Shoshasan Engyoji Temple
Shoshasan Engyoji Temple near Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture dates from 966 and has increased in popularity since being featured in the movie, The Last Samurai.
Shoshasan Engyoji Temple, Himeji 書写山圓教寺
Near the top of 371 meter high Mount Shosha near Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture is Engyoji, a Buddhist monastery with a complex of buildings that, like the famous Enryakuji on Mount Hiei near Kyoto, belongs to the Tendai sect.
Mount Shosha Ropeway, the easiest way to reach the mountain monastery of Engyoji
One of the 33 statues of Kannon that line the walk from the ropeway station to Engyoji Temple
The Last Samurai
Not as old as Enryakuji, and certainly not as famous, Engyoji is one of the 33 temples on the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, the oldest established pilgrimage in Japan.
It is home to many impressive and historic buildings and has always had a steady stream of Japanese tourists, but in recent years has become discovered by foreign tourists thanks in large part to Tom Cruise.
The bulk of the movie however was not filmed in Japan but rather in New Zealand. One of the few sites in Japan where scenes were filmed was here at Engyoji.
It is possible to hike up to Engyoji in about an hour, but most people utilize the ropeway. From Shosha Station it takes less than 5 minutes up to Sanjo Station, with fantastic views over Himeji and the surrounding countryside on the way up.
From there the entrance to Engyoji is just a two minute walk. However, from the entrance to the main buildings of the temple is still another 25 minute walk, some uphill.
If you want you can take a shuttle bus for 500 yen, but if you can, it is better to borrow one of the bamboo walking sticks and take the walk as you pass by 33 wonderful statues on the way.
Each statue is a representation of the Kannon that is enshrined at each of the thirty three temples on the Saigoku Pilgrimage. Not far along the path you pass the bell tower where you can ring the huge bronze bell to announce your arrival.
Before arriving at the main temple buildings you pass through the Niomon, reconstructed in 1665 and housing two guardian statues. You pass several walled compounds that are closed to the public - this is a working monastery after all - before arriving at the main hall, the Maniden.
Maniden, the main temple building at Engyoji
Looming over you on the hillside and supported by dozens of pillars, the original Maniden was built in 970 and houses the main deity of the temple, a six-armed Kannon.
It is only shown to the public on one day a year, January 18th. The building burned down in 1921 but has been rebuilt as it was. Below the Maniden is a small building holding 33 statues of Kannon and also a pond filled with colorful koi carp.
The enormous Jiki-do was once a dormitory for monks and now houses exhibits of the temples treasures
Mitsu no Do
A sign points you along the path to the next group of buildings, the Mitsu no Do, three impressive structures arranged in a U and where the scenes from The Last Samurai were filmed. The biggest, at 40 meters in width and with two floors is the Jikido.
Believed to have been a dormitory and possibly a dining hall for the monks in training, it was first built in the 14th century, though the style suggests its current form dates from the 15th century. It was never actually completely finished until the mid 20th century when it was dismantled and reconstructed.
It is open to the public and on the lower floor there are displays of sutras and a collection of historic onigawara (gargoyles). On the first floor is a big exhibition of many of the temple's treasures.
A view of the Jogyodo from the 2nd floor balcony of the Jikido at Engyoji Temple where scenes from The Last Samurai were filmed
On one side of the Jikido is the impressive Daikodo, once the main hall of the temple. Originally built in 986, its current form dates from the early 15th century. It was dismantled and rebuilt in the 1950's.
The third of the great halls is the Jogyodo. With a stage protruding from its center, it was originally built in the early 14th century and dismantled and rebuilt in the 1950's.
The stage was used to perform music and dance dedicated to the Buddha enshrined in the Daikodo opposite. At the open end of the U shaped group of buildings are several tombs for some of the Honda Clan lords who ruled from Himeji Castle for a while in the 17th century.
Kaizando, the inner sanctuary of Engyoji Temple near Himeji
Behind the Jikido the sign points down a path to the Okunoin, the inner sanctuary of Engyoji. Here you will find another cluster of smaller shrines and halls, the largest of which is the Kaizando.
This dates from 1007 to enshrine Shoku Shonin, the priest-monk who founded Engyoji. The building went through several incarnations and the current version was built in 1673. Inside is a flame that has burned for over a thousand years.
A wide range of ceremonies and rituals take place in many of the halls throughout the Engyoji complex, but here in the inner sanctuary they take place twice a day.
Other paths lead from here to numerous other buildings and structures around the mountaintop. The signs are easy to follow and when you pay your entrance fee you are given a map in English, so it is easy to spend several hours wandering and enjoying the atmosphere.
If you are tired of the overcrowded temples of Kyoto and Nara, Engyoji will be a pleasant surprise as there is not only a lot of excellent historical architecture, but also a quiet natural environment, and best of all, no crowds.
Open 8.30 am to 5 pm.
Entry is 500 yen for adults and 500 yen for the shuttle bus. The temple plays host to numerous festivals and ceremonies throughout the year.
Surrounded by numerous deities, this statue of Benzaiten is among the temple treasures on display at Engyoji Temple
2968 Shosha, Himeji, Hyogo 671-2201
Tel: 079 266 3327www: shosha.or.jp
Shoshasan Ropeway 1199-2 Shosha, Himeji-shi, Hyogo 671-2201Tel: 079 266 2006
The ropeway is 781 meters long and rises 211 meters in less than 4 minutes.
The ropeway operates every 15 minutes from 8.30 am until 6 pm Monday to Saturday, March to October and until 5 pm October to February. On Sundays and National Holidays the last service is 5 pm from December to February, October, November and March 6 pm and 7 pm April to October. The one way fare is 600 yen for adults, 300 yen for kids. Round trip is 1000 yen or 500 yen.
The ropeway is a 30 minute bus ride from Himeji Station on the #8 bus that leaves from stand 10 of the bus station in front of Himeji Station.
The bus also stops at Himeji Castle and the Koko-en Garden so you can catch it there. The fare is 280 yen each way but there is a convenient discount ticket available at the bus station that includes the round trip bus and ropeway fare for only 1,400 yen.
After visiting Engyoji why not visit the Shosha Art & Craft Museum just 200 meters away from the bus stop.
Visitors can also take a shinkaisoku JR express from Kyoto (90 mins), Osaka (1 hour) or Kobe (40 mins).
One of the three remaining sumo wrestlers carved by Hidari Jingoro that hold up the roof of Kaizando at Engyoji Temple