ZENTSUJI 善通寺 & its Vicinity

Zentsuji, the birthplace of Kobo Daishi, is so named after the temple he built in 813. The town, the biggest and busiest temple town in Shikoku, is a mecca not only for pilgrims but also for those who adore Kobo Daishi as a father of Japanese culture and civilization.

About 400 ancient tumulus sites in the neighbourhood suggest that this was one of the most advanced areas in Japan in prehistoric times. Some findings from them are displayed at Kyodo Shiryo-kan Museum 善通寺市立郷土資料館, 3 minutes' walk from JR Zentsuji Station.

Now the city accomodates a variety of organizations, including a Christian college, Shikoku Gakuin Daigaku 四国学院大学, Land Self-defense Forces the 2nd Amalgamated Brigade and a National Agricultural Experimental Station. This diversity keeps the town ever active and the natives always ready to accept newcomers.

Zentsu-ji Temple 善通寺

The 75th Sacred Site of Shikoku

The temple has 2 distinct precincts. The East Precinct known as Garan is of very easy access with its 4 gates always open. The West Precinct, the Birthplace, opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m.

The building of the Garan precinct started in 807 when Kobo Daishi, after returning from China, was permitted by the Emperor to propagate his Esoteric Buddhism. In 813, it was completed and named after his father Yoshimichi or Zentsu. It used to have 13 halls and 2 five-storied pagodas, with 49 monastic dormitories added in later years, in the precincts of 4 sq. km, about 3 times today's area.

In 1558, many of the buildings were destroyed by a mysterious fire. In 1575, it was again burnt down by Chosokabe Motochika.

By and by, it was reconstructed through nation-wide campaigns for funds and financial aid from successive Lords in Sanuki and from various Shoguns of Edo. Emperors also contributed meritorious actions, funds and presents, helping to create the temple as we see it today.

Five-storied Pagoda

This pagoda, 45 m tall, the landmark and symbol of this town, is the third of its kind, completed in 1884 in memory of the 1050th anniversary of Kobo Daishi's nyujo or decease.

A couple of giant camphor trees

The one on the left, 40 m tall, 13 m in diameter, is about 1,500 years old. It has probably seen the child Daishi playing around it. Daishi himself begins his autobiography as follows:

''I was born and spent my boyhood in a seaside village comfortably shaded by a number of camphor trees.....''

This tells us that there used to be many more camphor trees around here and that the sea was much nearer.

Main Hall

The hall enshrines Yakushi-nyorai. It also houses 108 statues of Rakan or the Buddha's disciples. The first statue of Yakushi-nyorai carved by Daishi himself was reduced to ashes in 1558. So were many of the 500 Rokan statues. The present image carved by Uncho reportedly contains the remains of the first image inside it. Shaka-do Hall 釈迦堂 is dedicated to Sakya, the Buddha.

Kezo-in 華蔵院 

This is one of the 4 remaining monastic dormitories out of the 49 that used to flourish during the golden age of the temple in the 13th and 14th centuries. The other 3 are Kanchi-in 観智院, Gyokusen-in 玉泉院 and Gochi-in 五智院.

Kanchi-in 観智院

Its hall houses an Eleven-faced Kannon, known as Koyasu Kannon who is believed to bring easy delivery to pregnant women. A place favoured by women of all ages. To the right of the hall stands a statue of Kobo Daishi in the garb of a pilgrim.

Nio-mon Gate 仁王門

The main gate to the Birthplace. A couple of Nio are the guardians of this holy place. 2 pairs of enormous zori or straw sandals are dedicated to them by a Pilgrims' Club of local farmers.

Mie-do Hall 御影堂

The approach to the Mie-do Hall is a kind of gallery for the pictorial biography of Kobo Daishi, dedicated by local artists.

