Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Nariaiji Temple: The Scenic Hidden Gem in Amanohashidate

Amongst all the attractions in Amanohashidate that have lookouts and observation decks, Nariaiji (成相寺) is the one we enjoyed the most! It is the most scenic place in the area throughout the year, especially during the autumn foliage season from early to mid-November. Located further up from Kasamatsu Park, you might be able to see the fantastic sea of clouds scenery from the observation deck in the early morning. In addition, the temple is the 28th temple of the 33 Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.

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How to Get to Nariaiji

To get to Nariaiji, you will need to reach Amanohashidate Kasamatsu Park first. The Nariai Mountaineering Bus (成相寺登山バス) travels between the temple and Kasamatsu Park. The bus stop and ticket booth of the Nariai Mountaineering Bus are close to the chairlift/cable car mountaintop station.

Tip: Sit on the left-hand side of the bus on the way to the temple as the view is much nicer!

The bus ticket includes the admission fee to the temple. If you plan to drive, an admission fee is payable at the temple’s ticket booth.

Instead of a 7-minute bus trip, you can also walk your way up. Be careful as the road is quite steep!

Nariai Mountaineering Bus’s Bus Fare and Timetable

Refer to Tango Kairiku Kōtsū’s website HERE for the current Nariai Mountaineering Bus fare and timetable.

Tip: If you have purchased a Kyoto Amanohashidate and Ine Sightseeing 2-day Pass or a Kyoto Amanohashidate Kasamatsu Sightseeing 2-day Pass, show it to the staff for a steep discount of the bus fare. We only paid 400 yen for a return trip!

Nariaiji Temple’s History

The exact date as to when the temple was completed remains unknown. But it was originally a training ground for mountain worshipping and has even gained respect as one of the five locations where the saints lived.

As time passed by, Nariaiji became a place where the pilgrims’ wishes were granted by the Buddhas. This was why Emperor Monmu (文武天皇) chose it to be the temple where the Imperial Family prayed in 704. It is also why the Imperial Family’s chrysanthemum crest can be seen across the temple.

Nariaiji Temple’s Legend

If you are wondering why Nariaiji is known as a temple where the Buddhas grant pilgrims’ wishes, the answer lies within the temple’s legend.

It is said that once upon a time, there was a monk who stayed in a small hut in the deep mountains during his training in winter. The surroundings were covered by heavy snow. The monk ran out of food, and no one was around to rescue him. At the brink of starving to death, he prayed to the Kannon Bodhisattva. He said, “Please bestow me food to survive today”.

Half asleep, he noticed a badly injured deer lying outside the hut. As a monk who was taught that he shouldn’t eat meat, he was torn between whether to eat the deer or not. In the end, he cut off the deer’s leg and ate it to survive.

Soon after, the snow melted, and the villagers came to the monk’s rescue. What surprised them was that the Kannon statue enshrined in the hut was missing a leg and that there were a lot of wooden chips in a cooking pot. Being made aware of what had happened, the monk realized that the Kannon Bodhisattva had transformed himself into the deer. The monk then gathered all the wooden chips and stuck them back to the statue.

The hut, later Nariaiji Temple, is thus known as a place where your wishes are granted. The temple’s name, Nariai, is also derived from the legend.

The Chimeless Bell (撞かずの鐘)

If you take the Nariai Mountaineering Bus to the temple, get off at the last stop. The bus stop is very close to the temple’s main worship hall. It is also where the main facilities of the temple are located. Feel free to borrow the bamboo sticks placed at the bottom of the staircase.

The first building along the long staircases in front of the main worship hall is a bell tower. Interestingly, this bell tower is enclosed. This means that no one can knock the bell.

The story about the bell goes all the way back to 1609, when the head priest collected donations from the locals to cast a new bell for Nariaiji. One day, he ran into a seemingly wealthy woman. However, the woman refused to contribute anything and replied, “While I have many children, I don’t have any money for the temple”.

The priest eventually gathered enough money. Many came to witness the process of casting the bell, including the woman. This was when tragedy struck. The lady accidentally dropped her baby into the melted copper container. It was said that the bell produced beautiful sounds. But the locals who knew the story said that they would always hear baby’s crying sounds and the devastated screams of the woman.

Thus, it was decided that the bell would not be struck again to pray for the baby’s afterlife.

One-Wish-One-Sentence Jizō (一願一言の地蔵さん)

Close to the top of the staircases, there is a Jizō Bodhisattva. The statue is more than 650 years old. It is amazing how the statue isn’t badly weathered!

Apparently, he will grant your wish if you say it precisely. This is why he is known as the One-Wish-One-Sentence Jizō (Hitokoto no Jizō-san, 一願一言の地蔵さん). Note that your wish must be your lifelong wish and is truly important to you.

Hondō (本堂) – The Main Worship Hall

The main worship hall was originally located further up the mountain. However, the mountain collapsed, so it was moved to where it is now.

Although the current Hondō was completed in 1774, the Kannon Bodhisattva on the altar has a longer history. The statue is believed to have been carved during the Heian period (794 – 1185).

