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Temple 81, Shiromine-ji

The Temple of the White Peak

Temple 81, Shiromine-ji

Shiromine-ji is temple No. 81 on the Shikoku pilgrimage, or Henro. The temple stands about 280 m above sea level on the hillside of Shiromine in Sakaide. It has some of the oldest buildings on the pilgrimage, dating back to the seventeenth century. It’s the site of the mausoleum of Emperor Sutoku, who is said to have been assassinated near Temple 79 in 1156. The mausoleum, located behind the temple, was built in 1414. You can enjoy flowers all year round, especially cherry blossoms in spring, hydrangeas in summer, and autumn leaves in autumn.

What to see

Although the temple is on a mountain commanding a fine view over Kagawa, the temple itself is in a hollow surrounded by trees. In front of the temple is a small Inari shrine with a statue of Kūkai. You enter the temple crossing a stone bridge over a little river. The gabled gate has a defensive appearance.

After passing through the main gate, the Onari Gate is on the right, the Teshi Gate is on the right, and the guest hall and head priest’s quarters are behind it. There’s a teahouse and washbasin on the left. Ahead is the Goma Hall with the temple office inside. Heading round to the left, you’ll see a Benzaiten Shrine, Mizuko Jizō dedicated to deceased children, and a washbasin on the right. Ahead is the Kei Gate, with the Tonshō-ji Temple beyond it. In front of this temple is a stone statue of a karasu tengu, or crow tengu, one of the deities worshiped here. To your right, there are 99 stone steps up the hill. Going up the steps, there are bell towers on the left and right, and the Gyōja Hall on the left dedicated to En no Gyōja. At the top of the steps in front of you is the main hall, to the right of which are the Daishi Hall, Kyūsha Myōjin Shrine, Jizō Shrine, and Zennyo Ryūō Shrine. To the left are a stone pagoda and the Amida Hall. The guardian deities of all the zodiac signs are enshrined in various temple buildings. 

The Emperor Sutoku Mausoleum is about 100 m down a track that heads off to the left before the Kei Gate.

Around the temple, visitors have placed many small white cat figurines. These are maneki neko which bring good fortune particularly in the form of business prosperity. They’re sold at the temple office and they come with a fortune-telling slip. The figurines are left at the temple where it’s hoped they’ll intercede in realising the fortune. Recently, the temple has introduced a new figurine, that of a karasu tengu.

History

According to the temple, Kūkai visited this area in 815, and buried a sacred jewel at the summit of Mt. Shiramine. He dug a well so that he could offer water to the Buddha, and prayed for the relief of sentient beings. In 860, Enchin saw a mysterious light and climbed to the summit. where he received an oracle from a white-haired old man, in fact a local deity. He carved a thousand-armed Kannon from a sacred tree that shone with a fragrant light. Enchin built a temple to enshrine the statue.

Later, in 1164, Emperor Sutoku, who was living in exile in Sanuki, collapsed and died. According to his wishes, a tomb was built on a mound near the temple. The Emperor Go-Toba held memorial services for Sutoku, and worshiped the self-portrait drawn when Sutoku was under house arrest at Ninna-ji Temple in Kyōto. The fortune of the temple improved thereafter until there were some 21 buildings, but most of them were destroyed by fire in 1382. Then in 1414, Emperor Go-Komatsu devoted an imperial scroll naming the temple as Tonshō-ji, with prayers for the Buddhahood of the retired emperor. In 1680, the lords of Takamatsu, Matsudaira Yorishige and Yoritsune rebuilt the Tonshō-ji Temple and the Imperial Gate.

The turmoil at the end of the Edo period was attributed to the aggrieved spirit of Sutoku, and the reigning Emperor Kōmei ordered his spirit to be brought back to Kyōto to comfort him, but Kōmei died in 1866, before the order could be implemented. The child emperor Meiji, who inherited his will, sent a messenger to the temple in 1868, who recited the following message in front of the mausoleum.

“The series of horrific things that happened in the last few years was truly the height of sorrow. Following the wishes of Emperor Kōmei, we built a new palace near the Kyōto Imperial Palace, so please return to the capital and protect the emperor and the imperial court in eternity”.

The messenger brought back the self-portrait of Sutoku and his favourite pipe. The reigning Emperor worshiped the spirit of the former Emperor, and the next day, the era changed to the Meiji era.

During the Meiji Restoration, jurisdiction of the imperial mausoleum moved from this temple to the Imperial Household Ministry. In the 3rd year of Meiji, the government appropriated the temple precinct, and it was nearly abandoned. However, a new priest was appointed, and the temple barely survived. In 1878, jurisdiction of Shiramine Shrine and Tonshō-ji Temple was given to Konpira Shrine, and many temple treasures were transferred there. Jurisdiction was returned in 1891, but only a few of the treasures were given back.

Legends

The principal image, the thousand-armed Kannon, has been regarded as a scapegoat that accepts worldly burdens on behalf of worshipers. The guardian Shiramine Daigongen, also known as Sagamibo Daigongen, one of the eight Japanese tengu, has been the god of good luck, prosperity of business, and the god of competition. He is worshiped as a god of severing bad ties, success in performing arts, and academic achievement.

Emperor Sutoku was widely believed to have been wronged by being sent into exile and possibly murdered, and his aggrieved spirit was thought to have wreaked havoc over the centuries between his death and the ascension of Emperor Meiji.

Information

Name in Japanese: 白峯寺

Pronunciation: shiromine-ji

Address: 2635 Oumicho, Sakaide-shi, Kagawa-ken 762-0016

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