This hall is the very spot where Kobo Daishi was born in 744. In the inmost recess of the altar, Daishi's portrait is enshrined - the portrait he himself painted in 804, when he was 31, just before he left Japan for China. It is called Mehiki Daishi meaning ''the Portrait of Blinking Daishi,'' because the Emperor Tsuchimikado saw him blink while he was reverently gazing up at him at his Court. The Emperor, greatly impressed, sent a letter of gratitude to Zentsu-ji for bringing it to him in accordance with his oft-expressed wishes. It was dated August, 1209.

There are 4 other statues of Daishi and his parents, too.

Visitors may traverse the basement of the hall, along a pitch-dark path. This is called Kaidan-meguri. The utter blackness symbolizes the darkness of the human mind or human ignorance of the Truth. The journey, once experienced, is very hard to forget.

''Go along with the palm of your left hand pressed against the left-hand wall,'' says the notice. ''The wall, painted with Mandala, angels and lotus flowers, is the Buddha's way. You will be safely guided as long as you are on His Way.''

Homotsu-kan Museum 宝物館

After Kaidan-meguri, arrows will guide you to the Museum. The temple treasures exhibited here include ''the Most Precious Seven'' next to ''the Portrait of Blinking Daishi.''

・ A five-coloured fragment of Buddha's ashes: Daishi got 80 of the fragments from Abbot Hui-kuo, his Chinese master. One of them Daishi presented to his mother, the rest to To-ji Temple in Kyoto.

・ A ritual robe of Indian make, presented to Daishi by Abbot Hui-kuo.

・ A ritual stick of Indian make, presented to Daishi by Abbot Hui-kuo (National Treasure: often enshrined in Mie-do).

・ A small clay pagoda Daishi modeled at the age of 7.

・ A sutra scroll (National Treasure): Each of the characters is accompanied by a little Bodhisattva on a lotus pedestal. Daishi did the calligraphy; his mother the painting.

・ A jar used by Daishi.

・ A bowl used by Daishi as a mendicant priest.

The rest of the treasures include a statue of Jizo, about 900 years old (National Treasure) and an image of Kissho-ten.

Naked Festival

The highlight of Hadaka Matsuri or the Naked Festival of Zentsu-ji Temple is Fukubai or the scrambling for couple of Good Luck Sticks, in which hundreds of youth only wearing a white loincloth fight for the sticks. It takes place on one of the coldest evenings in February - the Saturday evening closest to January 20 of the old calendar. Yet, the fierce fights make participants steaming hot.

Nakedness signifies innocence like a newborn baby, while the white of the loincloth represents the purity of its wearer. The holy sticks are prepared by the Archbishop of Zentsu-ji according to a special 21-day practice of Esoteric Buddhism.

The winners of the sticks are called the ''Fortunate Men''. They are considered to have gained enough good luck to share with everyone for that year.

Mikage-no-ike (Daishi Reflecting Pool) 御影の池

Daishi painted his own portrait, sitting on a bough of a pine tree beside this pool. He was 31. He was about to travel to China to further his study of Buddhism.

In those days, a mission to China was sent only once every 20 years. This meant Daishi, to his mother's woe, had to stay in China for 20 years. Daishi painted his own portrait and presented it to his mother. This became what was later called ''the Portrait of Blinking Daishi.''

The trunk of the pine tree, on whose bough he was sitting to do the painting, now reposes under the canopy to the left of Mie-do Hall.

Surprisingly, Daishi returned home in less than 2 years, in 807. For in that year, the then Emperor of the T'ang Dynasty died, and a Japanese delegation was sent over to Ch'ang-an to attend his funeral. Daishi took advantage of their return journey; Abbot Hui-kuo, his deceased master, had told him to return home as soon as possible to spread his teachings. This is considered to be one of the many examples of good luck in Daishi's life.

