Kimiidera Temple in Wakayama is famous for its cherry blossom that signs the official start of the cherry blossom season in Kansai (western Japan).
Japan Temples & Shrines: Kimiidera Temple, Tokushima 紀三井寺
Starting in March, the trees are carefully observed every day because when they begin to blossom the official start of the cherry blossom season in Kansai begins.
The temple's proper name is Kongoho-ji, the Temple of the Vajra Jewel; the popular name, Kimiidera, refers to the three springs/wells within the temple grounds, the Well of Purity, the Well of Healing and the Well of Good Fortune.
The approach to Kimiidera Temple and Sakuramon in Wakayama
Shinbutsuden Mausoleum built in 2006 at Kimiidera Temple
Kimiidera is located on the hillside overlooking Wakanoura - the Bay of Poetry - so named because the bay has featured in Japanese poems since ancient times.
Kimiidera was founded by a Chinese priest named Iko Shonin in 770. According to the legend, he was told by Kannon in a dream to visit the mountain to gather medicinal plants, and while there saw a brilliant light emanating from the top of the mountain.
Climbing up, he discovered a small, golden statue of Senju Kannon, the Thousand-Armed Kannon. On a later trip to the mountain he met the god of a nearby shrine who told him to carve an image of Kannon using one of the sacred trees in the shrine's grounds. It would be a powerful statue with healing powers.
In the womb of the Juichimen Kannon (11-faced Kannon) that he carved, he placed the small golden statue and made it the main image of the temple he founded on the mountainside, Kimiidera.
11 meter tall gilded statue of the Thousand-armed Kannon at Kimiidera TempleShoro, bell tower dating from 1588 at Kimiidera Temple
It is a "secret" Buddha, only shown to the public every 50 years, and the temple is the second on the 33 temple Kannon Pilgrimage around the Kansai area known as the Saigoku Pilgrimage.
Probably the most famous story about Iko Shonin is that he visited the Dragon King in his undersea palace and brought back gifts including seven cherry seeds which are believed to be the ancestors of the 1,200 cherry trees now in the temple grounds, although an Edo Period version of the story says he got the gifts from the daughter of the Dragon King who appeared out of one of the temples springs as a beautiful woman.
The Hondo, main hall, at Kimiidera temple
The street leading to Kimiidera is lined with shops, as at many famous temples. A short rise leads to the Sakuramon, the great, vermillion Cherry Blossom gate built in 1509 and listed as an Important Cultural Property.
From the gate there is a steep climb of 231 steps known as Ketsuen, after a famous love story from the Edo Period. If you are coming to the temple from Kimiidera Station, it's possible to enter by a side entrance and climb to the temple up a gentler slope.
At the top of the steps is the Rokkakudo, a six-sided building that contains 33 statues representing the different Kannons at all the Saigoku Pilgrimage temples.
Off to the right is a massive building, the Shinbutsuden, a mausoleum built in 2006. In here you will find an impressive 11 meter tall statue of Senju Kannon, carved in wood then lacquered and covered in gold leaf.
Heading towards the Hondo, main hall, you pass the Bell Tower, built in 1588 and also an Important Cultural Property. On the slope behind the main hall is the pagoda, built in 1449 and in Shingon style, though the temple is no longer a Shingon sect temple.
The main hall, the Hondo, dates to 1751 and is also listed as an Important Cultural Property. As well as the sacred springs and the cherry trees, there are also numerous statues around the grounds and an impressive giant Camphor tree reputed to be 800 years old, as well as the great views as far as Awaji Island.
Thousand year old statue of Kannon at Kimiidera TempleThe Tahoto, Shingon style pagoda at Kimiidera Temple
Kimiidera Temple Access
1201 Kimiidera, Wakayama-shi,Wakayama 641-0012
Tel: 073 444 1002
Open from 8am to 5pm. Entry is 200 yen.
Kimiidera Temple is located a short walk from JR Kimiidera Station on the Kisei Line, two stations south of Wakayama Station.
Cherry blossom at Kimiidera temple whose blossoming signals the official start of cherry blossom season in Kansai