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Temple 5, Jizō-ji

The Earth Womb Temple

Temple 5, Jizō-ji

Jizō-ji is temple No. 5 on the Shikoku pilgrimage, or Henro. It stands in an old residential area at the border of the Tokushima rift valley and the foothills of the Sanuki Mountains. It’s almost directly south of Temple 4, Dainichi-ji. Jizō-ji is a large and beautiful temple that repays a lengthy stop.

What to see

The long pedestrian approach is bordered by pines and cherry trees which are beautiful in spring. The path passes through a pair of stone columns before reaching the simple main gate. The temple guardians are cartoonlike figures in bright colours, and their eyes are a bit too close together.

Beyond the gate, you find yourself in a spacious plaza dominated by a big, knobbly gingko tree which is over 800 years old. To the right is a statue of Kūkai on the pilgrimage and a simple raised belfry. Next is the small Awashima Hall, home of the alter ego of the guardian deity of Awashima Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture, who cures all illnesses. The Daishi Hall is large and splendid, and unusual for its brightly painted wood carvings of animals. Near the Daishi Hall is a bronze seated Buddha.

Buildings on the north side include the Nokyosho and a hexagonal building housing a golden Kannon statue. There’s also a water harp that mimics the sound of the instrument called koto. Facing the Daishi Hall is the Main Hall. Peer inside and you can see the principal image, a Shōgun Jizō statue. The Jizō is mounted on a horse wearing armour, with a staff in his right hand and a jewel in his left hand. He drives out wrongdoers and prevents disasters. On the left side of the temple veranda sits a pensive-looking Binzuru statue.

Behind the Daishi Hall, a path leads past an old cemetery and up some stone steps to the Inner Sanctuary, which is big enough to be its own major temple compound. From the top of the steps, you can look down on the temple and the Tokushima rift valley beyond. The Inner Sancturay is called the Rakan Hall. It’s an elongated U-shaped building housing life-sized statues of 500 rakan, or arhats, semi-enlightened followers of Buddha. It also houses a magnificent, larger than life statue of Kūkai.

History

Kūkai founded the temple in 821 at the request of Emperor Saga. He carved a Shōgun Jizō statue of about 5.5 cm and enshrined it in the principal image. After that, the imperial family visited the temple devotedly for three generations.

Due to their faith in the Shōgun Jizō, military commanders such as Minamoto no Yoritomo, Yoshitsune, and the Hachisuka clan made many donations to the temple. With these donations, the territory of the temple was expanded, and there were about 300 branch temples in the provinces of Awa, Sanuki, and Iyo. However, during Chōsokabe Motochika’s unification of Shikoku, Jizō-ji Temple was burned down.

After that, Jizō-ji was rebuilt and expanded by the efforts of successive priests, monks, and believers, and the temple compound is still extensive. The Rakan Hall was built in 1775 by two brothers who were priests of the temple. However, it was damaged by fire in 1915 and rebuilt in 1922, and now only around two hundred of the statues remain.

Legends

Jōkan Shōnin, who was the officiating priest of the Kumano Gongen in Kīshū, carved a statue of the Enmei Jizō in a sacred tree here, and Kūkai placed a statue he carved in its belly.

Information

Name in Japanese: 地蔵寺

Pronunciation: jizōji

Address: Rakan, Itano-gun, Itano-cho, Tokushima 779-0114

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