On the border between Nara and Osaka, on the mountainside of Mt. Shigi is Chogosonshi-ji Temple [朝護孫子寺]. Guarded by a giant paper mache good-luck tiger, a fukutora, this fairly remote temple attracts many people from all over the Kansai region. Chogosonshi-ji is well-known for its ancient hand scroll, and for the unique smaller temples that stand throughout the temple grounds.
The History of Chogosonshi-ji Temple
According to the temple legend, 1,400 years ago Prince Shotoku stopped on the then empty site to pray for victory during his war with Mononobe no Moriya. At the time, Buddhism had yet taken root in Japan and the war between these two individuals served as the deciding factor as to whether or not Buddhism would flourish in the country.
As the prince prayed, Bishamonten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods and one of the guardians of Buddhism, appeared to him and told the prince the secret to winning the war. As a token of gratitude, Prince Shotoku carved a statue of Bishamonten and ordered construction of a temple to enshrine it on Mt.Shigi.
In the Sengoku Period, Matsunaga Hisahide built Shigisan Castle on Mt. Shigi to serve as a fortress during his war with Oda Nobunaga. Unfortunately for Chogosonshi-ji, this war reduced the temple to ash. It was only recently that the temple was rebuilt.
Upon entering the temple grounds, you will see a big tiger statue. Legend has it that when Bishamonten appeared to Prince Shotoku, it was the tiger hour of the tiger day in the tiger month during the tiger year. For this reason, tigers are the guardians of the temple. It is even known to some as the “tiger temple”.
Chogosonshi-ji has some pretty expansive temple grounds! It takes more than 10 minutes just to get from the gate to the hondo.
There are many little temples throughout the grounds— getting to the hondo is like going through a maze!
The hondo enshrines three statues: Bishamonten [毘沙門天], his wife Kisshoten [吉祥天] and their child, Zennishidoji [善膩師童子]. Bishamonten is one of four heavenly kings, commonly known as Tamonten [多聞天]. Unfortunately they are usually not open to public and instead they put the replica in front.
Make sure to visit the temple’s museum! The museum has a hand scroll called the Shigisan Engi Emaki [信貴山縁起絵巻] which contains stories and legends about the origins of Chogosonshi-ji. The scroll dates back to the 12th century and one of the most famous hand scrolls in the entire country and is the first example of manga. Though it originally exhibits a replica of the hand scroll, it is still worth seeing!!
What is unique about Chogosonshi-ji is that there are a number of little temples throughout the temple grounds such as Senjyu-in and Gyokuzo-in. Though some of these temples serve as temple hostels, they still contain religious icons.
Senju-in is the oldest little temple at Chogosonshi-ji. You will pass by it as you are making your way from the main gate to the hondo.
If you’d like a little bit of a hike, you can climb up Mt.Shigi and visit Karahachi-do, which is 20 minutes away from the hondo. Just make sure to bring the water from the water fountain near the hondo!
2280-1 Shigisan, Heguri, Ikoma District, Nara Prefecture
From Osaka, take the Kintetsu Osaka Line from Namba or Uehonmachi Station and change lines at Kawachi Yamamoto Station to the Kintetsu Shigi Line. Then take to a Nishi-shigi cable line to Shigisanguchi. Once you get off the cable car at Shigisanguchi, you have to take a bus to Chogosonshi-ji.
If you access from Nara, it would be convenient to take a bus from Oji Station of JR Nara and Yamatoji Line.