If you are already bored with ordinary temples and shrines in Kyoto, you might still want to check out Anao-ji Temple (穴太寺) when you visit Kameoka. The Buddha is covered in a Japanese futon! Known as the 21st temple in The 33 Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, Anao-ji, boasting a history of more than 1,300 years, is one of the oldest temples in the Tamba (丹波) region. What is famous about the Kannon Bodhisattva at Anao-ji Temple is the legend of the Scapegoat Kannon Bodhisattva (身代わり観音).
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The History of Anao-ji Temple
According to the temple’s historical document, Anao-ji was erected in 705 under the order of Emperor Monmu (文武天皇). At the time, a Healing Buddha was enshrined as the main image.
In 962, a powerful official of the Tamba Province had a wife who was a devout Buddhist. Under her request, the official hired a Buddha sculptor to carve a golden Kannon statue. After three months, the statue was completed. The official was pleased with the wonderful workmanship and gifted the monk his horse to express his gratitude and appreciation.
But he later regretted giving his horse away and ordered his subject to kill the sculptor to get this horse back. However, after the official returned home, he was shocked. Standing in front of him was a Kannon statue with red tears flowing from his eyes. Blood was also gushing out of his chest from the wound caused by an arrow. The official soon realized that the Kannon Bodhisattva must have become a surrogate of the sculptor, and with that, no one was killed because of the official’s greed.
At night, the Kannon Bodhisattva appeared in the official’s dream and asked him to bring the statue to Anao-ji so the Healing Buddha could treat the wound. The Kannon statue was later enshrined in Anao-ji as another main image of the temple.
Sadly, the Kannon statue that the monk made more than 1,000 years ago was stolen in 1968. The one enshrined at Anao-ji Temple is a replacement made by a famous craftsman in the Shōwa era (1926 – 1989).
The Buildings at Anao-ji
Although Anao-ji’s precinct isn’t big, the architecture and objects are well-maintained. Most buildings were completed in the mid-Edo period (1603 – 1867).
The temple’s Nio Gate (仁王門), the main entrance, was determined to be completed in the late 17th century. While a lot of the colors of the Nio statues on the sides of the gate have faded, their facial expressions remain scary enough to scare away any evil spirits.
The main worship hall, Hondō (本堂), was restored in 1735 from a fire hazard. Because photography is forbidden inside the worship hall, we can’t show you the splendid ceiling paintings and decorations. But you can refer to the second photo in the Instagram post for its exterior.
You can explore the worship hall by paying a fee. Please refer to the next section of the article for more details.
The bell tower was completed in 1759 (the last two photos in the IG post). Please refrain from striking the bell.
Anao-ji’s pagoda was restored in 1804. It is the only wooden pagoda in Kameoka City. The Kannon-dō (三十三所観音堂) next to the pagoda has sands from all the temples along the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage (西国三十三所). Thus, it is said that praying at Anao-ji’s Kannon-dō gives you the same benefit as visiting all 33 temples.
The Reclining Buddha in a Futon Bed at Anao-ji Temple
In the main worship hall, there is a wooden statue of a reclining Buddha made in the Kamakura period (1192 – 1333). If any part of your body is unwell, you are welcome to turn over the futon and stroke the same part of the Buddha. It is a simple ritual where you can pray for your health.
To see the reclining Buddha, you will need to visit the Honbō Shoin (本坊書院), located just next to the main worship hall.
The admission fee to enter the main worship hall is 300 yen. But we would recommend that you pay for your entry to Honbō Shoin (本坊書院) as well, totaling 500 yen. This is so you can see the gorgeous garden built in the Edo period. You should also be able to admire the traditional settings and paintings.
The Story of the Reclining Buddha at Anao-ji
The Reclining Buddha was not always in Anao-ji’s worship hall. Apparently, it had been sleeping in the worship hall’s attic for a long time and was later discovered in 1896.
At the time, the head priest and his granddaughter fell ill and prayed to the Buddha for recovery day in and day out. One day, a message was delivered in their dream. Following the oracle, they found a Buddha in the attic. The statue was then enshrined in the worship hall, where they prayed to it and soon quickly recovered.
Since then, this Buddha has been referred to as the Reclining Buddha that cures illness. Those who are ill would come to Anao-ji and touch the same body part of the Buddha. The statue is now shiny from the pilgrims’ touches!
Moreover, the Buddha didn’t have any futon or duvet. They were offered by a pilgrim in the 20th century whose illness was treated after stroking the Reclining Buddha. After he recovered, he brought many sets of futons and duvets to keep the Buddha warm. So when you visit the Reclining Buddha, his duvet might have a different cover because the one in the photo was taken out to be washed!
Anao-ji’s Temple Garden
The southern side of the Honbō Shoin (本坊書院) is a gorgeous garden. It was designated as Kyoto Prefecture’s Place of Scenery Beauty. The wooden pagoda forms a part of the view where stones and vegetation are arranged accordingly.
When the weather conditions and lighting are good, the pagoda is reflected on the water’s surface. You can also check out the carp swimming in the water!
While the garden’s pond is small, it still has a boat pier on the garden’s west.
Anao-ji Temple’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Anao-ji Temple is open from 8 am to 5 pm.
- From JR Kameoka Station (亀岡駅), take Keihan Kyoto Kotsū’s (京阪京都交通) route 34 or 59 and get off at Anaoji-mae (穴太寺前).
- You can also take route 60 and get off at Anaoguchi (穴太口).
- You can download one of Japan’s Transport Apps to plan your visit.
Discover Other Parts of Kameoka City
Arashiyama in Kyoto is one of the most popular destinations in the prefecture. But Kameoka City’s scenery is just as amazing as what you can get in Arashiyama, if not better! And the best thing is that it is way less crowded!
For more information about the city, please refer to our Kameoka City article (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.