Shinran-do Hall 親鸞堂

This hall accommodates a statue of Shinran (1173-1262), the founder of the Jodo-shin-shu sect. At 62, Shinran, who had never been to Zentsu-ji in his life, carved this statue of himself and left it with the Yoshidas in Shimofusa near what is Tokyo now, hoping that it might be sooner or later sent to Zentsu-ji to fulfil his lifelong wish to vist there. But it was not until the middle of the 18th century that the Yoshidas, urged by Shinran in their dreams, finally dispatched it to Zentsu-ji.

About 50 years later, the statue was transferred to one of the local temples of the Jodo-shin-shu sect, considered to be a more appropriate place for the statue. But soon it was returned to its present site, because in its longing to return to Zentsu-ji it continually manifested a mysterious restlessness.

Henjo-kaku Hall 遍照閣 is for study, training and events to enable anyone to approach Daishi's spirit. The War Memorial is for the war dead all over the world, while the Burmese Pagoda is for the war dead in Burma.

Kukai Memorial 空海記念碑 (Kobo Daishi Memorial)

This is one of the 2 Kukai Memorials built in 1982 on the 1,150th anniversary of Daishi's nyujo or decease. The other was erected in China in Ch'ang-an where he studied. They are of the same design and of the same Aji-ishi stone, though the one in Ch'ang-an is twice as large.

Koshiki-zan Hill 香色山

This green hill is the smallest and frontmost of the 5 sacred heights called Gogaku, sites for ascetic practice by the child Daishi.

One of the attractions on this hill is a Mini Shikoku Pilgrimage encircling it. Many local people make this circumambulation (1.8km) every day year after year. 915 rounds cover the same distance as the real pilgrimage around Shikoku 1647 km. The circuit begins at Gochi-in 五智院.

Temple Hymn No.75

Zentsu-ji is where I wish to live, a holy place
never to fall into dust, ever lightened by the Buddha's vow.

(われ住まばよも消えはてじ善通寺 ふかき誓ひの法のともし火)

Sanuki-no-miya Shirine

This is a shrine complex consisting of Gokoku-jinja as a memorial shrine for the war dead, Nogi-jinja dedicated to General Nogi, the lst commander of the former devisional headquarters in Zentsuji, and the Senken-do Hall enshrining 103 wise men and women from Sanuki. Recently it has added one more a Traffic Safety Shrine, the only one in Japan.

Koyama-ji Temple 甲山寺

The 74th Sacred Site of Shikoku

Koyama-ji Temple was so named after the helmet (ko)-shaped hill behind the temple - once a pleasant green hill, now badly scarred by quarrying.

It was founded by Kobo Daishi with half the money he was rewarded with in 821 when he succeeded in repairing the bank of Manno-ike. The other half was spent on a temple he built on the bank of the reservoir. The main image of Yakushi-nyorai was also carved by Daishi, praying for the success of his work on that ungovernable reservoir.

Temple Hymn No. 74

Let us fight fearlessly with all our heart,
armoured in this helmet, watched by the Twelve Gods *

十二紳 味方にもてる戦には 己と心かぶと山かな

* the Twelve Gods : the 12 guardian gods of Yakushi-nyorai

Mandara-ji Temple 曼荼羅寺

The 72nd sacred Site of Shikoku

Mandara-ji Temple, founded in 596 , was originally the family temple of the Saekis. Daishi, 3 years after returning from China, remodeled the temple, enshrined the image of Dainichi-nyorai and botn kinds of Mandala from China, renaming the temple after them.

The Kannon in Kannon-do Hall is a Cultural Property registered by the Prefecture. The pine tree in the front garden, only 4 m tall but 18 m in diameter, is a Natural Monument registered by the prefecture.

A famous nature poet, Saigyo often visited here while he was staying in a hut, now called Saigyo-an, about 15 minutes'walk up a hill behind the temple.

Temple Hymn No . 72

May the worshippers of the Mandala come
back here again and again and again !

