Kasagi-dera Temple (笠置寺)

Kasagi-dera Temple is a Buddhist temple belonging to the Chisan School of the Shingon Sect located in Kasagi-cho, Soraku-gun County, Kyoto Prefecture. The sango (literally, "mountain name"), which is the title prefixed to the name of a Buddhist temple is Kasagisan (Mt. Kasagi). The principal image is Miroku Buddha (Maitreya). The kaiki (founding patron) is reputed to have been either Prince Otomo or Emperor Tenmu. The temple is extremely important to the history of Buddhism in Japan with deep historical connections to Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple in Nanto (the southern capital (Nara)) and known to have been resided at by the eminent monk Gedatsubo Jokei. The precinct is also known to have been the site of the Genko War that took place at the end of the Kamakura period.


Kasagi-dera Temple is located in Kasagi-cho in the southeast of Kyoto Prefecture on the boundary with Nara Prefecture, and its precinct is the 289 m high Mt. Kasagi on the southern bank of the Kizu-gawa River that flows from east to west. Kasagi lies at the intersection of the Tsukigase Kaido Road from Nara and the Iga Kaido Road from Kyoto, and is both geographically and historically deeply connected to Nanto (Nara). In addition, materials used in the construction of the palaces and temples of Heijo-kyo (the ancient capital of Japan in current Nara) were brought by boat from the upper reaches of the Kizu-gawa River, making Kasagi an important place of land and water transportation.

The principal image of Kasagi-dera Temple is a large image of Miroku carved into the surface of a rock and the temple had flourished as a sacred place of Miroku worship since the Heian period. Mt. Kasagi stands at less than 300 m but enormous granite rocks are exposed throughout the mountain and it is assumed to have been a sacred site of mountain worship and megalithic religion since ancient times. Natural features such as mountains, waterfalls, large rocks and large trees have been objects of worship in Japan since ancient times and believed to be places in which invisible Kami (Japanese folk deities) dwell, such as large rocks referred to as iwakura (sacred rocks) in which kami were thought to reside. It is hypothesized that mountain worship and megalithic religion became syncretized with Buddhist concepts at Mt. Kasagi, followed by the carving of the Buddhist image in the large rock and the gradual formation of a Buddhist temple.

Founding Legend

Various theories exist regarding the founding of Kasagi-dera Temple but the actual circumstances are unclear. "Kasagi-ji Engi" (Kasagi-dera Temple History) states that the temple was founded by Prince Oama (Emperor Tenmu) in 682. However, volume 11 of "Konjaku Monogatari shu" (Anthology of Tales from the Past) says the following regarding the origins of the place name Kasagi and the carved Miroku image at Kasagi-dera Temple. One day, when Prince Otomo, son of Emperor Tenchi, was out hunting deer on his horse he was brought to a stop by a sheer cliff on Mt. Kasagi. The deer escaped past the cliff but his horse was unable to move in the pool at the cliff base.
But he was saved when he prayed to the mountain god; 'If you help me, I will carve an image of Miroku in this rock.'
Prince Otomo left his conical straw hat (kasa) at the site to serve as a marker for when he returned. It is said that this is the origin of the name Kasagi (lit. place where a kasa hat was left). When the prince returned to Mt. Kasagi, he attempted to carve the Miroku image in the cliff face just as he had vowed but was unable to do so due to the steepness of the cliff. However, a celestial being appeared and carved the image of Miroku. This is said to be the origin of the carved Miroku image. The account above is merely legend but it suggests that the carving of the Miroku image was the origin of Kasagi-dera Temple. The entry 'Kasagi-dera Temple Hakko (eight lectures) was began' in the "Todai-ji Yoroku" (Todai-ji Temple Records) entry for the year 879 is the first written reference to Kasagi-dera Temple but the actual founding is thought to have taken place during the Nara period.

The Origin of 'Omizutori'

Legends relating to Roben (689-773), founding priest of Todai-ji Temple and first Betto (a monk who manages the affairs of a temple), and his disciple Jitchu, believed to be the founder of 'Shuni-e' (Omizutori or Sacred Water-drawing Festival) ceremony, also remain at Kasagi-dera Temple. According to legend, Roben confined himself to Senju-kutsu Cave (literally, cave of thousand hands) where he prayed, an act which is said to have removed the rocks on the bed of the Kizu-gawa River that were preventing the passage of cargo ships. The following legend exists regarding Roben's disciple Jitchu. At Mt. Kasagi is a deep cave named Ryuketsu (Dragon Cave), in which was said that Tosotsuten (The fourth of six Buddhist heavens in the world of desire) inhabited by Miroku was hidden. One day, while training within Ryukutsu Cave, Jitchu resolved to walk to the inner depths and he eventually arrived at Tosotsuten. He visited Tosotsuten's 49 inner temples, and a ritual that he witnessed and reproduced in the mortal world is said to be the Omizutori festival of Todai-ji Temple.

From Jokei's Entry to the Genko War

During the latter part of the Heian period, belief in the future Buddha Miroku increased with the spread of Mappo-shiso (the "end of the world" belief that the idea of an age 2,000 years since Shakyamuni Buddha's passing in which Buddhism declines and the world is plunged into chaos), causing many including members of the imperial family and nobility to visit the Miroku image at Kasagi-dera Temple. Records remain of visits including Emperor Enyu in 987 (Hyakuren sho (History book from the Kamakura period)) and FUJIWARA no Michinaga in 1007 (Mido Kanpakuki (FUJIWARA no Michinaga's diary)).

