- This temple is located on Lake Biwa, one of our Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2020!
The eleven faces of Kannon
To reach Chomei-ji Temple, you must climb 808 stone steps through a grove of bamboo on Mount Ikiya. On windy days, the bamboo stalks rattle and tap, almost like a pilgrim’s walking pole striking the steps.
Sweeping views of Lake Biwa are worth the hike alone, but as you reach the top of the mountain, the temple’s red roofs and three-storied pagoda will draw your eye. Its striking contrast to the varying shades of green in the forest behind it is awe-inspiring.
Along with the pagoda, the temple grounds contain a bell tower and a surprisingly large main hall to explore. Inside you’ll find an eleven-faced Kannon statue that’s believed to date back to the 12th century.
Every summer, Chomei-ji Temple becomes lush with hydrangeas, but it looks just as lovely—if not more so—blanketed in white snow during winter.
Chomei-ji roughly translates to “long life temple.” According to legend, Takenouchi no Sukune, an ancient Japanese statesman, prayed at Chomei-ji for a long life. Then he carved his wish into a nearby willow tree. Centuries later, prominent regent Prince Shotoku found the tree and made it into a Kannon statue before enshrining it in a temple he named Chomei-ji. Today, people pray at the temple for a long life just as Takenouchi no Sukune did, but the legends don’t stop there.
The Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage
The Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage is a route over 1,300 years old that stretches more than 2,400km across Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hyogo, and Shiga. It highlights 33 different temples of Kansai devoted to Kannon and multiple historic locations, several of which inspired the haiku poet Matsuo Basho.
Legend says in 718, a Buddhist monk of Hasedera Temple dreamed he had met Enma, the god of hell. Enma told him that hell was overflowing and he must make a Kannon pilgrimage to decrease the number of condemned souls. Thus, he set off to do just that, and one of his last stops was Chomei-ji Temple. Follow in his footsteps and add this temple as a stop on your trip to Shiga.