Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Onsenji Temple: Kinosaki Onsen’s Guardian Temple

If you have read our Kinosaki Onsen article, do you remember our history talk about the monk, Dōchi Shōnin (道智上人), who uncovered the spring source of the hot spring town? The story continues and is the origin of Onsenji Temple at Mt. Daishi. In the past, those who visited Kinosaki for the hot spring would pray to Dōchi Shōnin’s grave at the temple first. This is to show their appreciation for his discovery of the hot spring.

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Onsenji Temple’s History

It is said that Dōchi Shōnin not only discovered the hot spring sauce but also established a temple and enshrined a Kannon statue to look after the onsen town. The Kannon statue isn’t just another Buddhist statue. It was made from the same wood as the Kannon statue in the famous Hasedera (長谷寺) Temple in Nara!

The Kannon Statue was initially made for the Chōrakuji Temple (長楽寺) close to Hasedera. When it was nearly finished, the sculptor suffered a stroke. After learning about Dōchi Shōnin and the sacred hot spring’s healing benefits, he visited Kinosaki to treat this illness. As expected, he soon became healthy. Just before returning to Nara, he saw a Kannon statue lying in the water at a port nearby, so he saved it with the villagers’ help. To his surprise, the Kannon statue was the one that he left unfinished in Nara!

He learnt the statue was thrown into a river because an epidemic near Chōrakuji broke out. At the time, the Japanese believed that unhappy Kannon statues would cause epidemics. The statue was repeatedly saved from the water but was thrown back to a water source again because unfortunate events or epidemics happened where the statue was enshrined. In the end, the statue reached Kinosaki.

After the sculptor met Dōchi Shōnin, he told him about what happened to the Kannon statue and had a small hut built for it. Before the sculptor departed for Nara, he entrusted the Kannon statue to Dōchi Shōnin. Dōchi Shōnin then received an oracle from Kannon Bodhisattva and erected Onsenji in 738 with the Kannon statue enshrined as the main image.

Onsenji and Kinosaki Onsen

Compared to the other large Kannon statues made from the same sacred tree, the one at Kinosaki Onsen is the smallest. This is because it was made using the top part of the tree. So the village where the statue is enshrined was named “Ki no saki”, the tip of the tree.

How to Get to Onsenji Temple

The temple is located in the middle of Mt. Daishi. There are two ways to get to the temple. The first way is climbing the pilgrimage path that stretches from the temple’s Sanmon Gate. It consists of around 450 staircases. At the trailhead, wooden/bamboo sticks are placed for you to borrow. Most people won’t want to spend 10 to 15 minutes climbing, so you will most likely have the entire path to yourself!

You can also utilize Kinosaki Onsen Ropeway (城崎温泉ロープウェイ) and get off at Onsenji Station (温泉寺駅). After you have your fill of the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful scenery around the temple, walk or take the ropeway down.

Of course, you can walk all the way down from the summit, but it is better to have proper knee protection gear.

Note that if the ropeway from the summit is packed, you won’t be able to board it at Onsenji Station.

Onsenji’s Sanmon Gate (山門)

The magnificent two-story Sanmon Gate marks the temple’s precinct. It was rebuilt between 1764 and 1772. The gate is made of zelkova and is worth examining, such as the carvings. The plaque hung below the gate’s ceiling has the temple’s prefix (山号), Matsudaisan (末代山), written. The initial writing was done by the daughter of Emperor Gosai (後西天皇).

The two guardian deities are from the Kamakura period (1192 – 1333). The lines of body muscle and their facial impressions are realistically depicted.

© 豊岡市
© 豊岡市

In front of the gate, you will find one of Kinosaki Onsen’s spring sources (城崎温泉元湯). This source has the most onsen flowing out and has a high temperature. It is just amazing to see the hot spring continuously flowing out from the top of a big rock!

Onsenji’s Yakushidō (薬師堂)

The first building passing the temple’s Sanmon Gate is Yakushidō Hall. The splendidly decorated building was restored at the beginning of the 19th century. Like other Yakushidō, a Healing Buddha is enshrined here. He has been looking after the visitors of Kinosaki Onsen since he was enshrined here.

Sunlight and Moonlight Bodhisattva (日光月光菩薩) and the Twelve Divine Generals (十二神将) are standing on this side. Thus, you can meet all the key members of the Healing Buddha’s world in one go!

© 豊岡市

Also, there is a hot spring drinking fountain at Yakushidō Hall, close to the foot of Mt. Daishi. It is said drinking the onsen is good for chronic gastrointestinal disease and chronic constipation.

Onsenji’s Hondō (温泉寺本堂)

© 豊岡市

To see the more than two meters tall Kannon statue where Dōchi Shōnin (道智上人) is enshrined here, visit Onsenji during the Onsen Festival (温泉まつり) on the 23rd and the 24th of April. Otherwise, the National Important Cultural Property is only shown to the public once every 33 years.

The statue is enshrined in the temple’s main worship hall, Hondō. The amazingly built hall was completed in the 1380s.

In addition to the gigantic Kannon statue, there is a smaller version made by Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師), the founder of Kōyasan. The Thousand Hand Kannon (千手観音) in Japan commonly has 42 arms. But the one that was carved by Kōbō Daishi has 834 arms!

☛ The scenery from Hondō is amazing!
☛ The staff here is friendly and can most likely give you a tour!

Onsenji Temple’s Opening Hours and Admission Fee

  • The temple is open from 9 am to 5 pm but might close if the ropeway is not operating on the day.
  • It is free to stroll around the temple, but if you want to enter the main hall, it will cost 300 yen.
  • Yakushidō Hall (薬師堂) is open from
    • 8:30 am to 5 pm in summer
    • 9 am to 4:30 pm in winter.
  • You can also get a combo ticket for 400 yen that allows you access to the Kinosaki Museum of Art (城崎美術館).

Visit Kinosaki Onsen for Extraordinary Michelin Certified Sceneries

Click the photo to find out more about the stunning Onsen Town

Kinosaki Onsen is a hot spring resort with rich historical and cultural elements that also sports many recreational activities. In addition, the spectacular view from Mt. Daishi is the recipient of a two Michelin star rating!

So when you visit it, don’t just stay in the ryokan or public bathhouses. Explore the town!

For more information, please refer to our article on Kinosaki Onsen!