In 1193 of the early Kamakura period, a Buddhist monk from Kofuku-ji Temple named Gedatsubo Jokei, known as the restorer of discipline to Japanese Buddhism, resided at Kasagi-dera Temple. Jokei was the grandson of FUJIWARA no Michinori (also known as Shinzei) and was a leading monk of the old style of Buddhism that opposed the new forms of Buddhism (such as Jodo (the Pure Land) Sect) that gained acceptance during the Kamakura period. He was renowned as a learned priest but lamented the degeneration of Buddhism in Nanto and secluded himself in Kasagi. He resided at Kasagi for over 10 years until he moved to Kannon-ji Temple (also known as Kaijusen-ji Temple) in 1208. It was during these years that Kasagi-dera Temple was at the height of its prosperity and consisted of a complex of halls. A building called Hannyadai (a monastic building meaning "Wisdom Heights") was constructed in 1194. This was a hexagonal hall that housed the Daihannya-kyo (Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra). In 1196, a temple bell (existing) and Song Dynasty Chinese version of Daihannya-kyo were brought to the temple by Shunjobo Chogen (known for his efforts to rebuild the Great Buddha Hall at Todai-ji Temple) and a thirteen-storey wooden pagoda built in 1198. MINAMOTO no Yoritomo donated gold nuggets to contribute to the restoration costs of the worship hall (a building for the worship of the giant Miroku carving) in 1204. Todai-ji Temple monk Sosho entered the temple in 1230.

In September,1331, Emperor Godaigo who was plotting to overthrow the Kamakura Shogunate escaped his palace to Mt. Kasagi where he raised an army (the Genko War). His forces surrendered at Mt. Kasagi in October of the same year and Emperor Godaigo escaped but was captured and exiled to Oki Province. Kasagi-dera Temple was destroyed in the fire that arose from this conflict and the engraved Miroku image was exposed to flames which damaged the surface of the rock. In addition to the engraved Miroku image, Kasagi-dera Temple possessed numerous line-engraved Buddhist images which included the Yakushi (Yakushi Nyorai (the Healing Buddha) rock, Monju (Monju Bosatsu) rock, Kokuzo (Kokuzo Bosatsu) rock and a Mandala of the Two Realms rock but the majority of these were lost to the fire so that now only the rock with Kokuzo Bosatsu image survives in its original condition. The Miroku image was engraved on a rock measuring approximately 16 m in height and 15 m across but has been completely lost with the exception of the halo cavity so that the original grandeur of the image can now only be inferred from images within 'Kakuzensho' (a collection of iconographical drawings by the Shingon)' and the painting 'Kasagi Mandala-zu' Painting (Important Cultural Property) at the Museum Yamatobunkakan. Kasagi Mandala-zu' depicts the engraved Miroku image and the thirteen-storey wooden pagoda, making it possible to imagine the temple at the height of its prosperity. The extant engraved Miroku image at Ono-dera Temple in Uda City, Nara Prefecture is believed to be a copy of that of Kasagi-dera Temple.

Kasagi-dera Temple was revived in 1339 but destroyed by fire again in 1355. The main hall was rebuilt in 1381 (kanjincho (a statement to explain reasons to gather donation for Buddhist activities) of 1482) but underwent repeated episodes of reconstruction and destruction by fires such as that of 1398, and the temple was never restored to the scale of its heyday.

In 1619, Kasagi became a territory of the Tsu clan in Ise Province. The domain lord Takatsugu TODO rebuilt the Kasagi-dera Temple main hall between 1648 and 1652. However, it fell into decline at the end of the early modern period and has not been served by a resident priest since the early Meiji period. The current temple was rebuilt in 1876.


On passing through the sanmon gate, the honbo (head priest's residence), Bishamon-do hall (constructed in 2004), repository and belfry (concrete structure) can be seen, behind which lies the ascetic practice area which measures approximately 800 m from start to finish. The ascetic practice area is scattered with named rocks such as 'Tainai Kuguri' (a narrow sanctified cavern), 'Ari no Towatari' (proceeding like ants over a steep cliff), and 'Yurugi Ishi' (unstable stone which can be shaken with just one finger) and includes the Miroku image carving (only the halo remains), Shogatsu-do hall (Miroku image worship hall), a thirteen-storey stone pagoda, the engraved Kokuzo Bosatsu image on the cliff and the ruins of a temporary lodging for Emperor Godaigo.

Although not a historic artifact, the Kasa-yan memorial monument also stands within the area. This is a memorial to a stray cat called 'Kasa-yan' that lived at Kasagi-dera Temple during the 1990s and became famous for showing people around.

Important Cultural Properties

Thirteen-storey stone pagoda: Stands on the site where a thirteen-storey wooden pagoda once stood. Built between the end of the Kamakura period and the beginning of the Muromachi period.

Belfry: Constructed in 1196. It is known from the inscription that it was donated by the venerable Namuamidabutsu (Shunjobo Chogen) as the bell of Hannyadai (a hexagonal hall that housed the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra). The six-lobed shape with six notches at the base is often seen in Chinese bells but is unique for a Japanese temple bell. Also unique is the fact that the inscription is not on the side but on the bottom. The bell is extremely valuable as a historical source that verifies contact between Chogen and Jokei, two eminent monks of the Kamakura period.

Jizo Koshiki and Miroku Koshiki (liturgical texts)

Other Cultural Properties

Kokuzo Bosatsu stone engraving: A carved Buddhist image that survived the fires of the Genko War. This line-carved bodhisattva image is seated on a lotus pedestal on a granite cliff with its right hand raised and its left hand placed on its knee. It is named Kokuzo Bosatsu but there is a theory claiming it to be Nyoirin Kannon. The time of its creation is unclear due to the lack of comparable works but it has been said to date from the Nara period and the Heian period.


Approximately 40 minutes walk from Kasagi Station on the JR Kansai Main Line.

[Original Japanese]