Because Nariaiji was once a temple where the Imperial Family prayed, the chrysanthemum crest can be seen everywhere in the worship hall.

When you get there, remember to check out the various plaques and paintings hung from the ceiling (refer to the 4th and the 5th photos in the IG post). They are works of famous artists from various periods. In particular, check out the dragon carving called Mamuki no Ryū (真向の龍). It is said that the Kannon Bodhisattva helped to create this artwork.

In the Edo period, a sculptor from the Hida region named Hidari Jingoro (左 甚五郎) was entrusted with the task of carving a dragon to offer to Nariaiji to pray for rain. However, he was deeply troubled as has never seen a dragon before.

One night, he learnt where he could see a dragon in his dream. Following the clues, he arrived at a waterfall basin in Mt. Nariai. He then faced a worship hall dedicated to the Kannon Bodhisattva and prayed. On the third day, a dragon emerged from the waterfall basin and flew to the sky.

The carving you will see in the worship hall is the dragon that appeared a few centuries ago! Whether you see the dragon from the left or right, it will seem to be looking at you!

There is also a miniature five-story pagoda at the entrance for you to examine each story in detail (the last photo in the IG post).

The Head Priest’s Dwelling

If you head right from the Hondō and down the stairs, you will reach Nariaiji’s head priest’s dwelling. All the sliding doors are usually shut. But it is a nice spot to visit if you want some photos of the traditional architecture without strangers in the background.

If you are lucky that the priest has guests visiting when you get there, you will be able to see what one of the rooms looks like.

When we got there, the priest was talking to the guests. We were able to see the large mandala and the beautifully painted paper sliding doors in the room (refer to the 2nd photo in the IG post).

Mt. Benten Observatory (弁天山展望台)

After you have finished exploring the area around the main worship hall, slowly walk down to the ticket booth. Close to it is the promenade to Mt. Benten Observatory. It is the must-visit spot in Nariaiji.

In addition, while Amanohashidate Kasamatsu Park claims to be the Birthplace of Matanozoki, according to Nariaiji, this Mt. Benten Observatory was the first place where people started to view the sandbar from under their crotches.

At the end of the road, before making a U-turn, it is a nice spot to oversee the temple’s famous five-story pagoda (2nd photo in the IG post). While the view from there is awesome, it isn’t the observatory.

At the end of the stairs, your field of vision will suddenly open up. The 3rd photo in the IG post was taken from the side of the observatory. Although Amanohashidate is somewhat blocked by the vegetation, we did like the red color of the trees next to the guarding rail (at the bottom of the photo).

Mt. Benten Observatory has two stories. The lower level is another place in Amanohashidate where you can try the Pottery Plate Throwing. We reckon that the loop at Mt. Benten Observatory is the hardest challenge to complete as the ring is located further from where you can stand.

The scenery from the second floor of Mt. Benten Observatory is truly impressive. Although it can be a little scary if you are afraid of heights, gather your courage and head to the guarding rail for a photo with a picturesque view!

Nariaiji’s Five-Story Pagoda (五重塔)

The five-story pagoda close to Mt. Benten Observatory was restored in 2000. It is one of the few places in Japan where you can adorn the Kamakura-style buildings.

Close to the pagoda, there is a small pond. The pond is known as The Bottomless Pond With a Legend (奇怪な話の底なし池). There is a small Benzaiten shrine in the middle of the pond (the 2nd photo in the IG post).

It is said that a large serpent used to live in the pond. Because it kept eating the children living in Nariaiji, a monk decided to make a fake child filled with gunpowder. The serpent’s stomach then exploded after it ate the trap. Due to the immense pain, the serpent went down the hill and sank into the sea surrounding Amanohashidate.

Although a photo of the pagoda from any angle is stunning, there is a best photo spot. There is a small stand close to the bus stop by the road to the temple’s gate. By placing your camera on a stand, you can easily get this astonishing photo above.

Mt. Nariai Panoramic Overlook (パノラマ展望台)

To get to Mt. Nariai Panoramic Overlook for a magnificent view of Amanohashidate, you have to walk your way up for around 40 minutes from the trailhead close to Mt. Benten Observatory. The slope is steep, so it is best to drive up, especially if you are after the sea of cloud scenery. It will only take 5 minutes.

Note that the fog/cloud will disappear as the temperature increases slowly after sunrise.

There is a cafe next to the lookout that will be perfect for anyone who wants to take a break or have a light meal.

© Tango Kairiku Kotsu

The Cafe Bijin Saryō (カフェ美人茶寮) next to Mt. Nariai Panoramic Overlook only opens from 10 am to 4 pm on weekends and public holidays from late March to early December. Refer to the official website HERE for some photos.

Nariaiji Temple’s Opening Hours and Admission Fee

  • Nariaiji Temple is open from 8 am to 4:30 pm
  • The admission fee is:
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 200 yen for middle and high school students
    • Free otherwise

Discover Other Attractions in Amanohashidate

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

Obviously Nariaiji isn’t the only attraction in the celebrated destination in 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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