Even a pacifist country has a temple for the God of war.
High in the hills on the western side of Nara Prefecture is Mount Shigi, known locally as Shigisan. It is also often used as a nickname for Chogosonshi-ji Temple, the largest and highest of four temples on the mountain.
Chogosonshi-ji is dedicated to Bishamonten, one of Japan’s “Seven Lucky Gods,” the Buddhist god of war and guardian of the places where Buddha preaches. It is also festooned with images of tigers, including a large, colourful statue at the temple entrance. These are an important part of the origin of the temple.
Legend has it that about 1,400 years ago, Prince Shotoku-taishi stopped at Shigisan on his way to lay siege to Kawachi Inamura Castle. While on the mountain, the prince offered a prayer for victory in the coming battle. In response, Bishamonten appeared in the sky at the hour of the tiger, on the day of the tiger, in the year of the tiger and led the prince to victory.
To express his gratitude, the prince himself carved an image of Bishamonten and ordered the construction of a temple on the mountainside to house it. He also commissioned the building of Shitenno-ji Temple in Osaka Prefecture around the same time, making Chogosonshi-ji one of the oldest temples in Japan.
On the Slopes of Shigisan
The walk from the main entrance to Chogosonshi-ji is relatively easy and on the way up (or down) you can choose to pass through a tunnel in the shape of a tiger. Doing so is said to bring good luck, and there is a place in middle of the tunnel for hanging ema wish tablets.
There is also a very small cafe next to an open square. In the square, you can often see monks performing purification rituals by passing a special staff over your body, accompanied by music.
Several times a day, they hold a special ritual within the main hall of Chogosonshi-ji at the top of the hill.
Several times a day, they hold a special ritual within the main hall of Chogosonshi-ji at the top of the hill. This is to invite Bishamonten into your home to grant you protection for the coming year. The statuary inside the temple is stunning but photos are prohibited.
Be sure to check out the stunning view over the Yamato Plain from the main hall balcony.