Probably you never heard the name of Gifu prefecture, Japan. How about Takayama city?
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Takayama city is the most popular sightseeing spot in Gifu prefecture for sure, but today I am going to guide you to my birthplace area. My place is the town of rice fields, persimmon trees, and mountains, yes, it’s quite the countryside and nothing special attractions like Kyoto. Yet Tanigumisan Kegonji is one of lesser famous temples for visitors that has a mysterious appeal tempting you to visit once.
Kegonji is a temple of the Tendai located in Ibigawa-Cho, Gifu Prefecture, which well known as Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage No. 33 and also as a famous place for cherry blossoms and autumn leaves.
Kegonji hardly attracts even domestic visitors outside the spring and fall seasons, because of the location that visitors would consider somewhere off the beaten path although the temple gathers respects from worshippers and pilgrimages.
In other words, you can take time to see details in this temple that you hardly able to do in the busy temples.
It is one of my American husband’s favorite spot and visit here everytime going back in Japan.
I know you want to jump to the temple guide, but let’s learn about pilgrimage in Japan first to know better the appealing of Kegonji.
- What’s Pilgrimage In Japan
What’s Pilgrimage In Japan
Now, I will explain the pilgrimage in Japanese Buddhism a little bit. The most famous pilgrimage in Japan is probably “Shikoku pilgrimage”, but the oldest pilgrimage itself was started by Saint Tokudo, in 718, and who worshipped Kannon.
Also, since the Edo period, it has become more popular and casual among the ordinal people such as Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, Zenkoji Temple in Nagano Prefecture, and Shikoku pilgrimage. Like these pilgrimage sites, new pilgrimage sites have been created nationwide.
Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage; Saigoku Sanjyusan Syo 西国三十三所
Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage is the oldest pilgrimage in Japan with a history of about 1300 years, which was started by Tokudo Shonin in 718. We will visit 33 Kannon sacred sites (fudasho) scattered in 7 prefectures such as Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Nara, Wakayama, Shiga, and Gifu. The first temple to start pilgrimage is Seigantoji Temple in Wakayama Prefecture. And the 33rd temple to complete it is Kegonji Temple, which I will introduce today.
- Saigoku…The west side of Japan (the old term)
As I mentioned, Holy priest Tokudo (徳道上人) started “Saigiku Kannon pilgrimage” in 718.
When he was on the sickbed, King Enma (the god of the dead) appeared in his dream to tell him that create the 33-Kannon-temples pilgrimage for suffering people and recommend it. King Enma left the letter and thirty-three treasure stamps.
Saint Tokudo set up 33 sacred sites in western Japan, but he could not gain faith much from others and could not develop the pilgrimage.
In 988, Emperor Kazan who became a monk at the age of 19, applied the pilgrimage and prayed for the revival. Later, this became common as well as Shikoku pilgrimage.
Sikoku Pilgrimage; Shikoku Junrei Aka Henro 四国巡礼、遍路
After people believed that Great teacher Kukai aka Koubou Daishi Kukai(774 -835) crossed the border between life and death and entered eternal meditation for the purpose of the salvation of sentient beings, the monks began their journey following the footsteps of Kukai.
Later, adding the places related to Kukai, the whole Shikoku region was regarded as a “place for the training of Shugendo “. In this way, “pilgrimage as training” was carried out by esoteric Buddhist monks, but it became common for ordinal people during the Muromachi period (1336-1573).
- Shikoku region…one of the five main islands of Japan lies to the south of Honshu.
Unlike other pilgrimage sites, visiting 88 places in Shikoku is called “Henro” (遍路), and locals call pilgrims “Ohenro-san” (お遍路さん). There are still many pilgrims today, but since the 1990s, more and more pilgrims are on the self-discovery journey rather than religious inspiration and also international visitors have been increased.
So Tanigumisan-Kegonji temple is listed as the sacred temple for Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage. Now, let’s talk about the temple in Gifu prefecture.
