Nihonji is a Zen temple located on the slopes of Mount Nokogiri. It was founded during the Nara Period by order of Emperor Shomu, the 45th emperor of Japan. Visiting the temple is also a great opportunity to see the Great Buddha together with 1,553 stone statues. It has also been considered as an Important Cultural Property of Japan.
The founding of the temple dates back to 725 by Gyoki, a Japanese Buddhist of the Nara Period. At this time, it became a home to several monks who were accommodated in its 100 residential quarters. It consisted of 7 great halls and 12 smaller halls. There were several revivals and transfers which occurred during the rule of Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan. It was even burned down in 1331 due conflicts arising from temple structures. It further fell into decline during the Sengoku Period. It only came under protection in the Tensho era by the powerful Satomi clan.
With the large-scale revival of the temple complex, Mount Nokogiri became a sacred mountain. The Great Buddha (also known as Nihonji Daibutsu) was built at this time.
An anti-Buddhist movement occurred from 1868-1874 which left the temple complex in ruins. It suffered so much that it was difficult to restore it. Many of the statues were actually beheaded. Restoration only started in 1916. So if you happen to visit the temple these days, you will immediately see Nio Guardians at the gate. These are known to protect Buddhism. There is also the 700-year-old Bonso bell, which is an Important Cultural Property of Japan on its own.
You can reach Nihonji via Ropeway Saw Mountain which costs about 500 yen one way and it’ll take you around 3/4 up of the mountain. Some people catch a train going down. The temple is about a 10-minute walk from the top exit of the ropeway. The entrance fee is 600 yen per person. With so many paths to follow, you might be spending around 3 hours in the temple.
Nihonji Temple’s many years of revival took a lot of patience in reshaping it back to its original form. It is a very popular tourist destination where you can also see beautiful views from its summit.
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