Hase-dera Temple (長谷寺)

Sango (literally "mountain name", this is a title prefixed to the name of Buddhist temples): Buzan
Religious school: the Buzan school of Shingon Buddhism
Jikaku (status of a Buddhist temple): Sohonzan (head temple)
Honzon (principal image of Buddha): Eleven-faced Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy (an Important Cultural Property)
Established: Nara period (early 8th century)
Founder: Domyo
Official name: Buzan Kagurain Hase-dera
Other name: the Flower Temple
Fudasho (temple collecting and offering amulets): 8th of the thirty-three-temple Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage; 16th of the eighteen-temple Shingon Head Temple Pilgrimage; 35th temple on the Sacred Places of Shinto and Buddhism Pilgrimage
Cultural properties: the Hondo, or main hall; the Hase-dera sutra; the bronze plaque of the Hokke Sesso-zu (National Treasure); the wooden standing statue of Eleven-faced Kannon; the Nio (or Deva) Gate; etc (Important Cultural Properties)

Hase-dera Temple, in Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, is the head temple of the Buzan school of Shingon Buddhism. Its sango is Buzan Kagurain. Its principal object of worship is the eleven-faced Kannon and its founder is regarded as Domyo. It is also the eighth of the thirty-three temples that make up the Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage, and is one of the most famous sacred places of Kannon in Japan.

The hondo stands on the side of Mt. Hatsuse overlooking the Ise Shrine Pilgrimage Road which linked Yamato Province with Ise Province. Mt. Hatsuse is famous for peonies, of which it is said that more than 150 different kinds and 7,000 flowers are in full bloom from late April to early May. For this reason, the temple has been called 'the Flower Temple' since ancient times. In addition, it is described in many classic works of literature such as 'Makura no soshi' (The Pillow Book), 'Genji Monogatari' (The Tale of Genji) and 'Sarashina Nikki' (Sarashina Diary). The two Japanese cedar trees which appear in the Tamakazura (Jeweled Chaplet) chapter of 'Genji Monogatari' still remain in the precincts.

Origins and History

It is believed that Hase-dera Temple was established in the early part of the 8th century during the Nara period, but details on the period and circumstances of its establishment are unknown. According to temple legend, Domyo Shonin had a three-storied pagoda built on the west side of Mt. Hatsuse (the place known today as Motohase-dera Temple) in 686, and then, in 727, Tokudo Shonin founded the temple when he enshrined the statue of the Eleven-faced Kannon on the east side (where the present Hondo stands). However, these are not described in any official history and are thus regarded as legends.

From the middle of the Heian period, Hase-dera Temple was worshipped by nobles as a sacred place of Kannon. FUJIWARA no Michinaga made a pilgrimage there in 1024, and from the medieval period onwards, samurai and commoners came to worship there.

Hase-dera Temple was originally a branch temple of Todai-ji Temple (the Kegon sect) but became a branch temple of Kofuku-ji Temple (the Hosso sect) in the middle of the Heian period.
From the 16th century, it was a temple of the {Shingi Shingon sect}, which was begun by Kogyo Daishi Kakuban and completed by Raiyu, a priest with the highest rank of 'sojo'
In 1588, believers of the {Shingi Shingon sect} who had escaped Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI's attack on Mt. Negoro arrived at Mt. Hatsuse and Sojo Senyo of the same sect established the present Buzan school of Shingon Buddhism.

Many temples throughout Japan have an Eleven-faced Kannon as their principal object of worship use the name 'Hase-dera Temple', including Hase-dera Temple in Kamakura, and therefore, in order to distinguish the Nara temple from others, it is sometimes called 'Hase-dera Temple of Yamato Province' or 'Sohonzan Hase-dera Temple' amongst others.

Temple Buildings

The 'Noboriro' (enclosed stairway) rises 399 steps from the entrance at the Nio-mon Gate to the Hondo. On the hillside to the west of the Hondo is the area called 'Motohase-dera', which contains a five-storied pagoda other buildings. The Hondo is designated a National Treasure and the Nio-mon Gate, Shimo-Noboriro (lower stairway), Tsunagiya (a building connecting the lower and middle stairways), Naka-Noboriro (middle stairway), Zaodo Hall, Kami-Noboriro (upper stairway), Sanbyakuyosha Shrine, Shoro (bell tower) and Tsunagiro (a corridor connecting the bell tower and the Hondo) are designated Important Cultural Properties.

