Founded in the early to mid-8th century and affiliated with the Shingon sect of Buddhism, Ryozen-ji is the first temple on the Shikoku roughly 1460 kilometer long 88 Temple Pilgrimage route. A tranquil complex with an impressive main hall, a Shingon-style pagoda, a carp pond, and waterfall, it is possible to spend hours there wandering through the grounds.
Associated with the multi-talented monk Kobo Daishi (known as Kukai during his life), who was actually born in the Sanuki region of Shikoku, it has been suggested that the temple was thought to approximate the mountain setting in which Buddha himself taught in India.
This would have been extremely important to Kobo Daishi, who spent time at the site while on a spiritual retreat. He is one of Japan’s earliest and direct links to the roots of Buddhism in India as he studied under a renowned Tang Dynasty Chinese monk who had been initiated into the religion in the land of its birth.
If you have ever seen a mountainside Hindu temple in India, you will have a relatively clear idea of the atmosphere. This is one of the reasons that Ryozen-ji stands out from many other Buddhist temples across the country, recalling an age when the religion had yet to take on so many regional distinctions.
The temple’s many outstanding features include an impressive main gate and a large pond full of colorful and energetic ornamental carp. When you walk beyond the pond you will find a golden-crowned hall with white banners hanging along the entrance.
Upon entering, you will be greeted by candles, incense and a serene display of white lanterns, which lead you to the center of the room where prayers can be offered.
Whether you decide to do the entire one to two month pilgrimage or simply visit individual temples, Ryozen-ji Temple should definitely be on your list.
Access: Take the JR Kotoku Line from JR Tokushima Station to JR Bando Station. Ryozen-ji Temple is about a 10 minute walk from JR Bando Station.
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