(わづかにも曼荼羅おがむ人はただ ふたたび三度帰らざらまし)

Shusshaka-ji Temple 出釈迦寺

The 73rd Sacred Site of Shikoku

Shusshaka-ji Temple is at the foot of Mt . Gahaishi, the highest of the 5 sacred peaks of Zentsuji. "Shusshaka" means "the Buddha appeared here." "Gahaishi" means "I met the Buddha here." Both sound very striking . A celebrated legend goes as follows:

One day when he was 7 years old, Daishi in his 7-day prayer on top of that mountain, called to the Buddha: "Oh, Buddha, how I wish to give my life to Buddhism so that I may save all those people and living things! Please appear here if you are to hear my prayer. If not, let me give up my life to you here and now!"

The little boy threw himself from the top of the 481m-high cliff. At once, the Buddha appeared in the clouds and the child was safely received in the soft sleeves of an angel.

In memory of this miracle in later years, Daishi founded a temple halfway up the mountain, enshrined an image of the Buddha there and named it Shusshaka-ji, which is now called Zenjo-ji.

What is now now called Shusshaka-ji was built about 200 years ago in the valley below, making it much more accessible to visitors. But this gave rise to a charming custom among Daishi-worshippers. On every 15th evening of the lunar calendar, not a few people pay a visit to that older temple, after half-an-hour's ascent of a steep mountain path, under the radiance of the full moon.

A goma fire service is given there around 8 p.m. Another service is Rusuri-yu or a medicated bath that Daishi recommended people to take. That is why they call this day "Bath Day." After taking the bath, they usually stay there, holding a vigil, instead of going home.

A farther ascent up to the top of the legendary cliff takes another half an hour or more. The path is a rocky slope hung with chains to help the climbers. On the narrow summit with a perpendicular precipice below stands a statue of the child Daishi. This has been a noted spot for ascetic practces from time immemorial. The energetic boy Daishi, too, was apparently following the tradition .

Temple Hymn No. 73

Up there, on the sacred mountain, the Buddha did
present himself to save us all in these Six Paths *.

(迷ひぬる六道衆生すくはんと 噂き山にでづる釈迦寺)

Note: Six Paths: 6 worlds of transmigration

Konzo -ji Temple 金倉寺

The 76th Sacred Site of Shikoku

This is birthplace of Chisho Daishi (814 - 891), Kobo Daishi's nephew. At 14, he went up to Hiei-zan* Enryaku - ji Temple in Kyoto. At 39, he traveled to China to further his study of Esoteric Buddhism. 5 years later, he returned home with numerous volumes of scriptures. At 54 he became the 5th Abbot of Enryaku-ji Temple, the headquarters of the Tendai sect.

According to the Temple Chronicle, Konzo-ji was founded in 774 by Wake Dozen, Chisho's grandfaher, In 858, after returning from China, Chisho Daishi remodeled the old temple, spending 4 years. The 800-year-old portrait of Chisho Daishi is an Important Cultural Property.

Temple Hymn No.76

Open the blessed chamber of Esoteric Buddhism,
and the grace you receive will be inexhaustible.

(まことにも神仏倉をひらくれば 真言加持の不思議なりけり)

Note: Hiei-zan: One of the greatest Buddhist Sanctuaries founded by Saicho (Dengyo Daishi: 767-822). In the 13th century Hiei-zan produced Honen (the founder of the Jodo-shu sect), Shinran (the founder of the Jodo-shin sect), Dogen (the founder of the Soto-shu Zen sect) and Nichiren (the founder of the Nichiren-shu sect).

Iyadani-ji Temple 弥谷寺

The 71st Sacred Site of Shikoku

This mountain temple is believed to be haunted by the souls of the dead. The approach to the main hall begins with Sai-no-kawara or the Children's Limbo. The dead children are said to pile stones, trying to build a pagoda to comfort their bereaved parents, but always in vain.

At the top of the flight of 108* stone steps is the Daishi-do Hall, whose innermost part - the Lion Cave - is thought to have been a meditation place for the child Daishi. The main image is a Thousand-handed Kannon, carved by Daishi when he revisited here after returning from China.

