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Temple 1, Ryōzen-ji

The Vulture Peak Temple

Temple 1, Ryōzen-ji

Ryōzen-ji is temple No. 1 on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, or Henro. It stands near the foot of the Sanuki Mountains in the Tokushima rift valley. The total length of the Shikoku pilgrimage is approximately 1,460 km. For many pilgrims, this is the temple where they make their vow to complete the pilgrimage. At the end of the pilgrimage, some pilgrims like to return to Ryōzen-ji as a sign of thanksgiving and to complete the circle, although this isn’t considered a traditional practice.

What to see

The Niō Gate, which fronts the main road, has two storeys with a gabled, hipped roof. Passing through the gate, there’s a Kannon statue and wash basin on the left. This ‘matchmaking Kannon’ is said to be beneficial not only for matches between men and women, but also for various matches such as with health, work, and happiness. Further to the left is a belfry and a beautiful two-storey pagoda.

To the right is large pond filled with colourful carp. At one corner is a seated Jizō. At the far corner is the large Daishi Hall, where you can see a black lacquered statue of Kūkai. On the left side of the Daishi Hall is a small, enclosed area, the Meiji Garden, with a pond and a seated Amida Nyorai statue.

On the left side of the approach is the Thirteen Buddha Hall, an open gallery with twelve standing Buddhas and a seated Fudō Myōō in stone. There’s a bronze Kannon in front of it.

At the end of the approach is the main hall.  In the right corner of the worship hall is a triad statue of Jizō. In the left corner is a Buddha statue. Above that is a sitting statue of Binzuru (on the left) and on the right is a statue of Kūkai on the road. A dragon is drawn on the central ceiling of the worship hall. Many lanterns hang from the ceiling.

There’s a large garden in the northeastern part of the precincts, dotted with ten stone carvings of Son Goku produced by Igami Masato.

Ryōzen-ji is the starting point on Shikoku for the pilgrimage, and there are two shops within the precincts where you can purchase all the paraphernalia required. Pilgrims who intend to walk the entire pilgrimage sign the Walking Pilgrims’ Logbook in the temple office building.

Picfair_Ryozen-ji_photos

History

Founded by Gyōki at the direction of Emperor Shōmu, Kūkai later visited in 815.  A seated Buddha holding a ball is thought to be by Kūkai.

During the Muromachi period, the temple enjoyed the patronage of the Miyoshi clan. The two-storied pagoda was built  between 1394 and 1428. In the past, Ryōzen-ji was regarded as one of the three great temples of Awa, and it boasted magnificent premises. However, in 1582, the temple was almost completely destroyed by Chōsokabe Motochika. It was finally rebuilt by the lord of the Awa domain, Hachisuka Mitsutaka, but in 1891 during the suppression of Buddhism, a fire destroyed all the buildings other than the two-storey pagoda. Since then, it has been laboriously reconstructed. The present main hall was rebuilt in 1908 and restored in 1964.

Legends

In 815, when Kūkai was walking around Shikoku from the northeast, he conducted prayers and austerities here for 37 days, hoping to establish the location as a place where people could free themselves from the 88 worldly desires. At that time, Kūkai witnessed a scene of many monks listening intently to an old master who preached Buddhism. It reminded him of the Buddha preaching to his disciples at Vulture Peak in India. Kūkai called the place Ryōzen-ji, a name that suggests transplanting the sacred mountain of India to Japan.

There he enshrined the little Buddha effigy that he carried with him, a statue of the new-born Buddha. This indicated his intention to make Ryōzen-ji the first temple of an 88-temple pilgrimage of Shikoku. The new-born Buddha statue is a small bronze about 14 cm tall dating from around 650. However, the earliest written mention of Ryōzen-ji as the first pilgrimage temple dates to 1687. Before, and indeed for a long time after that, pilgrims started at the temple most convenient to the one of many ports around Shikoku where they landed.

Information

Name in Japanese: 霊山寺

Pronunciation: ryōzenji

Address: Tsukahana-126 Oasacho Bando, Naruto, Tokushima 779-0230

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