Kinpusen-ji Temple (金峯山寺)

Kinpusen-ji Temple, located in Yoshino-cho, Yoshino County, Nara Prefecture, is a Buddhist temple of Shgendo lineage. Its principal image is Zaogongen-zo and its founder has been reported to be EN no Ozunu (A semi-legendary holy man noted for his practice of mountain asceticism during the second half of the seventh century). Mt. Yoshino where Kinpusen-ji Temple is located has been known for beautiful cherry blossoms since ancient times and was the center of the Southern Court during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan). "Kinpusen Mountain" was not a name for a single mountain ridge but comprehensively referred to a sacred area in the mountains covering Mt. Yoshino (Yoshino-cho, Yoshino County, Nara Prefecture) and Mt. Sanjogatake (Amakawa Mura, Yoshino County, Nara Prefecture), a mountain located twenty kilometers south of Mt. Yoshino and belonging to the system of Mt. Omine. Yoshino and Omine have long been a secret place for mountain worship since ancient times and attracted many worshipers as a sacred site since the Heian period. The sacred site in Yoshino and Omine constitutes a component of the world heritage "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range," along with Koyasan, Kumano Sanzan (three major shrines, Kumano-Hongu-Taisha, Kumano-Hayatama-Taisha and Kumano-Nachi-Taisha) in Wakayama Prefecture, and Pilgrimage routes that connect these sacred sites.


Kinpusen-ji Temple, located in Mt. Yoshino, south of Nara Prefecture, is reported to have been founded by EN no Ozunu, a semi-legendary practitioner of austerities in mountains and forests. Its principal image is Zao Gongen. Mt. Yoshino where Kinpusen-ji Temple is located contains many other shrines and temple, such as Yoshimizu-jinja Shrine, Nyoirin-ji Temple, Chikurin-in Temple (Yoshinocho), Sakuramoto-bo, Kizo-in, Yoshino-mikumari-jinja Shrine, and Kinpu-jinja Shrine. "Mt. Yoshino" is not a name for a mountain ridge but for an extensive area where these shrines and temples are scattered. In addition, there is Ominesan-ji Temple twenty kilometers from Mt. Yoshino and close to the top of Mt. Sanjogatake (1,719 meters) in Amakawa Mura, Yoshino County. Kinpusen-ji Temple in Mt. Yoshino and Ominesan-ji Temple in Mt. Sanjogatake have been divided into separate temples since modern times, but they had an inseparable relationship with each other with the former being called "Sange no Zao-do" and the latter "Sanjo no Zao-do." Both Sange and Sanjo Zao-do and related branch temples were at first collectively called "Kinpusen-ji Temple."

EN no Gyoja (A semi-legendary holy man noted for his practice of mountain asceticism during the second half of the seventh century) and Zao Gongen

In Japan where mountainous districts occupy seventy percent of the land, mountains have been regarded as sacred places. In particular, Yoshino and Omine of southern Nara Prefecture and Kumano Sanzan (three major shrines, Kumano-Hongu-Taisha, Kumano-Hayatama-Taisha and Kumano-Nachi-Taisha) in Wakayama Prefecture have been long regarded as sacred places for a mountain religion, and practitioner training Buddhism in mountains and forests called yamabushi and ascetic Buddhist monk were engaged in activities there. Shugendo was developed as an mountain religion unique to Japan through incorporation of Shinto religion, Buddhism, Taoism, and so forth. EN no Ozunu is believed to have been the founder.

EN no Ozunu widely known in the name of EN no Gyoja was born in present-day Gose City, Nara Prefecture in the early seventh century and practiced asceticism in Yamato Katsuragi Mountain located in the boundary between Yamato Province and Kawachi Province. He was a semi-legendary man that is believed to have had super human abilities. In addition to Kinpusen-ji Temple, there are a large number of temples from Western Nara Prefecture through Osaka Prefecture, believed to have been founded by EN no Gyoja. The 699-year section of "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued) describes that EN no Ozunu were condemned to exile to Izu. This proves that EN no Ozunu was a real person, but no official history remains except for this article of "Shoku Nihongi" describing his achievement. His superhuman image was formed in the minds of people of later generations with the development of Shugendo and a mountain religion.

Kinpusen-ji Temple is believed to be the base temple for Shugendo founded by EN no Gyoja, but EN no Gyoja himself is a semi-legendary person as mentioned above. Therefore it cannot help being considered as unclear what precisely lay behind the foundation of Kinpusen-ji Temple, when it was founded, and what the temple was like upon foundation.