Note: 108: In Buddhism it is considered the number of bones in the body and therefore of human sins.

Farther up, there stands Juo-do Hall or Ten Judges' Hall. All over the cliff nearby there are innumerable carvings of small pagodas and Namu Amidabutsu 南無阿彌陀仏 (Homage to Amida Buddha!), though quite weathered. Most noticeable are the images of Amida Buddha and his attendants, Kannon and Seishi. This is where the water service is held for the dead on the vernal and autumnal Equinox Days. A farther ascent brings you to the main hall, a small secluded place.

On your way back, you may have a rest at a small eating place at the foot of the approach. They say this is where the living and the dead "eat and part." It is called Haiku-jaya or Haiku Tea House. All its walls, beams and doors are hung with haiku-sheets composed by the customers.

Temple Hymn No. 71

we are all good friends, even with the wicked,
as we wend our way to the temple for the dead.

(悪人と行きつれなんも弥谷寺 ただかりそめも良き友ぞよき)

Seven Temple Pilgrimage

A popular pilgrimage called shichikasho-mairi or the Seven Temple Pilgrimage is associated with the ancient belief concerning Iyadani-ji Temple as a temple for the dead.

The souls of the dead are believed to stay in this mountain for their purification, only to return home on Higan or spring and autumn equinoctial days. On their way back again to the mountain, the dead, accompanied by their families or relatives, visit the 7 temples in and around Zentsuji - Nos. 71 through 77 - formally starting from No. 77 (Doryu-ji Temple in Tadotsu), returning to No.71, the temple for the dead.

KOTOHIRA 琴平 & its Vicinity

Kotohira is a major shrine town that developed at the gates of Kotohira-gu Shrine, generally known as Kompira-san - one of the most popular shrines in this country for hundreds of years.

Its colourful streets are almost always crowded with visitors and tourists from all over the country - about 4 million a year. The New Year's season, the kabuki sseason in April and the shrine's Grand Festival on October 10 are among the most pleasant occasions that turn the whole town and shrine into a paradise of gaiety and religious fervour.

Kotohira-gu Shrine 金刀比羅宮

Kompira-san with its park and forest is laid out on the slope of Mt. Zozu or Mt. Elephant's Head, 521m high.

Its Omote-sando Approach consists of very busy streets bordered by hotels, inns, restaurants, coffee shops, and a great number of souvenir shops. One of the highlights along the way is Takadoro 高灯籠, the tallest lantern in the country - 27.6m. It used to serve as a beacon for Kompira pilgims arriving at night. It was built in 1865 by a Pilgrims' Club in eastern Sanuki.

The stone torii gates and numberless stone lanterns along the approach and promenade were all dedicated by Kompira worshippers, too, generation after generation . All these stone steps (785 to the Main Hall and 583 more to the Inner Sanctuary) are also a monument to Kompira devotees. The stones were brought from islands in the Inland Sea to be built into these flights of steps, a task requiring hundreds of years and innumerable man-days. Kotohira people would be the last to agree to replacing them with a ropeway.

Centainly it is a hard climb to walk up all the way. But all the shops beckon with their wares - candies, cookies, knick-knacks, dolls, masks, ornaments, chinaware, earthenware, lacquerware and local folk crafts of paper, bamboo, wood or iron. Masters of Itto-bori, the local woodcarving art, can often be seen at work through the shop windows.

Some shop assistants may call to you at the doorway of their shops, inviting you to use their walking-sticks or umbrellas on rainy days, free of charge. But this comes from commercialism rather than simple kindness; they are expecting you to buy something at their shops on your way back.

At the foot of the stone steps, you will see kago or palanquins, in which 2 men carry the customer the first 225 steps up to the Main Gate. The kago is usually hired by the aged or the infirm, because it is rather expensive.

Ura-sando Approach

This is another approach to the shrine - winding through hills, valleys and garkens. All paths lead to the Sakuranobaba Promenade. This is also the route to enjoy seasonal flowers and leaves - varieties of camellias, sasanquas, cherry blossoms, wisteria, azaleas and maples.

