Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Chionji: The Temple in Amanohashidate to Gain More Wisdom

From Amanohashidate Station, if you head straight to the shore, Chionji Temple (智恩寺) is the first main attraction you will encounter. The temple is ranked first of the three temples in Japan dedicated to the Monju Bodhisattva (文殊菩薩), the widest Bodhisattva in Buddhism. Because up until a few centuries ago, Amanohashidate was part of the temple’s territory, many landmarks and local specialties’ names are related to Monju Bodhisattva. Even today, the temple continues to have a special presence in the area.

The Monju Bodhisattva is known as the bodhisattva who has the most wisdom. In fact, the locals would add the word “wisdom” to the objects around them, along with the things they sell. For example, the wisdom pine or even the wisdom mochi/rice cake. After all, who doesn’t want to have more wisdom?

And because the Monju Bodhisattva is enshrined there, many pilgrims would come to pray for more wisdom and academic success.

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Chionji Temple’s Sanmon Gate (三門)

Being just a 5-minute walk from the station, you can cut the travel time even shorter by entering the temple from its side gate at the temple’s car park, leading you straight to the temple’s worship hall!

If you enter the temple from its side gate, we recommend leaving it from its main gate instead of exiting it from another side gate at the other end. The gate is Kyoto Prefecture’s cultural property and was named Ōgonkaku (黄金閣), meaning Golden Court, commemorating the gold received from one of the Japanese emperors.

The two-storied Ōgonkaku isn’t just a gate but has a worship hall on its second floor, enshrining the Gautama Buddha and the 16 Arhats at his side. Sadly, it is not open to the public.

© Tango Kairiku Kotsu

Pagoda (多宝塔)

Passing through the main gate, the splendid pagoda, built more than 1,500 years ago, will certainly catch your attention. It is the only pagoda left in the Tango region (丹後地方) that was built in the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573).

Inside the pagoda, the Vairocana (also known as the Dainichi Buddha (大日如来)) is enshrined.

Chikara-ishi Stones (力石)

Opposite the pagoda, there are three stones on the approach’s right-hand side. These stones are called Chikara-ishi.

Chikara means strength or power. During the local festivals, young men competed with each other by lifting the stones. Because the biggest one weighs 130kg (the middle one weighs 100kg and the small one weighs around 70kg), only those with enough strength can lift it up.

Nowadays, the stones are treated as objects that can grant power and wisdom to those who touch them. Remember to give them a good touch when you visit Chionji Temple!

The small passageway close to Chikara-ishi leads to Amanohashidate Sightseeing Boat Pier (天橋立観光船のりば 天橋立駅) and Chienowa Stone Lantern (智恵の輪石灯籠), the Lantern of Wisdom. You can refer to the second photo in the Instagram Post.

Purification Fountain (鉄湯舟)

In front of the worship hall, you will find a round stoup for gargling and purifying your hands. If you have been to other temples or shrines in Japan, you may notice that this fountain is of a completely different style. And you are correct. Chionji’s purification fountain was initially built for a different purpose.

The stoup was made in the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333) as the temple’s bathtub. After the temple decided to use it as a purification fountain, it became one of the few Japan’s National Cultural Properties that you can use!

Monju-dō (文殊堂) and the Cats

Monju-dō is Chionji’s main worship hall. Because the main image is Monju Bodhisattva (文殊菩薩), it was named Monju-dō. While the building was largely renovated in the Edo period, the four main pillars in the middle were from the Kamakura period. The words written by those who visited Chionji centuries ago can still be seen!

Similar to many other temples in Japan, the main image is hidden in the altar. But if you visit Chionji when events are held, you can see the statue of Monju Bodhisattva riding a lion! It depicts his journey from India to China.

The wisdom of Monju Bodhisattva is what can relieve the worries and sufferings of many people and lead them to peace of mind.

If you want to offer an incense stick, put some coins into the donation box. After that, pick up a stick and light it with the charcoal (refer to the 2nd and the 3rd photos in the IG post).

The pleasant scent of the incense symbolizes those who have reached enlightenment.

Besides the items related to Buddhism, you might also encounter something cute! Whenever we visited Chionji Temple, a few cats would always linger around Monju-dō (refer to the last 2 photos in the IG post). The staff said that the cats are looked after by the temple, which is why they always chill in the precinct!

Chionji Temple’s Fortune Slips

© 海の京都DMO

The most interesting thing about Chionji Temple is probably the fortune slips there. Although the fan-shaped fortune slips are just too cute not to take them home, it is better if you tie them up on either the pine tree if your slip predicts good fortune or on the cedar if the content on the slip isn’t as favorable.

Make sure that you tie your slip on the right tree. The pronunciation of pine is “matsu”, which is the same as “expecting”. And for cedar, it is pronounced as “sugi”, which is the same as “past”.

You don’t want to tie your upcoming good fortune to a tree that symbolizes the past or bad fortune to a tree with a name pronounced the same as “expected”!

Chionji Temple’s Opening Hours and Access Information

  • Chionji Temple is open from 8 am to 5 pm.
  • The temple is a 5-minute walk from Amanohashidate Station.

Discover Other Attractions in Amanohashidate

Click the photo to find out about other attractions in Amanohashidate!

Obviously, Chionji isn’t the only attraction in the celebrated destination of Kyoto!

Check out our article on Amanohashidate to find out what else you can do there and how the 5,000 pine trees can grow on the 3.6 km sandbar surrounded by seawater!

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