April 10, 2012
by Kenta Nakashima, Aya Suzuki, and Rie Susuki
Daigo-ji is a very famous and important temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Fushimi-ku, to the southeast of Kyoto City. It was made a world heritage site by UNESCO, due to its wealth of national treasures and its historic importance.
This temple was founded in 874 by a Buddhist monk named Shobo, who, upon his death became known as Rigen Daishi (Great Master of Holy Treasures.) Shobo worshipped a local god here at Kamidaigo Mountain, and the simple hermitage he constructed was later to grow into the complex of temples known as Daigo-ji. This expansion came through the patronage of the imperial family, and notably the Emperor Daigo, who in 930 entered the priesthood after sickness forced him to abdicate. A very pious man, he was buried in the temple grounds just a few hours after he entered the temple as a monk, having taken the name Hokongo. Subsequent emperors, Suzaku and Murakami, also supported the development and expansion of the complex, with most of the main buildings being built in the 10th century.
The temple complex at Daigo-ji is spread out over two levels. The Kami Daigo is the upper level, and the Shimo Daigo the lower level. The five-storey pagoda here is a national treasure, and the oldest surviving building in Kyoto Prefecture, being built in the year 951. Kondo, the main hall at Daigo-ji, was originally built in 904, but arsonists set fire to it, resulting in its destruction in 1295. The present building was actually relocated from Mangan-ji, another temple in Wakayama Prefecture, and reconstructed on this site. One other great attraction at this temple, along with Sanbo-in, is the exquisite small temple building Benten-do, which sits serenely above the pond here, casting a majestic reflection on the still waters.
Along with many other temples in Kyoto, Daigo-ji was heavily damaged during the Onin War period between 1467 and 1477. However, much later, Toyotomi Hideyoshi pledged tremendous financial support, as well as personal involvement, in restoring Daigo-ji to its former greatness.
Built in 1115 by Shokaku, Sanbo-in is located in the central part of the Daigo-ji complex, and is the place where generations of Buddhist monks have traditionally resided. In Sanbo-in, the architectural detail is generally arranged for a specific purpose. A very good example is the main drawing room, Omoteshoin, which overlooks the whole garden. The design and aspects of this room are typical of the style of the Momoyama and Heian periods, when Shinden-zukuri, or mansion style architecture, was first introduced. This Omoteshoin is specified as a national treasure. The garden of Sanbo-in is also the garden that Hideyoshi Toyotomi designed himself for the grand ‘Hanami of Daigo’, a legendary flower viewing party.
Aoi no ma (The Aoi Room)
Kyoto has three major festivals; the Aoi Matsuri, the Gion Matsuri, and the Jidai Matsuri. Depictions of the Aoi Matsuri are represented in paintings in this room.
Akikusa no ma (The Akikusa Room)
Landscapes presenting scenes with good examples of foliage that typify and illustrate the season of fall adorn this room.
The Chokushi room (Chamber for Receiving Imperial Messengers)
Images of a bamboo forest with flowers and birds are painted on the sliding doors in this room. The paintings are Momoyama period pieces, and are said to be the work of the Hasegawa group.
Karamon (Chinese Gate)
This stunning entrance, built in the Momoyama period, was intended for use as an envoy gate, said only to be opened when a messenger from the Imperial Court arrived. The entire gate was decorated in black Japanese lacquer work, with four large gilded crests of chrysanthemum and paulownia in kinpaku (gold leaf.)
Kamo no sanseki
These are three rare shaped stones in front of the pond here, each offering a different representation or meaning. The left stone expresses ‘rapid flow’, the middle stone ‘still water’, and the right ‘interrupted flow’.
Okushinden was built at the beginning of the Edo period. In this room, there is a fine example of ‘Chigaidana’, or staggered shelves, named “Daigodana”. The Daigodana is considered one of the three major works of shelves in the whole country, along with the Kasumitana of the Shugakuin Imperial Villa, and the Katsuratana of the Katsura Imperial Villa.
Hideyoshi Toyotomi & Hanami (Flower Viewing)
The viewing of flowers is a traditional and time-honored event in Japan, and this temple is particularly famous for its cherry blossoms. So much so, that there is actually a well-known phrase, “Flower Viewing of Daigo” in Japan. In 1598, Hideyoshi Toyotomi held a monumental flower viewing party in this temple, which became known as the largest flower-viewing event in history. He personally designed and landscaped a special garden in the environs of Daigo-ji Temple for this affair, and reformed and rebuilt the temple on a larger scale to include it within Sanbo-in. In spring, many kinds of flowers bloom here, along with the approximately 700 cherry trees that were planted for the hanami spectacular, for example, varieties such as Kawazu-zakura, Shidare-zakura, Someiyoshino, Yama-zakura, Yae-zakura, Obeni-shidare, and Oyama-zakura. It is possible to see the blossoms of these trees from around the last ten days of March to the first ten days of April. It is said that Hideyoshi invited many people to the big event: his legal wife, noblemens’ concubines, 1300 ladies of the house, his son Hideyori, a high ranking feudal lord, Toshiie Maeda, and many more dignitaries. For this major occasion, the women changed clothes at least three times, and eight teahouses were constructed around the site to cater for guests. The women could also take a bath in some of the teahouses, if they so wished. Hideyoshi died five years after this, but he certainly added to his legacy with this party.
Today, an event to commemorate this is held on the second Tuesday of April each year. The main attraction is ‘The Grand Procession’ (hotaikou-hanami gyouretsu). Selected people dress up as famous historical figures, like Hideyoshi, etc, and march in this procession. However, you will not see any samurai in armor or with warrior’s helmets. Instead, they wear loud, party type clothing for viewing the flowers and blossoms. If you go along, you can enjoy both the procession and the gorgeous blossoms. It is truly a case of killing two birds with one stone.
Many events are held at this temple, and it is possible to witness and enjoy a variety of scenes throughout the four seasons. I’d like to seriously recommend you visit here and enjoy one of the very best traditional Japanese events, “Hanami.”
Information and Access
Address:22, Higashioji-cho, Daigo, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto City
Open:9.00 am ~ 4.30 pm
Fee: Sanbo-in 600 yen
Reihokan 600 yen
Garan 600 yen
Access: Take the Tozai Line subway to Daigo Station, and then walk east for 10-15 minutes.