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Temple 60, Yokomine-ji

The Temple on the Side of the Ridge

Temple 60, Yokomine-ji

Yokomine-ji, The Temple on the Side of the Ridge, is temple No. 60 on the Shikoku pilgrimage, or Henro. It stands in the foothills of Mt. Ishizuchi in Saijō. 

In the Edo period, travel was regulated by gated checkpoints called ‘sekisho’. On the pilgrimage, there are  ‘sekishodera’ in each of the provinces, and these temples are considered spiritual checkpoints, places for the pilgrim to reflect on their progress. Yokomine-ji is the sekishodera of Ehime.

What to see

Located at an altitude of around 745 m, Yokomine-ji is the highest temple in Ehime, and after Unpen-ji, it’s the second highest of the 88 temples. Approached on the path from Temple 59, you pass a stone wall, a remnant of the Buddhist temple built below Yokomine when it became a shrine in the Meiji period. Then as you climb further, you encounter the main gate looming above you, with its large Niō guardians.

Passing through the gate, you come to some stone pillars. On the left is the temple office. Ahead is a reception hall. To the right is a washbasin and a flight of steps up to the main hall on the right. The lion dogs on either side of the path are notable for their slanted bug eyes. In front of the main hall is the belfry from which a path leads beside a row of old and weathered Jizō statues to the Daishi Hall. Another small building, the Seiten Hall is next to it. In early May, many visitors come to see the rhododendrons that bloom all over the grounds. Winters are harsh on the mountain, but the environment favours the growth of moss which luxuriates on the stone lanterns and statuary.

The beauty of the temple compound is marred by two sinister security poles mounted with cameras, lights, and loudspeakers.

The forestry road in front of the main gate leads up Mt. Hoshigamori. Here, a stone platform with statues of Kūkai and Jizō affords a fine view of Mt. Ishizuchi through a little iron torii gate (when it’s not wreathed in cloud).

History

The temple has a complicated history, changing between a Shintō shrine and Buddhist temple, and being moved up and down the mountain. Before the separation of Shintō and Buddhism in the Meiji period, the deity of Mt. Ishizuchi, Zaō Gongen was enshrined here. For some time afterwards it became the Yokomine Shrine of Ishizuchi Shrine, a remnant of which is a pair of guardian dogs in front of the main hall.

Before access to the temple was improved by the construction of a forest road in 1984, it could only be reached on foot. Consequently, a temple office was built at the foot of the mountain in the early Edo period to save pilgrims the trek up to main temple. The temple was abolished in the early Meiji Period, but was rebuilt in 1880.

At some point in time, pilgrims who made it up to the main hall would complete their visit by going another half kilometre up to Mt. Hoshigamori with its view of Mt. Ishizuchi. This spot became the Okunoin or inner temple.

Legends

According to temple legend, the temple was founded in 651 when En no Gyōja was practising asceticism in Hoshigamori, which overlooks Mt Ishizuchi, and Zaō Gongen appeared near the summit. Shakunen (782 – 806), who resided at the temple and healed Emperor Kanmu of a brain disease, received the title of Bodhisattva and gave the temple a gold staff.

Kūkai is said to have visited the temple and performed the star ritual at Hoshigamori, when he received a vision of Zaō Gongen, carved Dainichi Nyorai as the principal deity, and built a hall.

Information

Name in Japanese: 横峰寺

Pronunciation: yokomine-ji

Address: 2253 Komatsucho Ishizuchi, Saijo, Ehime 799-1112

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