Sakura-no-baba Promenade

This is a quiet promenade bordered by granite fences, stone lanterns, cherry trees, pine trees and camellias. There are no more shops here apart from one group called Gonin - byakusyo or Five Farmers. They are allowed to sell their wares just inside the Main Gate in memory of their ancestors' great contribution to the shrine. A legend says that they were the first to greet Omononushi-no-mikoto from Izumo, the main god, when he landed at Tadotsu, a port 10 km north of Kotohira. Kamiyo-ame, the candy they sell under the 5 huge paper umbrellas makes a traditional Kompira souvenir.

Asahi-no-yashiro Shrine 旭社

This 150-year-old wooden buiding, 18.5m in height, used to be the Main Hall until the new one was built in 1918. It appears a bit sooty, but the building is considered a memorial to the carpentry and carving skill of the early 19th century. Its ceilings, eaves, walls and doors are elaborately carved with representations of flowers, birds, clouds and mythological beasts, along with men and women in fine garments.

It took 40 years to finish it, because everything depended on the offering from people all over the then-61 provinces in Japan. It was during this period that Itto-bori, the local woodcarving art, was started by local carpenters and sculptors carving wood in their spare time.

Now this building enshrines many important gods and goddesses from Japanese mythology, including Izanagi and Izanami (Creator of the Japanese Islands) and their daughter, Amaterasu-omikami (the Sun Goddess).

Sakaki-no-mon Gate 賢木門

This gate was reportedly built overnight by the men of Chosokabe Motochika. One night in 1584, the invader from Tosa who had inflicted dire damage upon Kompira-san became frenzied with fear while he was camping on Mt. Elephant's Head.

He cried and cried, pointing to the trees and shrubs in the mountains: "Look ! The enemy is coming. They are coming in large numbers!"

His old soldiers at once felt this was divine punishment by the Kompira gods. They visited the sacred hall, apologized for their violence and promised to dedicate a new gate for the old one they had destroyed.

They worked very hard on the gate, and it was completed by the time the day dawned. But they were in such a hurry that they never realized they had erected one of the pillars upside down.

The gate we see today was built in 1879. But the old pillar in question is still kept in the Homotsu-kan Museum.

Main Shrine 本宮

In the year of the Meiji Restoration, 1868, Buddhsm and Shintoism were separated by law, and Omononushi-no-mikoto became the chief god enshrned in the Main Shrine, along with the deified Emperor Sutoku. Yet "Kompira (Kumbhira) worship" continued to flourish, for this Hindu deity had already enshrined himself deep in the hearts of the Japanese people.

The view of the Sanuki Plain and the Inland Sea rewards the conqueror of the 785 steps to the Main Shrine.

Mihotsu-hime-no-yashiro Shrine is dedicated to the wife of the main god.

Kompira Worship

According to a popular legend, Kompira-san came into being when Kumbhira (a guardian god of Buddhism, originally a Hindu crocodile god in the Ganges) was invited here by a Buddhist priest of Matsuo-ji, an about 1,000-year-old temple.

The priest dedicated a shrine to Kumbhira, who in later years came to be considered a Great Incarnation of the Buddha himself. However, it remained a Shinto shrine in part, because Omononushi-no-mikoto, the main god of the mythological Land of Izumo, had also been invited here. Then in the 15th century, Emperor Sutoku was enshrined here, too.

Note: Izumo: An ancient city in Shimane Pref.; one of the political and religious centres in the mythological age.

Kumbhira, descended from the holy waters of the Ganges, was naturally believed to be a great patron deity for seamen, fishermen and rice-growing farmers. As the years and centuries went by, he began attracting more and more worshippers in and beyond this province.

At the same time, Omononushi-no-mikoto, the native god of fertility, medicine and commerce, along with Daikoku-ten representing Chinese folk religion, were identified with the Indian god Kumbhira (Kompira), a case of religious internationalism in classical Japan.

