Otagi Nenbutsu-ji

May 17, 2019

by Ema Maeda, David Grogan & Tsukasa Ishibashi

About 1250 years ago, Emperor Shotoku built Otagi temple. However, at the beginning of the Heian Period, the temple washed away when the Kamo River flooded. The temple was reestablished by Senkan Naigu, who was a priest of the Tendai sect. At that time, the temple was named Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. At the beginning of 1922, during the Taisho Period, the temple was transferred to its present location in the Saga District from the south of Kenji temple in order to preserve it. The temple is a very old one, and has seen many changes over the centuries.

Otagi Temple has many features, including the gate, guarded by two statues, a main hall, and other buildings. Otagi Temple is a Buddhist structure, and has some features that are typical of that religion.


Nio-mon is an Edo Period style gate. At this gate, there are Nio guardians that were made in the Kamakura Period.

What are the Nio guardians?
Generally, Nio guardians are perfect with 2 statues. The right one is an Agyo statue, and the left one is an Ungyo statue. “A” means start, and “Un” means the end of something. Nio guardians usually stand at the gate of a temple in the role of gatekeepers.


The main hall of this temple is registered as an important cultural property for Japanese style buildings in middle Kamakura period. “Sente kannon” is famous as a talisman which is this temple’s principal image. Kannon is the goddess of Mercy.


The Bodhisattva of love and mercy, this Kannon is pleased by being touched by people’s hands. Statues of Buddha have been made by people for more than 2000 years, and they have been made by people who are not blind and have been prayed to by people who are also are not blind. This statue is the first one that was made especially for blind people in the world. Therefore, people can touch this with their hands.


Jizo is a popular deity in the folk belief of the Japanese. He is the patron saint of travelers, children, pregnant women. In this Jizo Hall, there is Hiyoke Jizo which protects Kyoto from fire. Also this is called “Enmei Jizo,” it means prolong the life. People visit this temple for pray their long life.


Originally, the role of ringing the bells in temples was to convey instructions to the monks. An important feature in this temple is that there are 3 bells, and each bell has a mark, one for “Buddha”, another for “Dharma”, and one for “Priest.” These three characters express the important treasures for monks. These bells are smaller than others and the tone is very high and clear.
What is Rakan?
Rakans, also called Syakatanzyoubutsu or Arakan, were pupils of Syaka and they spread the teachings of Buddha. Five hundred Rakans got together when Syaka passed away, and there are many temples that have 500 Rakans in Japan, but Otagi Nenbutsu-ji has 1200 Rakans because 100 years after Syaka passed away, an additional 700 Rakans came to this temple and to learn about Buddha. Therefore, there are 1200 Rakans in this temple. The worshippers started to make and dedicate Rakan statues from 1980. Because all of those were made by hand by worshippers, each Rakan has a different face.

Nishimura Koutyou

In 1952, Mr. Nishimura became monk when he was 37 years old and was appointed the chief priest when he was 40 years old. He was graduated from Tokyo Art University and he had a very high level skill as a sculptor. First, he restructured the Buddha in Japan, but after he became the chief priest in Otagin Nenbutsu-ji, he focused on the Buddha in Kyoto. Then he asked for prayers that make “Rakan” and dedicate it. Nowadays the number of Rakan is 1200. Mr. Nishimura made and reconstructed more than 1300 statues of Buddha. The reason why he reconstructed so many Buddhas is that he saw many broken Buddhas in China because of wars. He wanted to do something for Buddha.

Which season is the best?
And what can we see in each season?
Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is next to the mountains, therefore this temple shows different faces in each season.

 Spring
→cherry blossoms, maple trees, butterburs, and azaleas
“Rakan Spring Festivval” on the first Sunday in April, from 13:00-15:00.

 Summer
→hydrangea, gardenia and fresh green leaves

 Autumn
→yellow leaves and little cuckoos
“Autumn Festival” on the second Sunday in November, from 13:00-15:00.

 Winter
→snow on the Rakans and camellias
The most recommended season is winter for the tasteful Rakans with snow.

On the 24th of each month, there is a “Buddhist service.”
“Hoyou” people pray that a deceased’s soul may rest in peace. Also the monk gives a sermon.


1. “Saijo Syouhuku Kigan”
This is one of the prayers that people do in their unlucky year. Usually, it is important to be purified at 33 years old for women and 42 years old for men.
2. “Ohatu Senkan”
This event is a newborn baby’s first visit to a shrine. People pray for the baby’s happiness.
3. “Mitsuinana Mairi”
This is a child’s visit to a shrine to celebrate its third/fifth/seventh year. The origin of this event is from the Heian period. In the Heian period, children’s death rate was very high, therefore this event was started in hope for children’s good health and happiness. The reason why it is 3, 5, 7 is people think the odd numbers are auspicious.
4. “Kariteibosatsu”
This is prayer for easy delivery and happy family.
5. Wedding
A couple can hold a wedding ceremony in front of Buddha.


If you want to walk around traditional Kyoto, we recommend that starting from Otagi Nenbutsu-ji to Arashiyama.


Access: About 5 minutes’ walk from JR Saga Arashiyama Station
Address: 2-5 Fukatani-cho, Sagatoriimoto, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, 616-8439 Japan
Telephone: 075-865-1231
E-mail: [email protected]
Open: 8:00 to 17:00 (Last entrance is 15 minutes before 17:00)
Admission fee: 300 yen (elementary & junior high school students are free of charge)
Denomination: Tendai
Official website: http://otagiji.com/