Hyakusai-ji Temple

Hyakusai-ji Temple

One of the Kotō Sanzan temples, it’s associated with an ancient Korean kingdom.

place Area: Higashi Ōmi access_time Published: 2020.12.28

Name in Japanese: 百済寺
Pronunciation: hyakusai-ji

Hyakusai-ji is a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. It’s one of the Kotō Sanzan, the three major temples east of Lake Biwa, along with Kongōrin-ji Temple and Saimyō-ji Temple. The principal image is the compassionate eleven-faced Kannon Bodhisattva carved from a huge Japanese cedar by Prince Shotoku who established the temple in 606. This makes it the oldest temple in Ōmi, if not all of Japan.

Although the kanji are different, the name of the temple sound like “temple of a hundred colours”, which is appropriate considering how the changing seasons are reflected in the foliage and blossoms at Hyakusai-ji, especially in autumn.

The temple compound is based around a long path that stretches up the mountain, passing through two gates, over a bridge, and up a lot of steps. The path is surrounded by rich woods that change with the seasons. Halfway up the path is the administrative area of the temple where visitors enter. Behind it is a lovely garden that rises up the slope from a large pond with carp. From the top of the garden, you can enjoy an expansive view over the southern end of Lake Biwa, with Mt. Hiei and Mt. Hira. Further up the path, you come to the Niō Gate which is hung with a pair of giant straw sandals. Beyond the gate is the main hall. Here you can find some carved figures that look like they might be from mainland Asia.

In fact, Prince Shōtoku founded the temple with the assistance of a learned priest from the Korean kingdom of Baekje. According to legend, Shōtoku saw a beam of purple light rising from the mountain. When he investigated, he learned that it came from the stump of a tree that had been cut down to make the main image of a temple in Baekje, so he chose the site for a new temple based on the one in Korea. After that time too, Ōmi had active diplomatic exchanges with Korea, and many Korean visitors are said to have prayed at the temple while thinking of their homeland. Baekje was a conduit for the latest religious and cultural knowledge from Asia.

The temple expanded gradually so that in the Kamakura period, it consisted of ten core buildings and more than three-hundred monasteries with a thousand priests. But in 1573 at the end of the Muromachi period, all the buildings were burned down by Oda Nobunaga, although the principal image was saved. Rebuilding started two years after the death of Nobunaga, and in 1650 in the early Edo period, some of the present buildings were constructed under the guidance of Kōra Bungonokami, the foremost architect of that time.

There’s a lot to see at Hyakusai-ji, so allow plenty of time to enjoy this historic place.