The principal images of Kinpusen-ji Temple and Ominesan-ji Temple--the central object of worship--are unique deities called Zao Gongen that are between Buddha of Buddhism and the gods of Shinto religion. The principal images of Kinpusen-ji Temple are three images of Zaogongen, whose faces and figures are as follows. They carry flame, had a forelock standing on end and eyes turning upward at the corners, open mouths, express anger, one leg lifted up stepping on empty space. The images are not originated from India or China but are statues unique to Japan, suggesting that they were created independently under the influence of Esoteric Buddhist sculpture.. According to a tradition of Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts), EN no Gyoja made Zao Gongen emerge through prayers during ascetic practices in Kimpusen Mountain.

Heian period

Chuko no So (father of restoration) of Kinpusen-ji Temple is believed to be Shobo, a monk of early Heian period, who is known as a founder of Daigo-ji Temple in Kyoto. According to the "authentic biography of the priest Shobo," Shobo revived devastated Kimpusen Mountain, put the path to the temple back into good condition, and built a pagoda to enshrine Nyoirin Kannon, Bishamonten, and Kongo Zoo Bosatsu. "Kongo Zoo Bosatsu "is Mikkyozon found in Taizosho mandala, one of the Ryokai mandala (Mandalas of the two Realms). On Kimpusen Mountain, Esoteric Buddhism, Mappo-shiso (the "end of the world" belief), and Jodo-shinko (the Pure Land faith) started to merge into mountain worship around this period, attracting people's religious belief. Additionally, one after another members of imperial families and nobles visited the mountain. Well-known people who visited Kinpusen include Uda Emperor (in 900), FUJIWARA no Michinaga (in 1007), FUJIWARA no Moromichi, and Emperor Shirakawa (1092).

In particular FUJIWARA no Michinaga built Kimpusen kyozuka (mound of Buddhist scriptures), known as the oldest kyozuka in Japan, near Zao-do Hall of Sanjo. The buried kyozutsu (a tube in which rolled Buddhist scriptures are kept) was excavated in the Edo era and is stored (as a property of Kinpu-jinja Shrine, Yoshino-cho Nara Prefecture as national treasure). Many kyozuka mounds were built near the summit of Kimpusen Mountain (Mt. Sanjogatake), because Kimpusen Mountain was regarded as a Pure Land of Miroku-butsu (Miroku Buddha)--future Buddha.

Medieval Period to early-modern times

After the end of Medieval period, Shugendo (Japanese mountain asceticism-shamanism incorporating Shinto and Buddhist concepts) was divided into two major groups: the "Honzan school" and "Tozan school"
The Honzan school belonging to the Tendai-shu sect line, was founded by Enchin of Onjo-ji Temple (Mii-dera Temple). This sect mainly acted in Kumano and its Sohonzan (the general head temple) is Shogoin Temple (Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City), the Jimon School of the Tendai Sect (under the jurisdiction of Onjo-ji Temple). On the other hand, the Tozan school belonging to the Shingon Sect line was founded by Shobo. This sect mainly acted in Yoshino and its Sohonzan was Sanbo-in of Daigo-ji Temple (Fushimi-ku, Kyoto City). Kinpusen-ji Temple having a relationship with Shobo, Chuko no So (father of restoration), had a strong tie with the Tozan school. Kinpusen-ji Temple, in the Medieval Period, had many branch temples in both Sange and Sanjo with many armed priests (called masses of Yoshino). Their power was said to be as strong as counterparts of Nanto Hokurei (the Buddhism of the temples of Nara and Mt. Hiei) (that refer to armed priests of Kofuku-ji Temple and Enryaku-ji Temple). This military background lay behind the Emperor Godaigo's establishment of the Southern Court during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, Emperor Godaigo.

In 1614 in the early-modern times, Tenkai, a priest of the Tendai sect (who founded temples in Edo such as Kanei-ji Temple), became Gakuto (head student) of Kinpusen-ji Temple at the order of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA. This put Kinpusen-ji Temple under jurisdiction of the Tendai-shu sect (Nikko Rinno-ji Temple).

