Buried deep in the mountain, whether it is in Sendai City or within the Miyagi Prefecture, Saihōji Temple (定義如来 西方寺) is one of the top tourist attractions. It is no wonder Hanyu Yuzuru and his family were willing to visit the temple regularly. The temple, located in the west of Sendai City, can be reached by direct bus. If you plan to drive there, stop briefly at the stunning Ōkura Dam (大倉ダム) for a relaxing stroll!
The main image of Saihōji erected in 1198, is Amida Buddha. But instead of a Buddha statue, it is a hanging scroll. Although a hanging scroll might sound rather ordinary, it was brought to Japan due to Taira no Shigemori’s (平重盛) gold donation to Mt. Wutai (五台山) in China.
Taira no Shigemori was the eldest son of Taira no Kiyomori (平清盛), who established the first samurai-dominated administrative government in the late 12th period.
When Can You See the Amida Buddha Scroll
The Amida Buddha scroll is a hidden Buddha in Saihōji. So if you are interested in meeting this treasure, visit the temple on one of the below dates.
- On the 7th of January, Saihōji’s anniversary
- On the 6th and the 7th of April, the spring festival
- On the 6th and the 7th of July, the summer festival and Sadayoshi’s anniversary
- On the 6th and the 7th of October, the autumn festival
In 1185, the Taira clan lost the Battle of Dan-no-Ura (壇ノ浦の戦い). At the time, Taira no Sadayoshi (平貞能), the chief retainer of the Taira clan, carried the hanging scroll and traveled around the country to escape from Genji’s (源氏) chase. In the end, Sadayoshi arrived at where Saihōji is today.
To hide his true identity, Sadayoshi changed his name to Jōgi (定義) and later passed away when he was 60.
Adhering to Sadayoshi’s will, a small temple was built above his grave by his vassal. The Amida Buddha’s hanging scroll was then enshrined in the temple, which later became the Jōgi Saihōji.
Saihōji’s Magnificent Sanmon Gate
Assuming you are taking a bus from Sendai Station, the splendid Sanmon Gate is just around a 5-minute walk from the bus stop, Jōgi.
However, as shops and restaurants are formed into a long approach, you might take a lot longer to arrive at the temple! (´▽｀*).
Sadayoshi-dō (御廟貞能堂), Mausoleum for Taira Sadayoshi
Directly opposite the Sanmon Gate is Sadayoshi-dō, the temple built above Taira Sadayoshi’s grave. Before the Daihondō was completed in 1999, Sadayoshi-dō was Saihōji’s main worship hall.
Saihōji’s Buddha was also known as someone who can fulfill your once-in-a-lifetime wish. Some pilgrims would even indulge themselves with the smoke from the incense burner in the photo, as it was believed that you could receive Buddha’s blessing by doing so.
In fact, there are stories of pilgrims’ diseases being recovered instantly as the smoke reached their affected body parts!
At the left of Sadayoshi-dō, you can purchase Omamori (amulet) and ask for Sadayoshi-dō’s Goshuin from the temple’s office.
You can also get the Goen-musubi (ご縁結び) ema plaque here if you have relationship-related prayers. These plaques are quite cute. Instead of the usual pentagon-shaped plaque, it has a round shape, decorated with floral images.
The Goen-musubi ema rack is located at the back of Sadayoshi-dō.
The Sacred Tree for Marriage Tie (縁結びの御神木) and Emperor Mound (天皇塚)
Close to the Goen-musubi ema rack, there is a giant Zelkova protected by a hut. While the tree seems to be just one Zelkova, there are actually two of them!
As the two Zelkovas grow, their trunks entwine and later become the one tree that people would refer to as the tree Renri no Keyaki (連理の欅), the Zelkova for marriage. Thus, the tree is one of the most popular spots in Saihōji where people would pray for a happy and healthy marriage.
Under the Zelkova trees, there is an emperor mound. What is buried in the mound is the memento of Emperor Antoku (安徳天皇).
In addition to the Amida Buddha’s hanging scroll, what Sadayoshi had been protecting was Emperor Antoku’s memento. When he settled down in Sendai, he buried the memento and prayed for the emperor’s afterlife.
So how did Emperor Antoku’s possession fall into Sadayoshi’s hands?
It is because Taira no Kiyomori’s daughter Tokuko married into the imperial family. Emperor Antoku was Tokuko’s son, enthroned when he was just one year and four months old. However, the Taira clan lost the Battle of Dan-no-Ura, and Emperor Antoku lost his life in the civil war when he was only six years and four months old.
The sacred Zelkova trees were planted after Emperor Mound was built.
Chōmeisui Fountain (長命水)
As you follow the approach and proceed further to the main hall, you will walk past a water fountain called Chōmeisui (長命水). Drinking the water from the fountain is said to prolong your life. Whether the legend is true or not, the water is delicious (^_-)-☆.
