Kongōrin-ji Temple

Kongōrin-ji Temple

One of the Kotō Sanzan temples, with thousands of Jizō statues lining its approach.

place Area: Aisho access_time Published: 2020.12.28

Name in Japanese: 金剛輪寺
Pronunciation: kongōrin-ji

Kongōrin-ji is a temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism located in Aishō-chō. It’s one of the Kotō Sanzan, the three major temples east of Lake Biwa, along with Hyakusai-ji Temple and Saimyō-ji Temple. The principal image is the Kannon Bodhisattva. The temple was founded in 737 by the peripatetic monk Gyōki at the request of Emperor Shōmu although its origins are obscure.

This large and impressive temple complex is spread out on the side of a mountain. You enter through a modest gate, and immediately on your left is the Aishō Town Museum of History and Culture, which houses Buddhist artefacts related to Kongōrin-ji, as well as local cultural exhibits such as the large festival juggernauts typical of the region. The museum has an attractive garden and pond.

Further up the path on the left is the head priest’s quarters. There are beautiful gardens within this complex too, and the buildings are decorated with dynamic dragon images. From here, a path lined with thousands of Jizō statues leads for several hundred metres to the Nitenmon Gate. Beyond that, there’s a main hall and slightly higher still, a three-storey pagoda to the left of the main hall. In the past, many monk’s quarters stood along this approach to the main hall. The gardens and woods around the temple reflect the changing seasons.

The temple experienced several periods of decline and recovery. In the early Heian period in the late 840s, the temple was revived by the Tendai monk Ennin. Many statues survive from the late Heian period to the Kamakura period. There are also many traces of stone walls of monk’s quarters. The main hall was erected by Rokkaku Yoritsuna, military governor of southern Ōmi, to commemorate the defeat of the Mongol invasion. Inscriptions from 1288 remain on metal fittings of the dais of Buddhist images in the main hall. However, the existing main hall is believed to have been rebuilt during the Northern and Southern Dynasties.

In 1573, Hyakusai-ji, another of the Kotō Sanzan temples, was burned down by Oda Nobunaga’s forces, and Kongōrin-ji was also damaged. It’s thought that the main buildings of the temple are located so far away and hidden from the entrance that they were overlooked.

After the Edo period, Kongōrin-ji gradually declined. The second floor of the gate, and the third floor of the three-storey pagoda disappeared. The gate remains without a second floor, but the third floor of the pagoda was restored in 1978.

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