Modern times

During Modern times, worshipers of mountaineering asceticism suffered heavy blows. The Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism promulgated in 1868 prohibited syncretization of Shinto with Buddhism long beloved in Mt. Yoshino, forcing temples to be abolished or changed into shrines for survival. To make it worse, a decree dismissing Shugendo was promulgated in 1872, forcing Kinpusen-ji Temple, the pivotal temple, to be abolished in 1874. Later a change to government policy and pleas from the mountaineering asceticism side revived it in 1886 as "the Shugen school of Tendai sect," allowing Kinpusen-ji Temple to be maintained as a temple. However, Zao-do Hall on Sanjo was separated from Kinpusen-ji Temple in Yoshino to become "Ominesan-ji Temple" and still exists up to now in the twenty-first century.

In 1948 after World War II, the Omine Shugen sect was established independently of the Tendai-shu sect. In 1952, it changed its name to Kimpusen Shugen Main Sect, and Kinpusen-ji Temple has been the Sohonzan of the sect.

Buddhist temple

Walking for a while from Yoshinoyama Station of Yoshino Ohmine ke-buru Ropeway bus Co.Ltd, you'll find Kuro-mon gate, So-mon gate of Kinpusen-ji Temple. There is Kanenotorii Gate ahead of the gate along the sando (an approach to the temple), upward slop lined with inns, restaurants and souvenir shops. After a ten minute walk from Yoshinoyama Station, you'll see Nio-mon Gate (Deva gate), and the main hall (Zao-do Hall) is seen ahead on a small hill.

Kuro-mon gate - blackening Koraimon gate, So-mon gate of Kinpusen-ji Temple, can be found after few minutes from Cable-Yoshinoyama Station. The existing gate was rebuilt in 1985.

Kanenotorii Gate (Important Cultural Property) - It is written "銅鳥居" and read as Kanenotorii. It is architecture that represents the entrance to a sacred place and the boundary between the everyday world and a sacred place. There are four gates-- Hosshinmon gate, shugyomon gate (gate of practice), Togakumon gate, and Myougakumon gate--that represent the four stages to attain enlightenment along the ascetic exercise path from yoshino to Mt. Omine (Mt. Sanjogatake). Kanenotorii Gate corresponds to "Hosshinmon" of these four gates. The poles of the Torii stand on a lotus pedestal, showing a remnant of syncretization of Shinto with Buddhism. It has been handed down that the poles were made of copper, which were left after casting of the statue of Birushana Buddha in Todai-ji Temple, but the existing poles were rebuilt during the Muromachi Period.

Nio-mon Gate (Important Cultural Property) - located north of the main hall (Zao-do Hall), it is a Niju-mon (two-story gate) of irimoya style (building with a half-hipped roof) and hongawarabuki (a style of tile roofing in which round and square tiles are laid down alternately).
(Niju-mon refers to a two-story gate, having a roof protrusion at the boundary between the first and second floors, too)
The inscription of a bronze wind bell hanging down at the frontage of a house shows that it was rebuilt in 1456 during the Muromachi Period. The main hall faces south, while the Nio-mon Gate faces north; they stand as if they are turning their backs on each other. It is said that they stand as such in consideration of both pilgrims who head for Yoshino from Kumano (south to north and those who head for Kumano from Yoshino (north to south).

Main hall (Zao-do Hall) (Important Cultural Property) - It is called Zao-do of Sange as compared to the main hall of Ominesan-ji Temple of Mt. Sanjogatake (Zao-do of Sanjo). It has an Irimoya-styled roof (hip-and-gable roof). It looks like a two-storied building, but its structure is "furnished with a single pent roof below the true roof." It was rebuilt by the donations of the Toyotomi family, but the inscription of metal fittings on the door shows that it was rebuilt in 1592. It is thirty-four meters high and thirty-six meters wide and deep. The architecture is magnificent, second largest in scale of old wooden architectures after the Daibutsu-den Hall (the Great Buddha hall) of Todai-ji Temple. It is featured by its inner poles made of thick wood that retains its natural shape and bend. Poles called Tsuzuji, Chan-chin, and Nashi are used. There is a large zushi (a cupboard-like case with double doors in which an image of (the) Buddha, a sutra, or some other revered object is kept at a temple) in the naijin (inner sanctuary of a shrine or temple) to enshrine three images of large Zaogongen-zo (Buddhist image normally withheld from public view).

Four Cherry Trees - Four cherry trees are planted in the stone wall-surrounded area in an open space in front of the main hall. This is reported to have been the site where Imperial prince Daitonomiya Moriyoshi had the last a feast (a drinking party) before surrendering the castle in an attack by the armed Hojo clan. The copper garden lantern that stands within the stone walls was made in 1471 and designated as an important cultural property.