Where Is Tanigumisan, Gifu Prefecture
Kegonji is called “Tanigumisan” by worshippers and local people. This is “Sango”(山号) for the temple which is rooted in Chinese Buddhism tradition that temples are called mountains (name) metaphorically. When looking at the map, there is no Mt Tanigumi but the temple is located at the bottom of Myohougatake mountains in Ibigawa-Cho town, Gifu prefecture.
Gifu prefecture is located in the central region, the sharing border with 7 prefectures. (Aichi, Mie, Shiga, Fukui, Ishikawa, Toyama, and Nagano prefectures.)
The closest international airport is Chubu “Centrair” Int’l Airport in Aichi prefecture, and JR trains, Meitetsu, and Kintetsu trains are common public transportation.
How To Get Kegonji Temple
Ibigawa-Cho town (揖斐川町) is far western Gifu Prefecture and off the beaten path, so it is a challenge to use public transportation all the way to the temple. (especially for those who can’t understand Japanese. )
The easiest way to access the temple, by driving a rental car or participate in a day tour in certain seasons.
Use a cab? Technically, you can, but you probably need to book a cab on the way back from the temple.
The stations to easy to catch a cab are JR Ogaki station and Kintetsu Ibi station.
From Ogaki station to the temple, the cost will be approximately ¥8,000, and from Kintetsu Ibi station, it will be around ¥3,000.
23 Tanigumitokuzumi, Ibigawa-cho, Ibi-gun, Gifu Prefecture
If you plan to drive a car in Japan, read here what you should be careful.
Tangumisan Kegonji Temple
After understanding the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage and the location of the temple, I am going to introduce the last destination of the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage.
“Tanguimi-san, Kegonji” (谷汲山華厳寺) is the renowned temple of Tendai Buddhism.
Juichi-Men Kannon Bosatsu (十一面観音菩薩) which is one of the transformations of the Kannon Bodhisattva and has 11 faces on his head has been enshrined in the temple. (Undisclosed.)
It is the only temple in the 33 temples outside the western region.
The path from the entrance gate to “Nioumon gate” (仁王門) is also known as a famous place for cherry blossoms and autumn leaves. The 1km path leading to Niomon is lined with cherry blossom trees, gift shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Many visitors come to enjoy the seasonal view during the season, but usually, it’s very quiet.
A Brief History Of Kegonji Temple
Kegonji Temple, nicknamed “Tanigumi-san,” was founded in 798.
A wealthy man was going to bring back the sacred Kannon statue carved by a Buddhist priest in Kyoto to his country, and the statue wouldn’t move at all in Ogaki city, Gifu prefecture. Kannon told him that there was a sacred place in 20 km distance from the point. The man built the temple with the cooperation of a monk, Bunsen Shonen.
Since then, Kegonji temple had been worshipped by successive emperors. In 1334, shrines had burnt due to the war several times, but the Kannon statue had saved by monks each time.
The current shrine has rebuilt in 1479 and has been keeping a solemn atmosphere as the last destination.
The Quick Guide Of Kegonji Temple With Japanese Terms
Nio(u) Gate (Niou Mon; 仁王門)
“Nioumon”(仁王門) is the gate of the shrine and temple where the statues of Niou (仁王像) is enshrined on the left and right, which is said the meaning of the guard of the temple. The gate is rebuilt in 1571 – 1764.
I visited the temple during *Setsubun season in February, so there was a big red demon placed at the gate. It is said you can remove bad luck when pathing between his legs.
*One of the annual festivals in Japan, which to welcome the spring season and throwing “dried beans” outside or to the evil spirits for the purpose to get rid of bad luck.
You can find a huge straw sandal on the both side, which are dedicated by pilgrims.
The Path (Sando; 参道)
The path approaching to shrines or temples called “Sando(u)” (参道) in Japanese.
