Name in Japanese: 済福寺
Saifuku-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple near the Seri River in Hikone. It’s home to one of the largest wooden Buddhas of Japan, known as the Big Buddha of Hikone.
The temple sits below the levee running along the south side of the Seri River. You can glimpse its sloping roof from Nanamagari Road which tops the levee. Close around the temple are private houses and a small graveyard.
Saifuku-ji has a distinctly Chinese appearance. It was founded by a follower of Ingen, the Chinese founder of the Ōbaku sect. The occasion of its founding was a donation from Ii Naoki, the fourth lord of the Hikone clan to commemorate the many souls lost when Ōsaka Castle fell. Its location also provides spiritual protection on the southern approach to Hikone Castle along the Nakasendō Road.
To go inside and see the Big Buddha, ring the doorbell. The friendly priest Mizutani Seiryō will show you around. The Big Buddha is an impressive sight. Six metres high from his pedestal to his halo, he’s covered in gold leaf and his body is cloaked in maroon drapery. He gazes down impassively at you. He goes by the names Seri no Ōbotoke and the Hikone Daibutsu. His body is made from numerous carved blocks fitted seamlessly together.
In front of the Daibutsu is another small Buddha in a box. This is a replica of the Buddha that actually sits inside the chest of the Big Buddha behind a round shutter which is only opened occasionally. It’s a Jizō of easy birth donated by Lord Naonaka, and women visit the temple to pray for an easy delivery and healthy children.
The Daibutsu was completed in 1870 in the Edo period under the sponsorship of the 11th lord of Hikone, Ii Naonaka.
In the passage surrounding the Big Buddha are sculptures of the disciples and descendants of the original Buddha, carved and coloured in a very lively and engaging style. Each one repays careful examination. One man is opening his chest to reveal a Buddha’s face under the flesh. Mizutani-san explains that this is the son of Buddha who carries his father’s teaching in his heart.
Mizutani-san welcomes visitors to Saifuku-ji. If you make an appointment in advance, you can sit in front of the Big Buddha and copy a sutra. In this meditative exercise, you use a brush to ink over faint lines representing kanji characters. The finished sutra, completed under the steady gaze of the Hikone Daibutsu, makes an interesting souvenir.
place 919, Srikawachō, Hikone, Shiga Prefecture