If one is on his or her spiritual journey in Buddhism, one of the best places to go to is Japan. Brimming with several temples, some of which are famous around the world, Japan is a prime choice as a destination. Simply being interested in the history and culture, among the best places to learn about these is in its temples. With religion being embedded in its rich heritage, exploring the different temples in Japan would definitely let one peak on the life of a Japanese. One of the temples that one can visit is Daigoji Temple.
Daigoji Temple in Kyoto: Map, Opening Hours, History
A Shingon Buddhist temple, Daigoji Temple is located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan. Yakushi is its main devotion, which is commonly called honzon in Japanese. The word “daigo” literally translates to “ghee,” which is typically utilized to mean “crème de la crème” in figurative speech. The term also serves as a metaphor for what is considered as the most profound portion of thoughts in Buddhism.
Recognized as an essential temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan, Daigoji Temple is also a designated world heritage site. A huge temple complex, Daigoji also consists of an entire mountainside. The complex is situated on the southeastern side of central Kyoto. Its main temple grounds lie at the bottom of the mountain. They are linked to the other temple buildings standing around the summit by a hiking trail.
The temple grounds can be separated into two, namely, the upper grounds and the lower grounds. The upper grounds consist of the Kami Daigo. The grounds have no closing days and are open from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon except from early December to February when they close an hour earlier than usual. Everyone is required to return to the base of the mountain by 5 in the afternoon. Admission fee costs 600 yen per head.
On the other hand, the lower grounds consist of the Sanboin, the Shimo Daigo, and the Reihokan Museum. The grounds have no closing days and are open from 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon except from early December to February when they close an hour earlier than usual. Admission fee costs 1,500 yen per head from the second half of March to the first half of May and from the second half of October to the first half of December. For the rest of the year, admission fee costs only 800 yen per head.
The complex is highly accessible to the public, even to commuters. It is only 15 minutes away by feet from Daigo Station serving the Tozai Subway Line. A short bus ride is also available from the said station every 30 minutes for 200 yen per head. For people coming from Kyoto Station, simply ride a JR train going to Yamashina Station, which is only 5 minutes away and costs 190 yen.
From there, transfer to the Tozai Subway Line, which is only 8 minutes away and costs 260 yen. From Yamashina Station, one may also opt to take a Keihan Bus number 22 or 22A heading to Daigoji, which departs every 20 minutes. The ride takes only 20 minutes and costs 220 yen.
Daigoji was founded by Rigen-daishi (Shobo) in the year 874 during the early Heian period. The well-known temple was named after Emperor Daigo, who became a Buddhist priest at the same temple following his illness and abdication in the year 930. When he became a monk, he used the name Ho-kongo, which is a Buddhist name. He passed away at the age of 46 and was buried in the temple, hence the name Daigoji.
The complex also contains numerous structures such as the kondo and the five-story pagoda that are recognized as National Treasures of Japan. Specifically, Daigoji contains 18 that are designated as national treasures. Aside from this, Daigoji also holds other important cultural assets. In fact, there are some paintings housed in the temple that were used as the subject of academic research. This research, later on, garnered the Imperial Prize of the Japan Academy in the year 1960.
As a temple that belongs to the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto,” Daigoji is assigned as a World Heritage Site. Built in the year 951, the five-story pagoda located in the temple grounds of Daigoji is the oldest building in all of Kyoto. It is also recognized as one of only a few structures that survived the Onin War that occurred during the 15th century.
Touring Around Daigoji Complex: Kami-Daigo, Shimo-Daigo, Pagoda, Paintings, Etc.
The Daigoji Complex covers a vast area with several structures in it. The first area is the Kami-Daigo, where Daigoji Temple essentially started. It can be reached following the stroll from Shimo-Daigo area located on the mountain road. At present, Kami-Daigo consists of several halls. One of these halls in the Juntei Hall, which is dedicated to Juntei-Kannon. It serves as the 11th point of the pilgrimage of Western Japan. Another hall that can be found in the Kami-Daigo is the Godai Hall, which is also known as Fudo Hall.
Several halls in the Kami-Daigo are dedicated to different gods or kami. These halls include Yakushi Hall, Kaisan Hall, Nyoirin Hall, and Seiryugu Haiden. Yakushi Hall is dedicated to Tathagata Bhaisajya-guru, which is also known as the Yakushi Nyorai, while Kaisan Hall memorialized the establishment of Daigoji. Nyoirin Hall is dedicated to Nyoirin Kannon while Seiryugu Haiden is the Praying Hall. Most of the structures in Kami-Daigo are actually either important cultural properties or national treasures.
Originally constructed in the year 866, the Juntei Hall was actually rebuilt in the year 1968. The hall houses the statue of Juntei Kannon, though its exact location is kept as a secret. However, this statue can be viewed by the public in a span of 3 days. This begins on the 18th of May every single year when the service ceremony known as Gokaihi, which means “Opening Door,” is held.