As you can see, stone lanterns are lined up on both sides, and there are many dedication banners that read “South Eleven-faced Kanzeon Bosatsu”. This makes visitors feel solemn as a temple that has been fulfilled in the Saigoku pilgrimage.
Along Sando, you can see many stone lanterns, Jizo Bosatsu, and several *”Tacchu” (塔頭). Take time to experience Solomon and the sacred atmosphere.
This is the reason my husband and I like to visit here because you can take time as much as you like keeping in the quiet and private space, not like busy temples in Kyoto.
*Tacchu (塔頭) in Zen Buddhism is a stone tower or a hermitage that his disciples built them longed for the virtues of the mentor after the death of the high priest or ancestors.
The Main Hall (Hondo/Hondou; 本堂)
The main hall called “Hondo(u)” (本堂) in Japanese, and the current main hall of Kegonji was rebuilt in 1879.
Please note taking pictures inside of the Hondo (the main altar) is prohibited.
There are “bronze carps” on some pillars of the main hall. Since ancient times, this carp has been called “Shojin Otoshi no Koi” (精進落としの鯉), which means that pilgrims who have completed the pilgrimage at Kegonji Temple touched this carp and were released from their devoted life.
The “Koke no Mizu” Jizo
This Jizo Bosatsu is believed to heal illnesses and wounds when sticking paper where you (or someone of you) want to heal.
Oizuru Do(u); 笈摺堂
“Oizuru” (笈摺) is the sleeveless overgarment worn by pilgrims and “Oidurudo(u)” (笈摺堂) is a small hall to dedicate an oizuru, a cane as the achievement of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.
Also, thousands of “orizuru” (折鶴) -origami cranes are dedicated because the names of “oizuru” and “orizuru” are similar.
Koyasu Do(u); 子安堂
On the left side of Oizuru Do, you can see “Koyasu Do”(子安堂) where Koyasu Kannon is enshrined. Many bibs are dedicated to wishes of easy delivery and pregnancy, and a healthy baby.
Mangan Do(u); 満願堂
Pilgrims dedicate their “Osame Fuda”(納め札) here.
Osame Fuda is one of the items for pilgrimage in Japan, which is a white rectangle paper written the name of the temple, the date, and own name for dedicating to each temple.
If you are interested in pictures of the temple more, check out my Pinterest board from the button below.
Hike To “Okuno In” (奥ノ院)
“Okunoin” (奥の院) is a small hall in the backyard of a temple or shrine where a secret Buddha (or God) or the founder is enshrined. It is considered to be the most sacred area and is built in the deep wood or in a rock cave in the backyard of temples or shrines to deepen the worship.
Thus, “okunoin” of Kegonji temple is also located in the upper hill in the backyard, you need to hike the “Myohogatake” to see “okunoin” for about 40 minutes.
If you go to Oku-no-in, you need to wear sneakers or hiking shoes, not sandals.
The hiking route is blocked for the high season of wasps and also be aware of leeches.
So why I don’t have a picture? Because I don’t like hiking.
Walking The Street From The Temple To The Parking
Now, check out the street from Niomon gate to the parking what you can see.
The street is called “Junrei Hana Kaido” (巡礼花街道) literally means “the pilgrimage floral street”.
We visited here on a weekday out of the season, so it was a very quiet day but we still met friendly local people at each store. (or maybe they had been seeking someone to talk to.)
I found a very old farming tool, which is called “Toumi” (唐箕). It is removing rice husks and then generating wind power to sort grains into rice husks, brown rice, dust.
It’s not like the “Harajuku shopping”, but I really like those local heartfelt handmade gifts. Don’t you think so?!
It’s not like the gorgeous temples and shrines as representative Japan, but strolling in Tanigumisan is very peaceful and you can feel Zen experience from ancient years.
Maybe it is not suitable for the first Japan trip, but I am happy that you read this post until last to know about our hidden gems.