This is why the drinks served in the temple’s teahouse use the water from the Chōmeisui Fountain!
The Statue of Victory – Jizō Bodhisattva (将軍地蔵)
Not too far away from the Chōmeisui fountain, a Jizō Bodhisattva is enshrined in a small temple.
Originally, the Bodhisattva was known for his power to alleviate head-related illnesses. But nowadays, many pilgrims would pray to him for victory. Because this Jizō Bodhisattva is called “Shōgun (将軍)”, which can also be written as the “勝軍”, meaning the winning army.
Saihōji’s Main Worship Hall – Daihondō (大本堂)
The Daihondō Hall is where the Jōgi Amida Buddha is enshrined. The building’s construction was completed in 1999. With the number of cypress trees from the Aomori Prefecture used for this construction, Saihōji’s Daihondō is the biggest Aomori cypress wooden structure completed in the 20th century.
Chanting service takes place daily at Daihondō. You can still enter the worship hall even if you didn’t apply for the service.
If you would like the temple to assist you with your prayers, apply at the Daihondō’s temple office and let them know your name, address, and prayers. After the ritual, you will receive a talisman and an amulet containing a piece of paper with your name and prayers written.
Saihōji is also a famous place to pray for the conception of a child and safe delivery. So at Daihondō, there are Child Conception Figures (子授け人形) and Safe Delivery Pillow (安産枕) that you can borrow.
After your wish comes true, you must return the figure and/or make a new pillow and gift it to the temple for the next female pilgrim.
Saihōji’s Five-Story Pagoda (五重塔)
To get to Saihōji’s symbol, the Five-Story Pagoda, there are two paths you can choose from. A smaller approach leads to the back of the pagoda or the main road.
The pagoda was built to pray for Sadayoshi’s afterlife and eternal peace for humanity. You will definitely be surprised by its magnificence!
Tip: Plan your visit from March to November on the 7th of each month to see the Amida Buddha in the pagoda.
Teahouse Yasuragi (席 やすらぎ)
In the pagoda’s garden, you can take a rest at Teahouse Yasuragi and enjoy a cup of matcha green tea and some Japanese sweets.
The cafe is also where you can get the pagoda’s Goshuin.
- Teahouse Yasuragi is open from
- 10 am to 3 pm on weekdays
- 10 am to 3:30 pm on weekends and public holidays
- The teahouse may close from December to March.
Temple Museum, Tamatebako (展示室玉手箱)
Next to the teahouse, there is a small museum exhibiting the temple’s history. It is also a place to learn the local customs. Although English notation is limited, browsing through the photos and models while listening to nursery rhymes can be quite interesting.
The Best Time to Visit Saihōji
While Saihōji is scenic throughout the year, autumn is probably the best season to visit it, which peaks in late October.
Saihōji Temple’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Saihōji is open from 8 am to 4:15 pm, with the Daihōndo opening early at 7:45 am.
- From Sendai Station, take the Sendai City Bus bound for Jōgi from bus stop no. 10 at Sendai Station’s west exit and get off at the terminal stop, Jōgi (定義).
- After you get off the bus, the road at the left leads to the shops and the Sanmon Gate. If you choose to go straight, you will arrive at the Hōndo Hall and the Five-Story Pagoda first.
Note that the bus trip takes around an hour and only one service is available every one or two hours. So keep an eye on the time when you explore Saihōji.
With that being said, as most people spend around 40 to 60 minutes in the temple, you will most likely be able to catch the next bus going back to Sendai’s city center at the end of your visit.
Tip: There is a well-maintained waiting room with a clean toilet at the bus stop.
Must-Try Gyōgi Street Food No. 2: Yakimeshi (焼きめし)
Another street food that you have to try at Gyōgi is the grilled Yakimeshi (riceball)! There are a few places on Saihōji’s approach that are selling it. If you can’t find any, try either Hayatomi (はやとみ) or Seisui-kan (清水館).
The riceball is quite big! Compared to the riceballs sold at Japanese convenience stores, the Yakimeshi at Gyōgi is around 1.5 times bigger!
Depending on where you get the riceball from, it might be miso or soy sauce-flavored. However, no matter what flavor it is, the nice, slightly burnt smell is just appetizing and goes really well with the triangular deep-fried bean curd from Gyōgi Tofu Shop!
Tip: If you are after the Yakimeshi, head to the restaurants early to avoid disappointment. This is especially the case for weekends and public holidays.
Discover Other Fantastic Attractions in Sendai
You might not be aware of it, but Sendai, the Tōhoku region‘s biggest city, receives more than 20 million tourists each year!
So if you want to find out how Sendai managed to attract so many people to visit it, refer to our article on Sendai, which is filled with historical, cultural, and natural attractions (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.