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Temple 61, Kōon-ji

The Temple of the Incense Garden

Temple 61, Kōon-ji

Kōon-ji is temple No. 61 on the Shikoku pilgrimage, or Henro. It stands close to the foothills of Mt. Ishizuchi in Saijō. Kōon-ji is one of five pilgrimage temples located relatively close together in Saijō.

What to see

From the approach, Kōon-ji looks like a conventional temple. There’s a pleasantly green area with a stand of old trees, including sakura, a tea-house and mossy stones. Here, there’s an interesting statue of Kannon holding a kamikaze pilot dating from WWII.

But as you enter the big plaza in front of the temple, all you can see are concrete and tile buildings. The main temple building is a vast and brutal-looking structure with a tiny slot in the bottom bedecked with multicolored curtains. When you approach, this slot is revealed to be a room containing a Buddhist altar.

Flights of steps leads up both sides of the building to a second floor which houses both the main hall and the Daishi Hall. The main hall features an altar with elaborate lanterns and a great deal of gold pendant decorations, with a large gold statue of Dainichi Nyorai in the middle. Unlike most temples where the congregation sit on the floor, there are cinema-style seats in Kōon-ji. This edifice was built in 1976.

Outside, there’s a bell tower of conventional design, although made of concrete, an interesting pagoda and some aged-looking stone Buddhas. A concrete building houses a statue of Kūkai holding a baby. The Shotoku-den shrine is dedicated to Prince Shōtoku.

Several kilometres up the hill behind the main temple is an Okunoin or inner temple, comprising a concrete building. Behind this a waterfall surrounded by fearsome statues of Fudō Myōō and his associates. The faithful purify themselves by chanting sutras under the icy stream of the Shirotaki Waterfall.

History

The actual date of its foundation is unknown, but the temple is believed to have originated from a place where visitors to the waterfall dedicated sutras before practising austerities. The temple is said to have been founded by Prince Shōtoku, the noble who first introduced Buddhism to Japan.

The temple was destroyed by fire in the late 1500s but was rebuilt in the mid-1600s under the patronage of local lords. In 1914, the main hall was rebuilt by Zuien Yamaoka, who became abbot in 1903, and in 1918 he founded a religious organisation which expanded its membership throughout the country and even overseas, contributing to the prosperity of the temple. In 1976, the main hall was moved to Myōun-ji Temple, about 4 km to the west of Kōon-ji. It was replaced by a huge reinforced concrete building with a height of 16 m and a seating capacity of over 620.

Legends

According to legend, the temple was built by Prince Shōtoku to pray for healing Emperor Yōmei of his illness. Later, Gyōki made a pilgrimage to the temple. Legend has it that here, Kūkai encountered a woman suffering from difficult labour, and conducted prayers for a safe delivery, burning sandalwood perfume. When the prayer was granted, he established Kōon-ji as a pilgrimage temple. Since then, the temple has become a place of worship for safe childbirth and child rearing, and has been named Kōon-ji, Temple of the Incense Garden.

Information

Name in Japanese: 香園寺

Pronunciation: kōon-ji

Address: 19 Komatsucho Minamigawa, Saijo, Ehime 799-1102

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