Uchiyama-Eikyu-ji Temple (内山永久寺)

Uchiyama-Eikyu-ji Temple is a temple that once existed in Somanouchi-cho, Tenri City, Nara Prefecture. The location of the temple is along the Yamanobe-no-michi, often referred to as the oldest historic road of Japan.


The temple was built during the Eikyu era (1113 - 1118) by Yorizane, the second chief priest of Kofuku-ji Temple Daijo-in, by imperial order of Emperor Toba, and afterward, the third chief priest Jinban took over the project to reorganize the buildings of the temple. Accordingly, the temple had a role as a branch temple of Kofuku-ji Temple Daijo-in from the beginning, and it also gradually gained a character of jingo-ji (a temple attached to a shrine) as the Honji Suijaku theory (that emphasizes the Shinto gods are manifestations of the heavenly buddhas and bodhisattvas) became popular. Eventually it became a dominant temple supported by the power of Daijo-in, which was then one of the two major powerful houses to control Kofuku-ji Temple.

According to "Taiheiki" (The Record of the Great Peace), Emperor Godaigo secretly stayed at the temple for a short time in 1336, and the site is preserved as the former Kaya Palace, a historic site that indicates an emperor once resided, because of this episode.

Uchiyama-Eikyu-ji Temple, at its best times, was a huge monastery consisting of more than 50 buildings including the hondo (main hall), a kanchodo (hall of esoteric consecration), an octagonal tahoto pagoda (multi-treasure pagoda), and a three-story pagoda, and these buildings were placed around a stroll garden in the style of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism. In this period, Jojo-in became the owner of the temple, and the temple became a Shingon sect temple, departing from the control of Kofuku-ji Temple.

The temple was the fourth biggest temple in Yamato (roughly current Nara Prefecture), after Todai-ji Temple, Kofuku-ji Temple, and Horyu-ji Temple, and they were once called as 'Nikko in the West' due to its huge scale and magnificent buildings of the temple.

The temple also deeply involved in Tozan-ha school of Shugendo (Japanese ascetic and shamanistic practice in mountainous sites), playing an important role as one of the Tozan-sanjuroku-daisendatsushu (Tozan school's thirty-six great leaders), and this became one of the major reasons why the temple had to be damaged fatally at the beginning of the Meiji period, when Shugendo was forbidden by the Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism, which contributed the anti-Buddhist movement in the next phase.

In the turmoil of the anti-Buddhist movement, the temple became extinct because they lost their territories and their fiscal foundation, and priests of this temple had to return to secular life or become Shinto priests of Isonokami-jingu Shrine. In addition, the temple's magnificent buildings and treasures were completely looted and destroyed. It is known that all those treasures including statues, images of Buddha, and Buddhist scriptures, were remarkable pieces of work that had shown the essence of craftsmanship of the time of each production. Some of treasures were taken away to foreign countries, and among such treasures, a painting of Shingon-hasso-zo (painting of the eight founders of the Shingon sect), which was attributed to Shinnen, was bought by the Ehnological Museum of Berlin, but it was reduced to ashes because of the Battle of Berlin, at the very end of World War II. However, the fact that many of the treasures that survived the time and kept in Japan are now designated as Important Cultural Properties or National Treasures just indicates how enormous the wealth the temple had was.

Most of the temple's site is now used as farmlands, and only two things, a pond by which the hondo (mail hall) stood, and a monument indicating the former Kaya Place, are suggesting the bygone days.

Cultural Properties Scattered from Uchiyama-Eikyu-ji Temple

Wari-Haiden (literally, divided worship hall) of Izumo Takeo-jinja Shrine, National Treasure, held by Isonokami-jingu Shrine in Tenri City, Nara Prefecture
This was used as Haiden, a hall for worship of a Shinto shrine, of Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine, a former tutelary shrine for Uchiyama-Eikyu-ji Temple. It survived the anti-Buddhism movement at the beginning of the Meiji period, and was moved to the current location in 1914. Currently, it is used as the Haiden to Izumo Takeo-jinja Shrine, a sessha (auxiliary shrine) of Isonokami-jingu Shrine.

Ryobu taikyo kantokuzu (paintings of the Spiritual Reception of the Two Great Sutras), National Treasure, held by Fujita Museum of Art in Osaka City
Wooden statues of Jikokuten and Tamonten, Important Cultural Asset, owned by Todai-ji Temple in Nara City (deposited to Nara National Museum)
Wooden Shitenno Kenzoku Ritsuzo (statues of the four heavenly kings and followers), Important Cultural Property, held by Tokyo National Museum, Seikado Bunko Art Museum and MOA Museum of Art.

Sculpted by Busshi Koen, a grandson of Unkei (Busshi is a sculptor specializing in Buddha statues)
This is a rare statue of parivara of the four heavenly kings.

Wooden statue of Fudomyoo and Hachidai Doji, Important Cultural Property, held by Setagayasan Kannon-ji Temple in Tokyo
Sculpted by Busshi Koen
The statue was once owned by Chutaro NAKANO, an oil baron who lived in Nigata Prefecture, and was later transferred to the current owner.

Shingon Hasso Gyojo-Zu Picture (painting of the behavior of the eight founders of Shingon), Important Cultural Property, held by Idemitsu Museum of Arts
This is thought to be one of the Shoji-e (paintings on shoji paper sliding-door or Fusuma) of the Shingondo (Shingon hall) of Uchiyama-Eikyu-ji Temple.


From Kintetsu Tenri Station, take a six-minute ride on a Nara Kotsu Bus bound for Sakurai Station. Get off at Magata bus stop and walk for 25 minutes.

[Original Japanese]