Hondo (National Treasure): a magnificent building consisting of the Shodo, where the statue of Kannon stands; the Ainoma (Middle Room), located in between Honden main hall and Haiden oratory; and the Raido (worship hall); and the front is constructed in the kake-zukuri, or platform, style like the hondo of Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto. The hondo was burnt down seven times between the Nara period and 1536. After the seventh fire, a new hall was completed in 1588 with Hidenaga TOYOTOMI's assistance. After that, due to leaks and heavy damage, it was decided to again rebuild instead of repair it.
With a donation from Iemitsu TOKUGAWA and after five years work, the hondo, which still stands today, was completed
The Eleven-faced Kannon statue, which is more than ten meters high, was completed two years after the hondo was burnt down in 1536, and was not moved when the new hondo was built in 1650. Therefore, the hondo has a complicated structure, with a 'nainaijin' (the innermost sanctuary where the principal object stands) within the 'naijin' (inner sanctuary), and as a result, the nainaijin acts as a big 'zushi' (a cupboard-like shrine with double doors used to store images of Buddha, sutras, etc).

Deemed representative of large early-modern hondo, it was designated a National Treasure on December 2004.

National Treasures

Hondo (mentioned above)

Bronze plaque of the Hokke Sesso-zu: an embossed carving of a pagoda and several buddhas on a copper plate 84cm long and 75cm wide depicting the scene in "The Emergence of the Treasure Tower" chapter of the Lotus Sutra when a large pagoda appeared in the sky while Shakyamuni was preaching. The lower part of the copper plate contains a long inscription. The inscription shows that it was made by the priest Domyo in order to cure a disease of "the Emperor who governed the world at Asukakiyomihara" in "the Year of the Dog". Although a temple legend says that this Year of the Dog was 686, many researchers regard that this was made in 698, one cycle of the Oriental zodiac later.
(on loan to the Nara National Museum)

Lotus Sutra, Samantabhadra Contemplation Sutra, Sutra of Immeasurable Meanings, Amida Sutra, Heart Sutra, 34 scrolls in total: a series of 'soshokukyo' (decorative sutras) made in the Kamakura period and commonly called the 'Hasedera-kyo Sutras'. The sutras are ornately decorated with gold and silver leaf decorating the paper and crystal used for the rollers.

Important Cultural Properties

Wooden standing statue of the Eleven-Faced Kannon (in the hondo) together with the wooden standing statue of the Dragon King Nanda (Nanda-ryuo) and stored goods inside the statue, and the wooden standing statue of Sekishou Douji (a synthesis of the Vairocana Buddha and the Shinto Sun Goddess, Amaterasu) and stored goods inside the statue

According to a legend about the founding of Hase-dera Temple, in the 720s a big sacred tree washed up on the banks of the Hatsuse River and brought down a great curse, causing fear among the villagers, who asked the founder, Tokudo, to make a statue of the Bodhisattva Kannon from the sacred tree, which was the root of curse, and the statue was enshrined on Mt. Hatsuse near the village. Regardless of the veracity of this legend, it seems that the wood the original statue was carved from was some kind of 'sacred wood'. The present statue was remade in 1538. Although it was made in the Muromachi period, when Buddhist sculpture was in decline, it is a superb large statue over ten meters tall. It is the largest wooden sculpture to be designated either a National Treasure or Important Cultural Property. Unlike usual Eleven-Faced Kannon statues, it holds a 'shakujo' (priest's pewter staff) in the right hand similar to Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva) and stands on a rock (like most Eleven-Faced Kannon statues, it has a 'suibyo', or water jug, in the left hand). According to the legend, this signifies that Kannon, like Jizo, will come down to the world of mortals and walk around giving salvation to all living things and is a unique style which is not seen in other sects (including other schools of Shingon Buddhism). Eleven-Faced Kannon with this kind of shakujo are called 'Hase-dera-style Eleven-Faced Kannon (Hase-style Kannon)'.

Other Important Cultural Properties

Nio-mon Gate

The five buildings of the 'noboriro' covered stairway (Lower Stairway, Tsunagiya, Middle Stairway, Zaodo Hall, Upper Stairway)

Sanbyakuyosha Shrine



Sankoeken (three-pronged sword)

Akaito Odoshi Yoroi (red braided armor) with osode (large sleeves), Shiroito Odoshi Yoroi (white braided armor) with osode, Takanoha Odoshi Yoroi (Red-threaded Armor) with osode, Mitsumezane Yoroi (armor made of small pieces of iron or leather that have three rows of holes for lacing), and Aikawa Odoshi Kataaka Osode (deer skin armor died indigo with large red sleeves)

Hekirensho (Biased Treatise on Renga Linked Verse)

Held at Noman-in Temple

Depiction of Jizo and the Ten Kings, colored on silk canvas

Kasuga Mandala (mandala form that sprang from Kasuga-Taisha Shrine), colored on silk canvas

Depiction of the Eleven-faced Kannon, colored on silk canvas

Kokushitsu Shihoden Shari Zushi (black lacquered box to hold the urn containing the Buddha's ashes)

Held by Fumon-in Temple

Wooden statue of the seated Fudo Myoo (Acalanatha, one of the Five Kings of Wisdom)


731-1, Hatsuse, Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture


15 minutes walk from Hasedera Station on the Kinki Nippon Railway Company's Kintetsu Osaka line

[Original Japanese]