Byakugo-ji history and quick facts:
Byakugo-ji (白毫寺), a Buddhist temple situated at the foot of Mt. Takamado, in Nara City, Japan. It is believed to have been originally built as the villa of Prince Shiki (志貴皇子), the father of Emperor Kōnin (光仁天皇), and a famous poet from the 7th to 8th century.
Prince Shiki’s father was the 38th Emperor of Japan known as Emperor Tenji (天智天皇) also known as Emperor Tenchi. Prince Shiki’s works are contained in Man’yô-shû (万葉集), Japan’s first anthology compiled in the 8th century.
During the Muromachi era (1336-1573), the original buildings were destroyed by fire in the local wars that disturbed life in this region. The few original images that were salvaged from the fire were carefully preserved. In the Edo period (1603-1867), saint Kuukei from the Kōfuku-ji (興福寺) reconstructed the buildings of the temple. A wooden statue of Kuukei is located in one of the temple halls as a reminder of this great work.
Main attraction of Byakugo-ji:
The scary image of King Enma (閻魔王), it is the most striking image when you enter the Hon-dō (本堂) or Main Hall. He wears a big crown and bears a sceptre in his hands. He is not only the ruler but also the judge of the underworld and passes judgment on all the dead. He always appears in a male form, and his minions include a judge who holds in his hands a brush and a book listing every soul and the allotted death date for every life. Read more here!
Cultural Assets of Byakugo-ji Temple:
(1) The wooden seated statue of Amida Nyōrai (阿弥陀仏), the principal statue, was carved in the Fujiwara period (894-1185).
(2) The wooden seated statues of Enma-ō (閻魔王坐像), Yama, the ruler of the Hades and his dependents Taizan’ō (木造太山王坐像), Shiroku (司録) and Shimyō (司命) carved in the Kamakura period. Taizan-ō was carved by Kōen (康円) in 1259 and has an inscription documenting repairs in 1498.
(3) The wooden seated statue of Monju Bosatsu (文殊菩薩坐像), Kamakura period.
(4) The wooden standing statue of Jizō Bosatsu Statue (木地蔵菩薩立像), Kamakura period,
(5) The wooden seated statue or Kōshō Bosatsu (木造興正菩薩坐像), Kamakura period.
Meaning of Byakugo-ji:
“Byakugo-ji” is a term that refers to short, blond hairs on the brow of the Buddha. The Buddha has 32 different symbolic facial expressions. “Byakugo” signifies one of these. The temple was built to celebrate this important manifestation of the Buddha. Various ancient inscriptions indicate that this temple was one of a series where Buddhist monks studied the writings and traditions of Buddhism to search out the deep values of this ancient religion.
Man’yô-shû poem memorial stone:
The following is a poem from Man’yô-shû lamenting the death of Prince Shiki (志貴皇子) in 716.
The bush clovers in the autumn meadow of Takamado,
Do they bloom in vain and fall,
When there is no one to see?
— Man’yô-shû, No. 231.See all pictures here
Interesting spots at Byakugo-ji:
Byakugo-ji is famous for the Goshiki-tsubaki (五色椿) or coloured camellia in spring. This is a rare tree which bear flowers of different colours like red, white, pink and spotted ones on each branch of the tree. The tree is 400 years old and is designated as “Natural monument.”
In autumn this temple draws many people to see the white and red flowers of bush clovers, blooming on both sides of the stone paved approach to the gate, and in the precinct.