Later the great navigators of the Shiwaku Islands helped the temple-shrine complex to establish its nationwide fame. They told and retold of Kumbhira's divine assistance to them at every port they entered.

By the beginning of the 19th century, men and women from all over the country had come to cherish a strong desire to "make a Kompira pilgrimage" at least once in their lives. Those who could not easily make it thought of inviting Kompira to their towns and villages, thus initiating many Kompira Shrine branches all over the country.

For the same reson, there arose the custom of Nagashi-daru or sending forth barrels of offerings to Kompira by river or by sea. Especially in western Japan, people used to launch onto the nearest body of water barrels of sake, rice or money with big banners addressed to Kompira-san in Sanuki. (The custom of Nagashi-daru still remains, especially among the sea-going fishermen.)

Same sent wood for rebuiding or repairing the shrine. Others offered votive tablets large and small. Those offerings were sure to be relayed by anonymous but kind and honest hands all the way to the shrine of Kompira, who was naturally to reward the intermediaries as well.

All the roads in Sanuki had already been so constructed as to lead to Kompira-san. More and more ports were built or better equipped to receive growing numbers of Kompira pilgrims from Honshu, Kyushu and Hokkaido.

It was this religious fevour that had brought to Sanuki so many Daimyo or Lords of provinces, famous actors, artists, poets, writers and characters of historical renown. They dedicated their wealth or works of art to the shrine, leaving their memories here and there in the province. Not a few spread the mystique of Kompira through their artistic or literary productions. In the middle of the 17th century the Tokugawa Shogun, too, dedicated a stipend of 330 koku to the shrine, greatly contributing to its prosperity.

Ema-do Hall 絵馬堂

This is a gallery for votive tablets and offerings to the Shrine.


About an hour's walk to Okusha or the Inner Sanctuary along the meandering path in the primeval forest is enjoyable to nature lovers and bird-watchers. This habitat of about 250 varieties of ancient trees is a Natural Monument and a Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary as well.

Omote-shoin & Oku-shoin 表書院・奥書院

The Omote-shoin is an Impotant Cultural Property. It was built in 1659 as the reception hall of the chief priest of Konko-in Matsuo-ji Temple. The 7 formal rooms are named after the paintings on their alcoves and sliding screens. The 90 examples of work in the first 5 rooms (the Rooms of Cranes, of Tigers, of "the Seven Wise Men in the Bamboo Bush" from Chinese folklore, of Landscape and of Waterfalls) are all Important Cultural Properties, created by Maruyama Okyo (1733 - 1795), one of the gretest artists in the Edo Period. The peintings of Mt. Fuji in the other 2 rooms were done by Murata Tanryo (1872-1914).

The paintings in the Oku-shoin are very colourful, including those of 439 varieties of butterflies and moths, collected and sketched by Aiba Bunzan (1797-1857), and painted here by Gantai (1794-1859). The rooms called Oku-jodan are the Royal Rooms, whose walls, alcoves and screens are covered with various flowers painted by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800).

One of the best days to visit Omote-shoin & Oku-shoin Art Museums is May 5, July 7 or some day towards the end of the year, when the visitors are entertained with kemari (ball-kicking) performed in the courtyard of the Omote-shoin.


Kemari, an ancient sport designated as an Intangible Cultural Property, is by no means a game in the ordinary sense of the word. The players cooperate without any spirit of competition. It was introduced from China in the 7th century, and at first was taken up by people in every walk of life.

The courtyard for kemari is unusual, too. At its 4 corners, 4 trees representing the seasons are planted - a pine tree for winter, a cherry tree for spring, a willow for summer and a maple for autumn.

Nowadays we have very little opportunity to see kemari performed. It is preserved only here at Kotohira-gu, Shimogamo-jinja Shrine in Kyoto and Kasuga-jinja Shrine in Nara.

