Tucked away in Osaka, this is where winners get their luck and the rest of us get to take in the exceptional scenery.
Katsuo-ji Temple is filled with character – picture panoramic views, a mist-covered bridge over koi fish ponds and a vermilion pagoda. Oh, and it’s literally covered in Daruma dolls, Japan’s recognizable symbol of good luck. Located north of Osaka City in the forested region of Mino, it is a charming getaway from the buzz of the city’s urban sprawl. Known as the “temple for winner’s luck” and the “temple that wins against monarchs,” prayers made here have healed emperors and assisted shoguns to gain many conquests.
Drawn to the spiritual calm of this mountainous area, Buddhist priests Zenchu and Zensan first constructed a small hut here in the year 727. Myokan, a Buddhist monk known as the incarnation of Kannon Bosatsu, the Goddess of Mercy, sculpted a 2.4-meter-high sandalwood statue of Kannon with eleven faces and 1,000 hands. This became the temple’s main deity.
It was believed that prayers offered here helped Emperor Seiwa regain his health, who then named the temple “Katsuo-ji” meaning “the temple that helps triumph.” Consequent faith drew many followers, and today people flock here to pray for victor’s luck in work, studies, business, sports and virtually any endeavor.
The significance of Daruma dolls
What’s intriguing about Katsuo-ji is that the temple and its grounds are strewn with innumerable dolls tucked into every nook and cranny. The quirky red dolls — though you may see some in black and a few other colors — were modeled after the founder of Zen Buddhism who apparently sat so long in meditation that his arms and legs fell off! Hence the dolls’ round shape. The ones at this temple are called kachi-Daruma (winning Daruma.)
Legend has it that a wish or goal written on a daruma doll here will come true. Write your goal on the bottom of the doll and the steps you will take to achieve it on its back, then say a prayer and paint in the doll’s right eye while fervently keeping your goal in mind. Take the doll home and display it somewhere prominent where it will motivate you. Once your goal has been achieved, draw in the other eye and return the daruma to the temple. It’s an inspiring sight to see the stack of daruma at Katsuo-ji, all signifying wishes fulfilled.
Lush seasonal gardens
The temple grounds of Katsuo-ji are a treat in any season.
With a variety of cherry trees in spring, followed by alpine roses and hydrangeas in summer, the gardens have something to offer all year round. However, autumn is when it’s the most spectacular. The temple is near Mino Park — one of the most popular locations for koyo (changing autumn leaves) in the Kansai region. The whole area comes alive with bursting hues of red and yellow around mid-November.
Beautiful vistas, the sound of sutra chanting and the smell of incense wafting in the air make Katsuo-ji a temple that appeases the senses and might even grant your wishes, too.