Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Iwama-dera – A Peaceful Temple in the Mountain of Ōtsu

If you are driving, you can stop by Iwama-dera Temple (岩間寺) after visiting Ishiyama-dera. It is the 12th temple on the 33 Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage. The temple founded by Taichō (泰澄) is formally known as Iwamasan Shōhō-ji (岩間山正法寺). It is situated close to the summit of Mt. Iwama (岩間山). The mountain, of an altitude of 443 meters, stands on the borders of Shiga and Kyoto Prefecture.

Taichō is a revered monk who established temples in Mt. Haku in Ishikawa Prefecture (not too far away from Kanazawa). It is also said that because of his prayers and chants for Empress Genshō (元正天皇), she was able to recover from a serious illness.

In 722, after the Empress had regained her health, Taichō founded Iwama-dera based on the Empress’ request.

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

The temple is built in an area with many large wig trees. In fact, the main image, the thousand-armed Kannon statue, was made from one of the wig trees by Taichō. He then placed the 15 cm Buddha statue of Empress Genshō inside the 1:1 scale Kannon statue.

The Various Kannon Statues in Iwama-dera

One mysterious fact about the Kannon statue in the main worship hall is that it ‘sweats’. It is said that the reason is that the Kannon Bodhisattva is saving those in hell each night. The Kannon here is therefore known as the sweating Kannon (Asekaki Kannon, 汗かき観音).

The Kannon statue in the main worship hall isn’t the only Kannon statue on the precinct. For example, close to the car park, there is one that is called Senility Prevention Kannon (Bokefūji Kannon, ぼけふうじ観音). It is the Kannon to pray to if you wish to prevent yourself from becoming senile in your later years.

According to legend, thunderstorms frequently happened in the area when Taichō was getting the temple erected, causing many troubles and disturbances to the builders. Using his supernatural powers, Taichō contained the thunder god. During his conversation with the thunder god about why he kept attacking the area, the god eventually surrendered and became a disciple of Taichō. He also promised Taichō that he won’t let the temple’s pilgrims suffer from disasters caused by thunder.

This is why the Kannon at Iwama-dera is also known as Thunder Prevention Kannon (Kaminariyoke Kannon, 雷除け観音). You will also find a small shrine underneath a 26-meter-tall ginkgo tree.

In addition, because the temple lacks a water source, it is said that the thunder god, that appeared in the shape of a dragon, dug out a well with its claws. The spring source is thus known as Raijin Tsume Hori Yūsen (雷神爪堀湧泉). It is said that drinking it will bring you the benefit of good health and longevity.

If you ever wonder which Kannon is the real Kannon, all of them are Kannon Bodhisattva. He will transform into anything that can save living creatures and guide them to the path of becoming a Buddha.

Bashō-no-ike Pond (芭蕉の池)

In between the main worship hall and the Fudō-dō Hall, there is a small but gorgeous pond called Bashō-no-ike Pond (芭蕉の池).

The pond got its name after the famous Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō (松尾芭蕉), who wrote a Haiku poem (俳句) about the sound that he heard when he was there.

Ⓒ びわ湖大津観光協会

The poem goes: Furuike ya Kawazu Tobikomu Mizu no Oto (古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音), which means:

The ancient pond
A frog jumps in
The sound of water

Looking carefully around the pond, you might even spot a frog sitting on top of a rock (^_-)-☆.

Other Things to Check out at Iwama-dera

Ⓒ びわ湖大津観光協会

There is a gigantic ginkgo tree in front of the main worship hall, restored in 1577 and renovated in the mid-Edo period. The tree is more than 450 years old and looks even more beautiful when its leaves turn golden in autumn.

Also, on one side of the precinct, there is a rock that has a dragon god residing. It has been told that if a female prays to the rock, the Hakuhi Ryūjin (白姫龍神) will make both her appearance and heart more beautiful and wholesome!

Okumiya Shrine (奥宮神社)

If you have time and can climb up some steep slopes, you can trek further up for around 10 minutes to Okumiya Shrine.

The shrine has nothing to do with Iwama-dera. However, getting there means you have crossed the border and arrived at Kyoto Prefecture (´▽`*). Also, you can get a magnificent view of Lake Biwa and Ōtsu City!

The Fall Foliage Season at Iwama-dera

The autumn color usually peaks from late November to early December each year.

Iwama-dera’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The temple is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
  • The admission fee for the main worship hall is 500 yen.
  • On the 17th of each month, shuttle buses will connect between JR/Keihan Ishiyama Station (石山駅) and Iwama-dera.
    • For the timetable, please refer to the link on their website HERE. You can translate the webpage to English with Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.
  • It is possible to get to the temple via public transport. From Ishiyama Station, take Keihan Bus route no. 52, 53, or 54 bound for Shinhama (新浜) and get off at Naka Senchō  (中千町). From there, it is a 50-minute walk.

Discover Other Attractions in Ōtsu City

Click the photo to find out more about this stunning spot!

Ōtsu, the capital of Shiga Prefecture is a city filled with rich cultural and historical elements. Although it only lasted for five years, we are sure after you admire the scenery of Japan’s biggest lake – Lake Biwa, it won’t be hard to understand why Emperor Tenji (天智天皇) wanted to stay close to it!

For more information, please refer to our article on Ōtsu City (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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