On the other hand, Fudo myo’o serves as a central figure of Godai myo’o, which the Godai Hall is actually dedicated to. The nickname “Godairiki-san” refers to the five figures. However, this nickname also serves as the name of an event that is linked to the said hall. This event is held every 23rd of February wherein there is also a distribution of amulets called “Omie,” which are used to pray at the Godai Hall for one week. These amulets are distributed to lay people situated in the Golden Hall.
The second area of the complex is called the Shimo-Daigo. It is located at the back of the Nio Gate, which was rebuilt by Toyotomi Hideyori. The Golden Hall, also known as the Kondo, is among the primary buildings in the area of Shimo-Daigo. This building actually came from Yuasa in present-day Wakayama Prefecture under the orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Its main portion depicts an architectural style that hails back to the end of the Heian period. The Kondo is dedicated to the Yakushi triad, which is composed of Tathagata Bhaisajya-guru and two followers, namely, Gakko and Bodhisattvas Nikko. Designated as important cultural assets, these three statues are sculptured during the Kamakura period.
Also in the Shimo-Daigo area, one can see the Goju-No-To. A tall building, this structure was built for the repose of the Emperor Daigo. Its construction was completed in the year 951 during the reign of Emperor Murakami. Goju-No-To is also known as the oldest building located in Kyoto. A five-story pagoda, this structure houses paintings that provide important information in relation to the origin of arts in Japanese esoteric Buddhism.
Aside from this, there are other numerous structures that can be found in Shimo-Daigo. These include Seiryugu Main Hall or Honden, Fudo hall, Soshi-hall that is dedicated to Rigen-daishi, Nyonin Hall, Dai kodo, and Benten Hall.
The last area of the complex is the World Heritage Sanboin and the famous garden. It was in the year 1115 that Shokaku had the Sanboin temple constructed. Shokaku served as the 14th archbishop of Daigoji Temple. The Sanboin temple serves as the main home of the feudal archbishop in Daigo Temple.
The structure was rebuilt in the year 1598 under the orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It consists of the Karamon and the Omote-Shoin, which serves as the representative building of shinden-zukuri from the Heian period. These two were assigned as national treasure while some of the other structures were assigned as important cultural assets.
Its famous garden was designed by Toyotomi Hideoyoshi himself. The style of the garden serves as the representative of the Momoyama period. Because of its beauty and history, the famous garden was designated as a special historic spot. It also reminds the locals of the glory of Hideyoshi’s time.
Beautiful in Any Season: Autumn Foliage and Sakura Flowers
Daigoji Temple is well-known for its beauty no matter the season. However, the complex is especially popular for its sakura or cherry blossoms. These flowers start to bloom at the end of March every year. Upon the arrival of the month of April, these trees are already in full bloom. During this season, Daigoji holds an event called Hanami Parade of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. This was based on the Hanami Party in Daigo that Hideyoshi was said to enjoy a lot back in his day.
These Hanami parties were said to be rather extravagant. Beginning from the vernal equinox, Dagoji holds events for three weeks so visitors can enjoy the beauty and charm of the cherry blossoms. There are also various cherry blossoms depending on the area of the complex including Kawazu-zakura at Kenjinrinen, Oyama-zakura next to the Kondo, and Shidare-zakura, Hill Cherry, Somei-yoshino, Obeni-shidare, and Yae-zakura at Sanboin.
Come summer season, visitors are able to explore the deep forest that surrounds Daigoji. It contains several old and towering trees. Some of the great trees in the forest include Shii, Tsukubanegashi, Aragashi, and Yabutsubaki. Coniferous trees can also be found in the forest including Japanese cedar, Japanese red pine, and Hinoki cypress.
Daigoji is also especially beauty during the autumn season. As the complex houses several deciduous trees, visitors can watch the autumn foliage during fall. These trees include maples, konaras or Quercus serrata, ginkgos, and clethras. The best time to watch the autumn foliage is at the end of the month of October when the hue of the leaves changes to yellow and vibrant red.
The best place inside the complex to see this is the Sanboin. One can also watch out for the Chrysanthemum Exhibition from October to November as it nears winter season. After the winter season, one can also catch red plum flowers bloom in the Sanboin Temple.
Events Occurring in Daigoji Temple
There are various events held at Dagoji Temple. One of these events is the Godai-Rikison Ninno-e festival, which is the biggest event held in Daigoji. Happening every 23rd of February, this festival is also known as “Godairiki-san.” During this time, the monks of the temple pray for the overall health and well-being of the nation of Japan, as they are also empowered by the 5 Great Powers known as Godai Myo’o in Japanese. This festival dates back to Emperor Daigo’s time in the year 907.
A week prior to this event, over a thousand monks coming from all the mountains located in Daigoji come together and stay in a hall for one week. During this time, these monks would pray using paper charms known as Mie. Even this event is open for visitors to watch and learn the tradition. On the event itself, there are over 100,000 visitors who attend and join the ceremony. They obtain the paper charms and pray for the citizens of Japan.
Aside from this festival, there are also other events that occur in Daigoji. Some of these include Mochi age riki hono, Ho-Taiko Hanami Gyoretsu, the Saikoku 11th Reijo Juntei Kannon opening, Manto kuyo’e, and the Syoro Kuyou ceremony.