Homotsu-kan Museum 宝物館

About 3,000 shrine treasures exhibited here include the following:

Nayotake Monogatari (an Important Cultural Property): A scroll depicting the love story of the Emperor Go-saga (1220-1272), created in the 13th century. This was one of the many offerings transmitted here to calm the soul of Sutoku when the banished Emperor was enshrined here.

Eleven-faced Kannnon (an Important Cultural Property)

Collections of paintings, callgraphy, swords, armour, masks, sculptures, musical instruments and a large number of items of archaeological value.

Kompira Ishidan Marathon

Kompira Ishidan (Stone Steps) Marathon that takes place on the 1st Sunday in October is one of the unique marathons in Japan. There are hundreds of participants, young and old, from far and near, including Kompira pilgrims. There are 2 courses according to age and sex:

* 6,257 m (1368 stone steps x 2): From Station Plaza to Oku-sha Shrine and back (for men over 15).

* 3,837 m (785 stone steps x 2): From Station Plaza to Main Shrine and back (For women, children & 40-or-over)

In both courses, the fastest reaches the finish line in less than 30 minutes.

Kompira Oshibai Kabuki Theatre 金毘羅大芝居

Kompira Oshibai is the oldest remaining kabuki theatre built in 1836 in downtown Kotohira. Many famous kabuki actors were invited here from Kyoto, Osaka and Edo (Tokyo), attracting large audiences from far and near, including Kompira pilgims from all over the country.

But times changed. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, it was simply forgotten. It barely suvived as a movie thetre until 1970, when it was redisovered, evaluated and designated as an Important Cultural Property.

The building was then moved up to the present site and by 1976 it was completely restored, to the great excitement of those who appreciate kabuki performed in the traditonal manner. Here all the settings, lighting, stage devices and audience's seats are exactly as they were in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Since 1985 the "Kompira Oshibai" or Kompira Kabuki has recaptured its original splendour and national popularity every kabuki season in April. This is a very moving occasion not only for the spectators but also for the actors themselves. The distinguished kabuki actors, having been invited by Kotohira Town Office from Tokyo for their annual visit here, can perform under exactly the same conditions as their own ancestors experienced generations ago.

The dates for the performance and for the ticket-selling are annornced in newspapers (local and national) during January. For datailed information, make inquiries at Kotohira Town Office 琴平町役場: 〒766 Kotohira - cho (0877) 73-2111.

The building itself is open every day except Tuesdays. A guide will show you around the theatre from top to bottom. In the basement, one can try handling the primitive but ingenious device operating the rotating stage.

Grand Festival

The annual festival of Kotohira-gu Shrine, popularly known as O-Toka (the Honourable 10th Day), is truly a grand affair whose climax comes on the night of October 10. Its grandeur is displayed in the time-honoured parade of the portable shrine with the gods in it reverently carried, guarded and followed by hundreds of priests, attendants, musicians, all formally attired in ancient robes.

The procession starting at the Main Shrine at 9 p.m. on the 10th, slowly marches down the 785 stone steps into the downtown streets as far as O-tabisho, the Sacred Destination. With fireworks exploding and showering sparks in the night sky, the gagaku music of pipes and drums flooding the night air with a sweet nostalgic feeling of godliness, it is excting to share the pleasure of the Festival with hundreds of thousands of people.

At midnight the parade reaches its destination. There, the gods are entertained all through the morning and afternoon with ceremonies, bonfires, dancing and music.

At 10 p.m. on the 11th, the gods set out on their return journey. Around 2 a.m. on the 12th, the procession reaches the Main Shrine. After the Closing Ceremony, all the parade members leave the place as quickly as possible so the gods may have a good rest.

Japan in Miniature

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Updated on 22 September 2016 | E-mail Steve | 四国新聞社出版『KAGAWA』より

Bilingualism and Japanology - Online publications by Steve McCarty
annotated in English | Japanese: バイリンガリズムと日本学