My Travels, Shiga-ken — September 17, 2013 at 3:32 PM

Iwama-dera: High-up on Iwamazan in Ōtsu-shi!

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This is the Hondō of the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) on Iwamazan in Ōtsu-shi! The Hondō was constructed in 1577, and was extensively renovated in during the mid-18th century. It has a beautiful cypress bark shingled roof with delicately curved ends and impressive decoration.

This is the Hondō of the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) on Iwamazan in Ōtsu-shi! The Hondō was constructed in 1577, and was extensively renovated in during the mid-18th century. It has a beautiful cypress bark shingled roof with delicately curved ends and impressive decoration.

Last week Friday (13th) we, my friend Barry and I, went for a hike in the Kasatori area of Kyoto. It was a fine day and although we had an early start it started to get hot very quickly. After a steep climb we arrived at our first destination, the tranquil mountain shrine of Seiryu Gu (清瀧宮), in the small farming village of Hirade. After a small break we went on our way to the main object of our hike, Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) High-up on Iwamazan in Ōtsu-shi! Walking through the tiny village of Taninooku we started our ascend by following a steep dry river bed that would take us straight to the temple founded by Taichō Daishi in the 8th century.
When we arrived at the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) there was nobody there, just us, the Buddhist monk in the Hondō and cicada’s, birds and a cool breeze.

The belfry and a statue of the “Bokefuji Kannon” at the entrance of the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) in Ōtsu-shi!

The belfry and a statue of the “Bokefuji Kannon” at the entrance of the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) in Ōtsu-shi!

The Iwama-dera Temple is not a very large complex, although there is a small inn and a miniature pilgrimage course. The Hondō dates back almost 500 years and is an impressive wooden structure. Next to the Hondō is Bashō’s Pond, it is said that Bashō wrote his famous “Frog Pond” haiku. Basho, the great haiku poet and priest, was a great devotee of Kannon and in 1687, while on a journey that is recorded in his travel diary, he came to a small hermitage on Iwama Mountain and stayed there in retreat for some time. It is said that he wrote this haiku at that time. The haiku reflects the moment of spontaneous enlightenment on hearing the sudden noise of the frog plopping into the water… Here is the famous haiku: “Furu ike ya-kawazu tobikomu-mizu no oto,  Translated by Lafcadio Hearn it goes like this: “Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.”

Fudō-dō temple at the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) in Ōtsu-shi! This temple is dedicated to the Light King, Fudō Myōō, and this is where the goma fire ceremony is performed. It was built during the Heian era (794 – 1185).

Fudō-dō temple at the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) in Ōtsu-shi! This temple is dedicated to the Light King, Fudō Myōō, and this is where the goma fire ceremony is performed. It was built during the Heian era (794 – 1185).

Another structure that stands out is the Fudō-dō temple,this temple is dedicated to the Light King, Fudō Myōō, and this is where the goma fire ceremony is performed. It was built during the Heian era (794 – 1185).
After our lunch break we set out to our next destination on Iwamazan “Okumiya Shrine (奥宮神社)”. This shrine is just a few hundred meters further up and has a commanding view of Ōtsu City. It was a bit foggy that day, but you are supposed to be able to see the beginning of Lake Biwa. I noticed that there where many sakura trees around this Shrine, some pictures put up in this shrines precinct confirmed my guess. Definitely worthwhile taking a look here next years spring season!
What a day, we descended back to the comfort of our car and had a nice ice coffee at a nearby restaurant operated by a sweet lady who had lived in Italy for a long time. It was so nice to sit and relax in the shade sipping coffee and soaking in the tranquil landscape of rural Kyoto! See all pictures here!

Inner court of the Iwama-dera Temple grounds (正法寺) in Ōtsu-shi! Notice the large tree in the middle.

Inner court of the Iwama-dera Temple grounds (正法寺) in Ōtsu-shi! Notice the large tree in the middle.

Here a little more about the history of Iwama-dera Temple: “In 722 Empress Genshō (元正天皇) became very ill suddenly – she was 33 years old, a yakudoshi year. She asked for the priest Taichō Daishi (泰澄大師) to pray for her and she recovered. He recited the Senju Kannon darani one thousand times while waving an iron club over her! In gratitude she told Taichō Daishi she would build him a temple in the place of his choice. When he looked for a site, he saw a purple cloud hovering over Iwamazan and when he climbed the mountain he heard the voice of Senju Kannon coming from a large tree, reciting the Senju darani. When the villagers cut down the tree a self-formed image of the Senju Kannon appeared. Thereafter, the tree re-sprouted and continued to grow down the centuries to this present day. When Taichō Daishi was a baby he never cried and his mother dreamed that she saw a white jewel enter her mouth when he was born. As a child he was identified by a wandering ascetic as having a golden halo and told his parents that he was a divine child (shindo). At fifteen he left home to live as a wandering ascetic and lived on nothing but grass, leaves and pine needles!After the temple was built, Taichō Daishi converted the local kami – a thunder god, in the form of a dragon, called Raijin or Kaminarisan – who then became a devout Buddhist. There was no water at the temple and the Thunder god dug a hole with his fingers and pure water came forth unendingly. Even in times of drought, this well still produces water.”

This is the Hondō of the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) on Iwamazan in Ōtsu-shi!

This is the Hondō of the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) on Iwamazan in Ōtsu-shi!

Empress Genshō (元正天皇) was the 44th monarch of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. Genshō’s reign spanned the years 715 through 724. In the history of Japan, Genshō was the fifth of eight women to take on the role of empress regnant.
Under Gensho’s reign, the Nihonshoki was finished in 720. This was the first Japanese history book. Organization of the law system known as the ritsuryo was continued under the initiatives of Fuhito until his death. These laws and codes were edited and enacted by Fujiwara no Nakamaro, a grandson of Fuhito, and published as Yoro ritsuryo under the name of Fuhito. The taxation system which had been introduced by Empress Jitō in the late 7th century began to malfunction. To compensate for the decreased tax revenue, the “Act of possession in three generations”, an initiative of Prince Nagaya, was enacted in 723. Under this act, people were allowed to possess a newly cultivated field once every three generations. In the fourth generation, the right of possession would revert to the national government. This act was intended to motivate new cultivation, but it only remained in effect for about 20 years.

Bashō’s Pond at the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) in Ōtsu-shi!

Bashō’s Pond at the Iwama-dera Temple (正法寺) in Ōtsu-shi!

Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉) (1644 – November 28, 1694), was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. During his lifetime, Bashō was recognized for his works in the collaborative haikai no renga form; today, after centuries of commentary, he is recognized as the greatest master of haiku (at the time called hokku). His poetry is internationally renowned, and in Japan many of his poems are reproduced on monuments and traditional sites. Although Bashō is justifiably famous in the West for his hokku, he himself believed his best work lay in leading and participating in renku. He is quoted as saying, “Many of my followers can write hokku as well as I can. Where I show who I really am is in linking haikai verses.”
Bashō was introduced to poetry at a young age, and after integrating himself into the intellectual scene of Edo (modern Tokyo), he quickly became well known throughout Japan. He made a living as a teacher, but renounced the social, urban life of the literary circles and was inclined to wander throughout the country, heading west, east, and far into the northern wilderness to gain inspiration for his writing. His poems were influenced by his firsthand experience of the world around him, often encapsulating the feeling of a scene in a few simple elements.

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