Shiofune Kannon Temple Ome
The Shiofune Kannon Temple in Ome, Tokyo is a Shingon sect temple known for its beautiful azaleas which bloom throughout April and May.
Shiofune Kannon Temple, Ome, Tokyo 塩船観音時 青梅市 東京
by Johannes Schonherr
Shiofune Kannon Temple (Shiofune Kannon-ji in Japanese) is a large Shingon Buddhist temple complex spread out through a valley on the outskirts of Ome City, Tokyo.
The temple is famous for its large flower gardens, particularly for its vast amount and variety of azalea bushes (tsutsuji), blossoming from mid-April to mid-May. The colorful azalea season constitutes the temple's most popular festival, the Tsutsuji Matsuri (Azalea Festival).
With the tall Shiofune Heiwa (Peace) Kannon statue at its top, the temple valley opens up towards the Tama flatlands of western Tokyo.
A resident monk during the Nara Period (710 - 794) felt that the valley's geography somewhat resembled a salt boat as used at his time. Just that in this case, the "boat" was Buddha's boat saving the souls of people from earthly misery. Thus, he named the temple Shiofune Kannon Temple - which translates as "Salt Ship Kannon Temple."
Kannon is the ancient Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.
Azalea Festival at Shiofune Kannon Temple, Ome, TokyoNiomon Gate of Shiofune Kannon Temple
The temple itself dates back about a hundred years earlier. In the years between 645 to 650 A.D., a mysterious Buddhist nun known as Yao Bikuni is said to have founded the temple by enshrining a tiny wood-carved statue of a Thousand-Armed Kannon in the valley.
Yao Bikuni, also known as Happyaku Bikuni, was born in Wakasa Province on the Sea of Japan coast (in today's Fukui Prefecture) and is said to have eaten in her youth by accident the flesh of a mermaid.
In Japanese mythology, eating mermaid flesh makes a person immortal. Yao Bikuni is said to have lived for 800 years. Thus her name Happyaku Bikuni - which translates as The Nun who Lived for 800 Years.
During her extended lifetime, she traveled extensively in Japan before eventually returning to the place of her origin.
Walkway to the Amida-do Hall, Shiofune Kannon Temple, OmeIncense burning outside the Main Hall (Honden) of Shiofune Kannon Temple
The tiny Kannon carving, known as the Senju Kannon, she is said to have enshrined in the valley is still in the possession of Shiofune Kannon Temple.
It is kept at the Main Hall, the Hondo or Kannon-do, an impressive thatched-roof building dating back to the Muromachi Period (1336- 1573). During certain days of the year, the Senju Kannon is exhibited to the public.
Those days include the days right after New Year (January 1st to 3rd) as well as the days of the major festivals at the temple.
When the Senju Kannon is on display, it will be in some cases exhibited together with the 28 Attendants of Kannon, a series of wood-carved statues originating from the Kamakura Period (1185 - 1333) and depicting the attendants of Kannon as dignitaries, celestial maidens, military commanders, demons, deities and characters taken from ancient Buddhist scripture.
Bell Tower, Shiofune Kannon Temple, OmePeek towards the Shiofune Heiwa (Peace) Kannon Statue
During the time of the Azalea Festival from about mid-April to mid-May, the temple is at its most colorful with about 17,000 azalea bushes blossoming in a dazzling array of colors.
A number of important temple events take place during that time.
From May 1st to May 3rd, the Senju Kannon as well as the 28 Attendants are open to the public.
May 3rd is the day of the Fire Walking Festival. Guided by experienced fire walkers, visitors can take up the challenge of stepping over beds of red-hot charcoal.
Most visitors of the Azalea Festival however opt for relaxing strolls up the slopes of the valley, enjoying the colorful azalea display.
The area at the foot of the big Shiofune Heiwa Kannon statue offers a view over the whole azalea-covered valley and far beyond, greatly contrasting with the greyish urban buildings in the far distance.
Visitors are free to sound the ancient Buddhist bell of the temple. Many do. The constant sound of the bell resonates throughout the valley, providing a deep and somber sound track to the colorful environs.
Shiofune Heiwa (Peace) Kannon Statue
The Shiofune Kannon Temple features a small restaurant offering soba noodles and other dishes. The restaurant also serves as a shop selling local farm products, post cards and souvenirs.
View from the foot of the Kannon Statue over the Shiofune temple valley
Access - Getting to Ome
From Kabe Station, Shiofune Kannon Temple is 35 minutes on foot.
You can also take the Ume-77-ko (梅77甲) or the Nishi Kawa 11 (河11) bus from Kabe Station. Get off at the Shiofune Kannon entrance bus stop (塩船観音入口). The temple is a 10 minute walk from the bus stop.
Opening times: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm, no closing day.
Admission is free throughout the year except for the Azalea Festival (Tsutsuji Matsuri) from about mid-April to about mid-May. At that time, admission is 300 yen for an adult, children are 100 yen.
At the time of the festival, parking is 700 yen (free at all other times of the year).
Temple address: 194 Shiobune, Ome-shi, Tokyo
Tel: 0428 22 6677
Shiofune Kannon Temple website in Japanese shiofunekannonji.or.jp
Festival dates might slightly vary from year to year. The correct dates can be found on the temple website.
Azalea bushes at Shiofune Kannon Temple, Tokyo