Nitenmon Gate Ruins - Once there used to be Nitenmon Gates south front of the main hall (Zao-do Hall), although they no longer exist. Yoshiteru MURAKAMI, a warrior from Shinano province is reported to have killed himself in the upper story of Nitenmon Gate as a substitute for Imperial Prince Moriyoshi in 1333. A stone pillar stands describing "the place where Yositeru MURAKAMI died out of loyalty."

National treasure

Main hall
Nio-mon Gate
Yamato Kinposen Kyozuka excavated articles
one gold and silver plated Socho Hosogemon Kyobako box with a lid
two sets of Kondo Kyobako Daitsuki
Tsuketari(Attachments): seven sheets of Konshi Kinji Hokekyo zanketsu (incomplete remains of sutra), two gold letters on dark blue paper Kanfugenkyo (Samantabhadra Contemplation Sutra), and two scrolls

Important cultural property

Kanenotorii Gate
Three standing wooden statues of Zao-gongen Bodhisattva - Buddhist image normally withheld from public view enshrined in a large zushi in the inner sanctuary of the main hall, main temple
It is believed to have been made in 1592, when the main hall was rebuilt. The chuson (the principal statue in a group of Buddhist statues) out of the three statues is 728 centimeters, and the statues on both sides are also large with a height close to 6 meters. The temple legend says that the statue in the center is the manifestation of Shaka Nyorai, the statue on the right is the honji (original ground or true nature) of Senju Kannon (Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara), and the statue on the left is the honji of Miroku Bosatsu (Buddha of the Future, Bodhisattva of the Present), each of them representing the past, current, and future worlds. ("Honji" refers to the original form of Buddha, while Gongen refers to a form of Buddha that appears with the change of its figure. They are normally withheld from public view, and their kaicho(unveiling a Buddhist image; gambling)have not be set. In recent years, they have been unveiled from July 2004 through June 2005 and from October 4 to 8, 2007 to commemorate the registration of world heritage of Yoshino and Omine.

The standing wooden statue of Zao-gongen Bodhisattva (the former principle image of Anzen-ji temple) - It is enshrined in the southern corner of Gejin (outer place of worship for public people) of the main hall separately from the unveiled principal image statues. It was originally the principle image of Anzen-ji temple (once located near present-day Kinpu-jinja Shrine) once called Oku no in (inner sanctuary) of Mt. Yoshino, and was moved to Kinpusen-ji Temple when Anzen-ji temple was defunct with the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism.
A large statue with a height of 459 centimeters, it is believed to have been built during the late Kamakura period--earlier than the unveiled principle images,

Silk colored Senju Sengen Kannon (Thousand-armed and thousand-eyed kannon)
Itaechakushoku Kaisennyukozugaku - a large Ema (a votive horse tablet) dedicated in 1661. It is enshrined in the west side within the main hall.

Standing wooden statue of Prince Shotoku (Shotokutaishi) - Kamakukra Period
It is enshrined in the eastern side of Gejin.

Two Mokuzo Doji Ryuzo (wooden standing statues of boys, Fusei and Fuken) - Kamakukra Period
They are enshrined in a glass case behind the zushi for the principal images.

Kondo Goko Rei
Kondoso oi
copper garden lantern with an inscription of the year 1471
Temple bell - a large bell with the inscription of 1160. This bell is nicknamed Yoshino Saburo (a nickname of a large hanging bell in Kinpusen-ji Temple) collectively with a bell of Todaiji temple (Nara Taro - nickname of a large hanging bell in Todai-ji Temple) and a bell of Mt. Koya (Koya Jiro - nickname of a large hanging bell in Koyasan). Once a bell of defunct Seson-ji Temple, it is still in a bell tower of the remains of Seson-ji Temple (near Yoshino-mikumari-jinja Shrine, about an hour walk from Zao-do Hall).

Senkoku Zaogongen Kyozo - It is a Zaogongen Kyozo line-engraved in the mirror of hachiryokyo (eight-lobed bronze mirror) of copper, one of the best works of line-engraved image.

Annual events

April 11 and 12: Hanakusenboe (Hanakueshiki Daimyo-gyoretsu)
July 7: Rengee and Kaerutobi-gyoji


Ten minute walk from Yoshinoyama Station of Yoshino Ohmine ke-buru Ropeway bus Co.Ltd, to Zao-do Hall via Kuro-mon gate and Do-torii.

[Original Japanese]