the Honbō and Mochibutsudō halls is a statue of Senju Kannon (千手観音). This is a rare Kannon statue with 834 arms, while most thousand-armed Kannon statues are depicted with only 42 arms. Senju Kannon is carved from a single piece of Japanese cypress in the elegant and gentle style typical of the Heian Period.

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The Tahōto (多宝塔) pagoda stands on a small hill behind the Main Hall. It was reconstructed in 1767 in what appears to be the original style of the Nanbokuchō Period. A large covered bowl in the centre of the pagoda contains relics of the Tahō Nyorai (多宝如来). Tahō Nyorai is the Japanese name of Prabhūtaratna, the Buddha who appears and verifies Shakyamuni's teachings in the Lotus Sutra. In esoteric Buddhism, the pagoda symbolizes the teachings of Dainichi Nyorai (大日如来).

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Ogawa Yusho, the abbot of Onsen-ji (©Igaki Photo Studio)

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Ogawa Yusho, the abbot of Onsen-ji, performing the monthly fire ritual (©Igaki Photo Studio)

All photos with the kind permission of Toyooka Tourist Association. The photos of Ogawa Yusho by courtesy of Igaki Photo Studio.


North-east of the Main Hall is the Onsenji Treasure Museum (温泉寺宝物館), also known as Kinosaki Museum of Art (城崎美術館). It exhibits the collections of Onsen-ji as well as artefacts excavated in Kinosaki and environs.


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Address: 639 Kinosakicho Yushima, Toyooka, Hyōgo 669-6101

Access: Onsen-ji's Sanmon Gate and the cablecar station are a 15-minute walk west of Kinosaki Onsen Station (城崎温泉駅) on the JR San-in Line (JR山陰本線). The Main Hall can be accessed by hiking path (15-20 minutes) or by cablecar.

Admission: the temple and Kinosaki Art Museum are open daily 09:00-17:00; 300 JPY (for the temple), 400 JPY (for the temple and the museum).

Ropecar: every 20 minutes between 09:10 and 17:10 (last car uphill 16:30, last car downhill at 17:10. The schedule may change due to bad weather. Out of service each second and fourth Thursday of the month, open during the New Year holidays. Fees: 570 JPY single ticket, 910 JPY return ticket.
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