Myoryu-ji Temple (Ninjadera)
With a nickname like “Ninja Temple,” it’s gotta be good.
In a lot of Ishikawa Prefecture’s promotional material, you will often find Myoryu-ji temple incorrectly referred to as “Ninja-dera” (the ninja temple). In fact, the fascinating temple has no connections with the shadowy assassins of lore. However, on seeing the number of secret rooms, booby traps and hidden rooms that are on the site, it is easy to understand the mistake. It is, in fact, a location that the secretive warriors would have likely approved of.
Even entering the front hall used to be a risk as there is a concealed pitfall designed to catch any attackers rushing onto the premises. After that, would-be invaders would have to navigate the concealed stairs and their removable bottom step and another staircase with see-through paper risers that allowed waiting defenders to see the ankles of their hapless victims and ambush them with spears.
To understand the need for all of these malevolent traps, it is worth considering the time the temple was built. In those days, Ishikawa was under the auspices of the Tokugawa Shogunate who lived in constant fear of attack. In order to make sure their power could be maintained with the absolute minimum of violence, the shogun introduced strict rules against the number of floors and the types of defenses that could be built.
In the case of the Ishikawa-based Maeda clan who built Myoryu-ji, the Shogunate was right to be afraid as the increasingly powerful family decided to circumvent the rules and instead designed Myoryuiji as a means of defense against a surprise attack. Everything about it was designed to keep someone alive or help them escape. As well as the traps and pitfalls this included 2 hidden floors that can only be accessed from inside and maze-like corridors designed to baffle intruders.
Everything about it was designed to keep someone alive or help them escape.
Perhaps appropriately for a temple that is so difficult to navigate, these days even getting into it is difficult. Entering the temple is only possible 2 times every hour and only as part of a tour group. During the peak season, visitors are recommended to book 2-3 months before their date of travel to guarantee a spot.
To further complicate things at the time of writing, the tour is held in Japanese only. Yep, even to this day the temple is full of tricks to outfox the unwary even though those traps are more likely to be cultural than cruel these days.